Jason Hooten knows that Liberal, Kansas, is a hard place to get to from Huntsville, Texas.
“Located a few miles north of the panhandle of Oklahoma, the best way to get to Liberal is to fly to Amarillo and drive about three hours north,” Sam Houston men’s basketball head coach Jason Hooten recalls.
But a recruiting trip last season to the home of Seward Country Community College definitely has proven to be a boon for the Sam Houston program.
Looking to add offensive punch to a squad that already was one of the top two defensive teams in the Southland Conference, Hooten visited Liberal to convince Seward County star performers Jabari Peters and Kaheem Ransom to become Bearkats.
The two paired to lead the Saints to a 14-2 league record and a Jayhawk West Conference title in 2013. In April they signed letters-of-intent to come to Sam Houston State. Their play has been a shot in the arm for the Bearkat offense and has been a factor in the team’s fast start this season.
The Sam Houston men stand 7-3 a month into the schedule, the best season start for the Bearkat men’s program since 2007-08. Peters and Ransom have combined to account for 23.2 of SHSU’s 79.1 points per game this season. That’s nearly 16 points a game more than the 2012-13 squad averaged.
“We had seen Kaheem play a few times his freshman year and really liked him,” Hooten recalled. “Some other teams were looking at him but didn’t want to offer both Kaheem and Jabari. But we thought the two of them together really filled a need for us. They came from an outstanding junior college program and know what it takes to win.”
At Seward Country, Ransom earned first team all-conference and all-region honors after averaging 16.1 points and 2.4 assists. The Wichita, Kansas, product received junior college All-America honorable mention and was a six-time conference “player of the week” selection during his two seasons in Kansas.
Peters, a native of Brooklyn, NY, added 13.2 points a game and hit 48 three-pointers last year, scoring in double figures 25 times for the Saints.
“Both are quality young men,” Seward County head coach Bryan Zollinger said. “We’re excited to see them finding success at Sam Houston. Kaheem worked hard every single day and turned himself from a high school player who averaged eight points a game into one of the best guards in Seward history. Jabari was a difference maker for us as well. He could score and was a leader on defense.”
The pair got their NCAA Division I careers off to a good start leading Sam Houston to a 77-73 road win over Texas-Pan American in the Kats’ season opener. Peters and Ransom scored 24 and 23 points, respectively.
Peters followed up scoring 29 in a 108-103 overtime victory at Prairie View A&M. Ransom totaled 19 in the contest.
But the biggest win for Sam Houston so far this season came at the Lumberjack Classic tournament in Nacogdoches Dec. 6. Down eight points to national power James Madison with five minutes to play, the Bearkats fought back to win 77-76. Peters netted the game-winning three-point shot with 14 seconds to play.
“That was a big win for us,” Peters said. “It showed what we could do if we play together as a team.”
Peters earned All-Tournament honors along with teammate Terrance Motley after Sam Houston defeated Towson the next night to go 2-0 in the event.
“Playing at the Division I level is exciting,” Peters said. “It makes a big difference being surrounded by really good players who help you become better every day in practice.”
Peters and Ransom lead Sam Houston in scoring this season with averages of 13.4 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. Both have started every game.
“Jabari and I have been playing together for more than a year and a half now,” Ransom said. “It’s exciting moving up to Division I ball together. We’re learning every day. Coming back against James Madison was big for us. We didn’t want to let another game get away from us like we did against Liberty.”
The Bearkats wrap up a seven-game, three-week road swing this week playing at Toledo Saturday.
Sam Houston returns to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum for their final non-conference home game Saturday, Dec. 28, when the Kats play host to 2013 NCAA tournament participant LIU-Brooklyn.
“There’s a lot of basketball still to be played and we’re far from a finished product at this point, but Jabari and Kaheem have shown they have the skills to be successful at this level,” Hooten said.
Southland Conference action begins in January. The Bearkats, who reached the Southland post-season tournament semifinals last March in Katy, were tabbed in the preseason head coaches’ poll to finish third in the league race.
“We’re looking forward to starting conference play,” Peters said. “If we continue to work hard and play together as a team, we know we can succeed.”
Tickets for Sam Houston State home basketball games are on sale now online at www.gobearkats.com or at the SHSU athletic ticket office. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729.