DeMarcus Gatlin, one of five seniors on this year’s talented Sam Houston State men’s basketball team, is a student-athlete who definitely believes every cloud really does have a silver lining.

A starter at guard in 57 games with more than 500 points during his Bearkat career, the Houston Bush High School product has overcome some major disappointments to become a leader for a 2015 SHSU men’s squad that looks to contend for a Southland title this winter.

Playing McNeese State in his 22nd game of his junior season in 2013, Gatlin broke his knee cap. He missed the final 12 games of the year. In July, 2013, he returned to the practice court and participated in fall preseason drills.

However, an X-ray revealed more surgery was required. The day of the team’s season, Gatlin had another operation. He took an injury red-shirt year and missed the 2014 season that ended with an appearance in the tournament and SHSU’s first NCAA Division I post-season game victory.

That’s where finding the silver lining occurred.

“Sure, I was disappointed not to play,” Gatlin said. “But it also showed me patience. Actually, I got a year to work on weaknesses in my game like my jump shot. It’s been paying off.”

Gatlin ranks as one of the top shooters in the Southland Conference this season, hitting 53.8 percent from the field. He is one of two players on a well-balanced squad averaging in double figures this year.

An instructional leadership major, Gatlin also completed his undergraduate studies. He received his bachelor’s degree and began work on his masters. He also received recognition as a member of the Southland Conference Commissioner’s academic honor roll with an overall GPA above 3.0.

“Having DeMarcus back in the lineup helps our team in so many ways,” SHSU head coach Jason Hooten said. “Obviously it’s a big boost to have his talent, strength, defensive ability and rebounding. But he’s also brought back outstanding leadership and toughness.

“He’s a team-first guy who has helped other players get better. His presence on the floor has been huge for us this year.”

Sam Houston has piled up an impressive mark during the non-conference portion of the Bearkats’ 2014-15 schedule. The SHSU men own NCAA Division I victories over Eastern Washington, South Dakota, Fairfield and Texas-Pan American. They also have taken three traditional powerhouses down to the wire with impressive performances on the road.

Sam Houston lost by two points at UNLV and three at Texas A&M. The Bearkats had three-point shots at the buzzer for a win at UNLV and a tie at Aggieland. SHSU lost to LSU in Baton Rouge by nine but were within four points in the final minutes and led during much of the game.

“Obviously, we all would have liked to have closed out those games and gotten wins,” Gatlin said. “But it showed us that we can compete with anybody. Our goal is to win the Southland championship. That’s what we are working for every day.”

Gatlin, 6-11 center Michael Holyfield and 6-3 guard Marquel McKinney are the only players on the roster who have been part of the Bearkat men’s basketball program since 2012. Gatlin knows all the seniors have special roles to fill as leaders for the squad.

“I know I have to be a leader on the floor,” Gatlin said. “I need to get stops defensively and make plays when my team needs them. I have to lead vocally as well.”

An all-district guard who led Bush High School to the 2011 Texas Class 5A state championship and a 35-4 record, Gatlin transferred to Sam Houston after one year at Navarro Junior College. He started 54 consecutive games for the Bearkats in 2012 and 2013.

This season, Gatlin has three priorities for himself and his team.

“We have to keep our opponents’ field goal percentage low and keep rebounding the ball well,” Gatlin said. “And we have to lock in our scouting reports.”

In pre-Southland Conference action, the Bearkats have held foes to 38.5 percent field goal shooting and out-rebounded opponents 44.2 boards to 35.0 per game. Sam Houston ranks in the top five in NCAA Division I in rebounding.

Following his senior season, Gatlin looks to continue his success on the basketball floor.

“I want to continue to play basketball. If that doesn’t work out, I want to get into coaching,” Gatlin said. “That’s what I’m working on with my Master’s right now.”

Sam Houston State begins Southland Conference play Saturday, January 3, with a home game against Incarnate Word.