Sam Houston begins the defense of last season's Southland Conference men's basketball Southland Conference championship in less than three weeks. The 2010-11 schedule begins with a home game at Johnson Coliseum Saturday, November 13.

As an NCAA Division I basketball rookie head coach, Jason Hooten believes he has three aces in hand that will help propel the Bearkats to another successful year.

"To have three outstanding seniors as our team co-captains really is an advantage for our staff," Hooten said. "Gilberto Clavell, Josten Crow and Lance Pevehouse are three tremendous young men. They are leaders on the floor and in the class room. Everyone on the team looks up to and respects them."

Hooten, assistant coach for Sam Houston State the past six years, was named as the head coach in April when Bob Marlin left to become head coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In his six seasons with the Bearkats, the new head coach played a major role in directing the program to a 127-59 record, four 20-plus victory seasons, Southland Conference regular season and tournament championships and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2010.

Clavell was Southland Conference "Newcomer of the Year." The 6-7 225 senior forward was the leading scorer (16.9 points) and leading rebounder (6.3 boards) for the conference titlists. Crow, a 6-4 senior forward, ranked No. 1 in the Southland and No. 2 nationally in assist/turnover ratio. Pevehouse, a 6-2 senior guard, has provided a perimeter scoring threat off the bench the past two seasons.

"Not every coach has a trio like this to lead his team," Hooten said. "They are taking their roles as captains seriously. Every player has worked hard during the off-season.

"I've always believed a coach is a teacher and I'm ready to start teaching. We have a great group of players back from last year plus a lot of newcomers who have a lot of talent. There are a lot of things we can do with this team. The staff is ready to get out and figure out what is the best way to utilize the talent we have."

The 25-8 record for Sam Houston in 2009-10 marked the highest victory total for a Bearkat squad in SHSU's 23 seasons at the NCAA Division I level.

Sam Houston rolled up a 14-2 record to claim the regular season title, then knocked off Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana and defending champion Stephen F. Austin to win the Southland post-season tournament. In their second NCAA appearance, Sam Houston threw a scare into eventual Elite Eight participant Baylor in New Orleans before falling 68-59.

Returning along with the three co-captains are 5-10 junior point guard Drae Murray, 6-7 junior center Antuan Bootle and 6-9 sophomore center Aaron Thompson.

To fill the gap left by the graduation of All-Southland Conference guards Corey Allmond (15.8 points) and Ashton Mitchell (12.4) points and senior forward Preston Brown (9.1 points), Hooten has recruited three junior college transfers and a pair of freshmen. Kelly Lawson, a 6-8 redshirt freshman from Pearland also returns.

The junior college transfers include 5-10 guard Marcus Williams from Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz., 6-1 guard Nafis Richardson from McLennan Community College and 6-7 forward Marcus James from Seward County in Kansas.  Last season Williams averaged 20.3 points, Richardson 14.4, and James 12.3. Freshmen 6-3 Byron Randle from Friendswood was an early signing for the Bearkats.

"Even though I was an assistant last year and all the returning players know me, it's always different when a new coach takes over," Hooten said. "What has impressed me during our individual work with the players in September and October is the great attitude of the players, their willingness to learn and their work ethic. Our workouts are going to be very competitive and the players are reacting well to that."

There are sure to be some changes, but the philosophy on the court is going to stay the same. Marlin preached defense and Hooten is the same way. Offensively, expect the Bearkats to keep lighting up the scoreboard.

"If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Bob Marlin had great success for 12 years and I have been here six. We aren't going to change a lot," Hooten said. "We are going to get up and down the floor. We are going to shoot the ball like we have been doing and try to score 80 points a game.

"We are also going to try to be the best defense in the league. I'm old-school and I was taught by a guy who was old-school. The bottom line is that defense wins championships. We are also going to be the kind of team everyone wants to come see play because we are going to play hard."

Hooten has hired a young staff of assistants with outstanding credentials.

Alvin Brooks III helped direct Bradley to a 58-47 record the past three years including back-to-back 21-win seasons and a runner-up finishes in national post-season tournaments. Chris Mudge served as the assistant coach at Midland College helping lead the team to a 63-7 record and back-to-back juco national top 10 rankings. Will Weaver worked for the University of Texas program that went 103-39 in his four years with the Longhorns.

"This is an exciting time of year and we can wait to get the season started," Hooten said.

Sam Houston will play 14 home games this year. Season tickets for Bearkat men's basketball are now on sale either online at www.gobearkats.com or at the SHSU athletic ticket office at the Ron Mafrige Field House in Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729.