No matter what kind of game you are in, when you are facing the Sam Houston Bearkats, there is a man that will make sure you hear his passion. That man is head coach Jason Hooten.
Hooten is entering his 13th season as head coach at Sam Houston. And the 2022-23 season also marks Hooten’s 19th season with the Bearkats overall.
Last season was the first year in the Western Athletic Conference for Hooten and the Bearkats. It was new territory, which brought new challenges. Hooten never seemed to be fazed by it at all. He had to show he wasn’t.
And despite a rough start where his coaching was put to the ultimate test, Hooten never wavered. The confidence, the trust, the loyalty to his squad was consistent no matter the situation.
The Bearkats went 4-8 in their first 12 games of the season. They were beating teams that they were supposed to beat but struggled against good teams. In fact, up until right before Christmas, the Bearkats had just one win over a Division I opponent. This included what Hooten said may have been the worst home loss at Johnson Coliseum. Missouri State came to Huntsville and beat the Bearkats 77-55 on Nov. 17.
It was not what Hooten wanted for his team you could imagine. It is okay to struggle a bit in non-conference play. But if you’re not showing your potential and or showing consistency in getting better, it will be difficult to compete once conference play starts. However, sometimes, all it takes is one spark, one moment, to get a team going.
It then all finally came to a head on December 21 of last season, before WAC play.
In the Weststar Sun Bowl Invitational at El Paso, Texas, Sam Houston got blown out of the Haskins Center, 87-61, at the hands of the Bradley Braves.
That 26-point loss was about as ugly as it gets. But, something clicked that night. Something happened that Hooten believes was the turning point.
And it happened in the locker room following the Bradley loss. Hooten and the Bearkats had a put up or shut up moment in the locker room. While there was no fly on a wall in that locker room to say what was said, there is a good idea of what was going on in there. Hooten has described it as a meeting of leadership stepping up to the plate. Savion Flagg said it was the moment where the Bearkats grew as a squad and came together knowing how good they could be. Whatever it was, the Bearkats ran with it and never looked back.
Following that night in El Paso, Sam Houston went on a tear. The Bearkats won eight of their next nine games and started WAC play 7-1, including a 26-point blowout win over New Mexico State.
The stretch to open WAC play included an impressive 3-game home stand sweep against WAC favorites SFA, New Mexico State, and GCU.
One thing throughout that home stand that was always noticeable was Jason Hooten.
Some might see just screaming, yelling, and maybe a bit of craziness. Well, to those who don’t know much about Sam Houston basketball, that it is Hooten doing what he does. Yelling the plays, directing the players, and making sure the defense is always on its toes and ready to take advantage of an opportunity. Defense was the theme after all.
In that tough 3-game stand, the Bearkats held SFA, NMSU, and GCU to an average of 47.7 points per game. None of the three opponents scored over 60 points. This home stand was important for Hooten and the Bearkats to let the WAC know that Sam Houston is here, and they are here to cause trouble.
Hooten accomplished that.
He also made some history to go along with it.
In the 49-41 victory against longtime Piney Woods rival SFA, Hooten passed former longtime Sam Houston coach Bob Marlin for most wins for a head coach in the Sam Houston men’s basketball program with win number 226.
— Sam Houston Men's Basketball (@BearkatsMBB) August 11, 2022
It was a celebration of more than just a win. With his players, assistant coaches, the fans, and his family, all cheered and congratulated him.
It was a special moment.
“You don’t do things like that without great administration and great support,” Hooten said in postgame interview.
With great support, comes loyalty.
Of course the people celebrated because he is the coach.
That is putting it lightly, and in the wrong way.
Hooten cares much about the players and the program. It’s no secret that Hooten and his staff like to say they recruit the best fit for the program rather than the best players. Yes, they want to win. But, they also want to lead great young men and build lasting relationships. It is about loyalty. It’s a big part of the reason Hooten has been in Huntsville for the better part of 19 years.
“Most people that know me, or they just meet me for the first time, they always like ‘you’ve been there how long?’,” Hooten said. “It’s a rarity for sure. A lot of coaches these days, and rightfully so, are looking for the next best thing or they’re on the lookout for jobs for one reason or another. We’ve just been extremely blessed here. It’s starts at the top. That’s been our mantra is just how great our presidents have been. And then I think it all just starts with our athletic director Bobby Williams whose been here for a long time.”
“I’m very blessed. It’s a family thing for us. And I’m a loyal person. We really like it here. It’s been good to us. People are friendly and give you an opportunity to do your job. And we feel like we do it the right way.”
On several occasions during the season, Hooten was around the campus square promoting the basketball team by shooting some basketballs with students. You would also see him at other Bearkat sports games and showing his support for other athletic programs.
He is a down to earth guy and cares not just about the basketball program but the Bearkat spirit.
He and the Bearkats preach a simple message.
Team. Family. Believe.
It’s a simple message but, it is something everyone can stick by.
With his passion, the value of loyalty, and support, it plays in the recruitment aspect as Hooten had to find replacements, especially with Savion Flagg and Kuba Karwowski leaving after finishing their grad years.
Hooten and the recruiting department however did well to attract big junior college names, international players, and others like Lamar Wilkerson, Anthony Wrzeszcz, Qua Grant, and Ronald Mitchell Jr. to name a few. Fortunately for Hooten and his staff, the Bearkats didn’t have to fill out a whole new roster. The Bearkats have seven returners from the 2021-22 squad. Something that is quite unique these days in college basketball.
Hooten went on the Straight Outta WAC podcast this week to talk about loyalty, and what it means to him. Hooten also discussed how nice it is to have 6-7 players returning with the transfer portal options players have these days.
“I think it speaks volumes about our culture,” Hooten said. “Cause all seven guys coming back, they’re culture guys. They’re guys that believe in what we preach, believe in what we strive for and what we work for everyday. They care about each other. They care about their university. They’re a lot of fun. These guys are what college basketball is all about.”
Yes, the 2021-22 season didn’t end the way Hooten and the Bearkats wanted. However, Hooten’s leadership and calming effect was a big reason Sam Houston found its groove and showed it belonged in the Western Athletic Conference.
With a sense of loyalty, hard work, and humility, the long-time Bearkat head coach loves the opportunity to compete. And in 2022-23, the Bearkats will get that opportunity one more time in the WAC. Sam Houston makes the jump to Conference USA on July 1, 2023.
From the looks of it, the Sam Houston Bearkat men’s basketball program is in good hands for the present, and for the future.