HUNTSVILLE - In last season’s Southland Conference Tournament, Cameron Delany played a total of 27 minutes in the two games for the Kats, coming off the bench each time.
That wasn’t anything new for the junior who was playing in his second season with the Bearkats. He only registered 20 minutes in Southland play once and seven times played single digit minutes against league foes.
It’s not the typical set up you see for a senior to-be on the verge of a season that ultimately ends with a Southland Conference Player of the Year award.
“We had competition in practice every day last year and there were guys who were playing better than he did,” said head coach Jason Hooten.
But after getting eliminated from the Southland semifinals, Delaney didn’t have to wait until he was a senior to show the coaching staff what he was capable of. The Bearkats accepted an invitation to continue the season by taking part in the CIT. There were more practices and three more games. A few injuries opened up more time on the floor for Delaney and he took advantage.
He logged 32 minutes in the opening game of the tournament, a home win against Eastern Michigan. He scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds, his second-best rebounding game of the year.
Three days later on the road at UTSA, Delany played 33 minutes and scored a season-high 13 points. In that victory, he hit a jumper with 8 minutes to play to tie the game at 59. The Kats never trailed again.
“Those three extra games were big for me and my career here,” Delaney said. “It helped my confidence and showed I can be successful at this level and on this stage in those do-or-die games. Coach putting me in as a starter and trusting me just really boosted my confidence.”
It wasn’t just Delaney’s confidence that was lifted. Hooten felt a boost as well.
“It gave me a little confidence in him and excitement going into this season that we might have a starter in him and a guy who has been here and knows what to expect,” Hooten said.
The biggest change Hooten said the staff saw in Delaney in the CIT games was on the offensive end.
“He played well offensively and we hadn’t seen that,” Hooten said. “We’d seen it in bits and pieces but not over that expended period of time. I thought it was huge for him and jump started him for this season.”
Delaney said the CIT gave him a chance to watch the way his game developed and was able to put a plan in place to make his mark in his final season.
“After all of that I went back and watched the film over and over and I was looking at myself saying I could play this game at a high level,” he said. “That was just huge for my confidence.”
Delaney started this season strong, scoring 20 points in the opener against East Texas Baptist and then 21 two games later at Louisiana Tech. After those two games Delaney said the hard work he had put in during the offseason was starting to show on the court.
“I think after I got that first 20-ball and then again against La Tech, I saw the payoff immediately,” Delaney said. “I had a solid game against Georgia and then a good first half against Clemson and I knew I could play at a high level.
Hooten said the change in Delaney’s approach to the season was noticeable, but one thing stood out.
“I think for him it was the leadership,” Hooten said. “Last year I think maybe he might follow someone and speak up if someone else said something first. But now he the guy that might say something before anyone and I think we have really seen that in practice.”
As Sam Houston heads into their first game of Southland Tournament play on Friday afternoon against New Orleans the top-seeded Bearkats will be no stranger to postseason play. The roster has combined to play in 17 games in the CIT alone, a fact Hooten said can’t be understated.
“I know there a lot of people out there who think if it’s not the NIT or the NCAA it’s not worth it, and I couldn’t disagree more,” Hooten said. “It gives your guys an opportunity to play different people than normal or to play on a different stage. It just builds confidence in everyone on the team.”
As the No. 1 seed in the Southland Tournament, the Bearkats are just two wins away from the ultimate postseason goal, a bid to the NCAA Tournament.