HUNTSVILLE – Some dreams don’t come to fruition overnight. Some dreams take a little longer to take form and become reality.
“I’ve had this dream since I was a freshman,” Baxter said. “A dream that has confetti falling from the ceiling, a ring on our finger and our team holding up a big trophy. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve seen it in my mind for five years.”
The senior trio of Baxter, Henderson and Majauskas have plenty to be proud of as their careers as Bearkats near a conclusion in the upcoming weeks. In fact, only three of the 23 Division I schools in the state of Texas have won more than the Bearkats’ 86 games since the 2013-14 season, a year that saw Majauskas join the squad as a true freshman.
But four years and two 20-win seasons later the trio is still trying to make that dream a reality; however, with the Kats sitting at 9-4 and just a game out of first place in the Southland Conference with just five games remaining, that reality is quickly coming more into focus.
Even with this team’s success, it is still difficult to overlook what each of those seniors have accomplished individually this season. Each of the three has reached the 1,000-point mark for their careers in 2016-17, albeit in very different ways.
“I think it is important for the people to see something like this from all of us in the same year,” Baxter said. “We do not care who scores the ball and ever since I have been here, we have not cared who scored. We know how teams are going to play. It doesn’t matter where the points are coming from.”
“Looking back on last year, the last minute loss it was tough on us because we had to rely on the guys who could score the ball, which creates a lot of pressure on guys like Dakarai and Aurimas. It’s a lot whole lot easier when other guys are producing and it creates more opportunities for other players,” Baxter said.
Henderson has been a point-scoring machine since becoming a Bearkat and reached his milestone first on November 17. He is the lone player of the three to average double figures for his career, and as a guard he’s been a menace to opposing teams from the perimeter and now, not only holds distinction as a career 1,000-point scorer, but also as the all-time leader in made 3-point baskets in Bearkat history.
“I feel like it is very special because Paul and I have been here five years and Aurimas has been here for four,” Henderson said. “It is truly a blessing to do it with your teammates and brothers because you can see the accomplishments that we all have had both academically and on the court. It makes it a really special milestone to reach with those two, and I know many teams across the country don’t have the type of team that can do what we’ve done.”
A local product from the Houston area, Henderson was an all-conference performer last season and a preseason all-league selection entering this season where he is currently leading a balanced Kats’ scoring attack with 11 points per game. Being one of the top scoring threats for the Bearkats is not a role that Henderson takes lightly, and he is fully aware of the impact it has on the rest of the team’s performance.
But after reaching the 1,000-point mark, Sam Houston’s all-time 3-point record did not come so easily. The senior was marred in a shooting slump that saw him hit just 18.4 percent from 3-point range in six games leading up to the Kats’ first meeting of the season with Northwestern State when he was just one triple shy of tying the record.
However, Henderson broke out of his slump in a big that way that afternoon, going for 17 points and connecting on five threes. He has since added 10 more 3-pointers to his career total.
“Before going into that weekend I knew I was close and I remember I didn’t hit a three in the previous game,” Henderson said. “But before the Northwestern State game I was focused and I had a long talk with my parents and some of my teammates, who are always in my ear because they know the type of player I am. If I’m missing shots I feel like I’m hurting the team. When I finally did reach it I felt like a big weight was lifted from off my chest. My teammates were the ones in the corner for me.”
Meanwhile, Majauskas took a different path to Huntsville. Originally from Lithuania, he played at a prep school in California before head coach Jason Hooten persuaded him to become a Bearkat. In his tenure he has turned into the one of the premier post players the Southland Conference has to offer, possessing a game that features a pure back-to-the-basket game, and a pure touch from beyond the 3-point arc, hitting 37.4 percent from distance in his career and 55.6 percent as a senior.
He earned his first all-conference honors as a junior and has lived up to his preseason all-league billing this year, averaging 10.2 points per game while ranking third in the Southland with a 59.9 field goal percentage. He was not far behind Henderson in reaching the 1,000-point mark himself, going for 18 points against Randall to hit the milestone. Since then, he has averaged 10.3 points per game, reaching double figures nine times.
“I think we have all matured and this year is a winning year after coming up a little short,” Majauskas said. “We lost twice in the championship game and lost on the buzzer beater to go to the championship game. So, we want to bring things to the next level and win it all. Nobody cares who scores. We just have a lot of different guys who can score, which we think makes us very balanced and dangerous.”
Then there’s Baxter. Maybe the most unlikely of the three to reach the mark.
The stocky and athletic fifth-year senior has assumed a number of roles as a Bearkat, but being known as a scorer has rarely been one of them, often deferring the points to teammates to take on the role as arguably the best lockdown defender in the league.
Still, his steady play had him set up to reach the 1,000-point mark as a true senior in 2015-16 when he was a preseason all-conference choice; however, a foot injury just prior to the start of the season derailed those plans and forced him to sit out all of last year.
It turns out that it was a blessing in disguise not only for him, but for the team. That injury allowed other players on the Bearkat roster to develop in a year that Sam Houston still turned in an 18-win season and a postseason berth. This year, with Baxter back into the fold with a now experienced group, the Kats were picked as the league favorite entering the season.
“At the start of the year we did not know where we were at, we were just playing. Then all of a sudden, Dakarai got his 1,000th point first,” Baxter said. “Everybody was so surprised and so happy for him because we did not know he was anywhere near that and all of sudden Aurimas got his and we did not know he was anywhere near it and then I got mine. It was cool to play with these guys and form a brotherhood for so long. It really has been a blessing.”
Most nights you will find him matched up with the opposition’s top scorer on the court, and even though his 7.4-point nightly average may not speak to a 1,000-point scorer, he’s turned in five double-figure scoring games in his last seven outings. And he reached his career mark in the most spectacular way, going for a career-best 23 points on January 14 in the Kats 77-68 win at Northwestern State.
He needed just 15 points to reach 1,000 entering that game and after putting in 13 in the first half, a driving layup early in the second half got him to the mark.
But in typical Baxter fashion, he was not even aware of the mark until after the game was over.
And in typical Bearkat fashion, it was on to the next possession, one that saw Henderson drain a corner 3-pointer to become Sam Houston’s all-time leader in that category.
For a team near the top of the Southland Conference standings with no player ranking in the league’s top 25 in scoring, passing the torch been the name of the game.
And for three career Bearkats, their individual milestones are a proper nod to their years dedicated to Sam Houston basketball, but are far from their ultimate goal.