When men's basketball head coach Jason Hooten started the 2012-13 season with a 13-player roster featuring only five young men with NCAA Division I experience, he knew immediately where he would have to look for leadership.

That would be in the backcourt where the Kats returned their two starting guards from last year's squad that earned the program its 10th consecutive Southland Conference post-season tournament appearance.

The pair are 5-11 Darius Gatson and 6-4 DeMarcus Gatlin, both from Houston.

Gatson, the only senior on this year's roster, ranked second in the Southland Conference in assists last year as a junior, averaging 4.5 per game. He was an all-conference performer at Trinity Valley Community College and helped lead Klein Forest High School to the state finals in 2008.

Gatlin, a junior, averaged 10.4 points last year for Sam Houston including 15 double figure performances. He helped lead Navarro Junior College to a 20-10 record as a freshman and led Bush High School to the Texas Class 5A state title in 2010.

The "G-Man" back court of Gatson and Gatlin helped the Bearkats bounce back from a 1-2 start in November to finish pre-Southland Conference play with a 7-5 record.

"Having two experienced back court players like Darius and DeMarcus out there with so many new faces on the team has been a big plus for us," Hooten said. "We've got a team with more depth this season and that allows us to play hard all 40 minutes."

The two guards rank as Sam Houston's top two scorers entering Southland Conference action. The two have combined to led the team in five games during November and December. Gatson scored 20 points in Sam Houston's season opener at Arkansas.

"I'm really proud of the effort we're seeing from the team," Hooten said. "We've been working to get better every game."

No player on the SHSU roster is averaging in double figures but the Kats' attack is balanced with six players averaging between 6.5 and 8.7 points per game.

In SHSU's 12 games, the Bearkats have been led in scoring by eight different players. Nine players have scored in double figures at least once.

Sam Houston's schedule has been challenging as well, pitting the Bearkats against top national programs like Indiana, Arkansas and Texas.

"The experience has helped us a lot," Gatson said. "We're playing with more confidence."

Gatson was the leading scorer for Sam Houston as Bearkats a victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the team's Southland Conference opener. Gatson hit a three-pointer to tie game 49-49 with 3:44 to play as Kats outscored Islanders 8-4 in the final minutes.

"As the only senior, I know I have to be a leader," Gatson said. "I can't take a day off."

His back court team agrees on the important role the two guards will play for the Bearkats this year.

"We have to lead by example," Gatlin said. "We have to go hard every drill. We may have a lot of new faces on the team this year but, after all the hard work in preseason, we're like a family now. Everyone is contributing."

Hooten points to a 30.2 scoring average by the Bearkat bench during the first 12 games of the season as a sign of the team's depth. Sam Houston also ranks second in the Southland in scoring defense, a statistic very important to the head coach.

"Defense is always going to be our top priority and, with more depth this year, we can play a lot more aggressive the entire game," Hooten said.

The Southland Conference schedule runs through the first week in March and is followed by the annual league post-season tournament in Katy that will decide the conference's representative in the NCAA playoffs.

"We're focused on getting to the tournament," Gatlin said. "A berth in the NCAA tournament is every team's ultimate goal."