By Richard Dean / Free lance writer
In search of a point guard after two season-ending injuries at the position less than three weeks into the 2015-16 season, Sam Houston men’s basketball coach Jason Hooten thought long and hard about his prospects.
Who was going to replace Ameer Jackson, the highly regarded transfer who played only four games this season? Jackson was replacing Paul Baxter, a preseason first-team All-Southland Conference pick who was lost before the season began.
On an early December night before the Bearkats were to play at Texas Tech, Hooten was focusing on 6-4 sophomore Jamal Williams.
"I was just sitting in my hotel room in Lubbock," Hooten said. "I said, 'You know what? Jamal's been good with the ball as a wing player. He's got really good poise dribbling the ball. I'm just going to try him there. What the heck?'
"So he got in the Tech game, and in the second half, I said, 'Jamal, take the one (position).' He looked at me like I had three eyes or something. He went out there, and you could tell immediately that he had a really good feel for the ball as far as penetrating and kicking, which is what we were really missing. And he didn't turn it over.
"So I got home, and I called my staff in. They probably thought I was crazy. I said, 'Hey, I'm going to play Jamal at the point the rest of the year, and we're just going to live with it.' "
Hooten's hunch proved beneficial for the Bearkats, who opened conference play with four straight wins and now stand tied for third place heading into the final four weeks of the season with four of their final five games at home in Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
"I knew everybody was going to have to step up," Williams said. "I didn't know I was next."
By default, Williams is running the Bearkats, who have reached the Southland Conference tournament final the past two years. Last season's 26-9 record included the school's most victories in 28 years at the NCAA Division I level.
Baxter, a three-year starter at the point, was the team's only returning starter. The Bearkats lost four seniors, all who were all-conference, from a year ago. Baxter broke a foot in preseason and will return next season. Jackson, a 6-4 junior guard from Dodge City Community College, inherited Baxter's spot before tearing an ACL.
At Episcopal High School, Williams rarely played the point. But the position is growing on him, and he likes the challenge.
"I really like it. I didn't think I was going to like it," Williams said. "Playing the point guard, you have to be more aware, set the tone. You have to run the team, so you don't have time for mistakes.
"When you're on the wing, you can get away with a few more things than you can at point guard. So you have to come to every game mentally prepared."
Even with the switch, Williams' scoring (9.0) and rebounding (5.4) numbers haven't slacked, and he ranks fourth in the Southland Conference in assists averaging 5.0 assists.
The sophomore has scored in double figures eight times including a season-high 17 points in an 87-76 victory over Nicholls on a night Williams was 7-of-7 from the field
Williams is taller than most college point guards. Defensively, he gua.rds the opponent's best wing or shooting guard.
"What he does best is penetrate," Hooten said. "He's really fast with the ball, which you usually get out of little guys.
"And then he has a really good knack for getting to the basket and finishing, and he also has a good feel. He'll dribble in there and see somebody on the wing wide open, and he's got that good feel of making that pass."
The point guard position might have been forced on Williams, but he has embraced the move and feels it may be his future position.
"All of a sudden, I see myself more as a point guard," he said. "I feel I can do this, and why not me? I don't think size matters with the point guard position. It depends on how you play. I feel I can play this position."
The Sam Houston men have four home games remaining including contests with the top two teams in the standings - second place A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday, Feb. 27 and conference leader SFA on Saturday, March 5. The other two home games pit the Kats versus Central Arkansas Saturday Feb. 20 and Lamar Thursday March 3.
“We’ve talked with the team a lot about, even with the adversity and tough road trips we’ve battled through, all our goals still can be achieved,” Hooten said. “There’s a lot of basketball left to be played.”
The top eight finishers in the regular season standings advance to the Southland Conference tournament at the Merrell Center in Katy March 9-12. The top two finishers receive byes into the semifinals and the third and fourth place teams get a first round bye.