By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Baseball was supposed to be Jason Hooten's ticket to college. His dad and his uncle both played and baseball was about the only thing Hooten could do during the summer.
Then, the summer between his junior and senior years at Ellison High, he played in a basketball summer league and, all of his sudden, basketball became his thing.
"I just remember college coaches coming and watching us play and I'd have a few talk to me and send me letters. I guess that there, it just kind of encouraged me to work harder and get better and better in basketball," Hooten said via cell phone. "I had a really, really good senior year at Ellison ... We had a tremendous team and that just propelled me into college and probably had a lot to do with why I'm coaching basketball now."
Hooten went on to play at McLennan Community College and Tarleton State and then spent 17 years as an assistant coach.
Friday, he was finally given the opportunity to be a head coach at Sam Houston State, where he's spent the last six years as an assistant to Bob Marlin.
Seventeen years spent recruiting and managing schedules and wanting nothing more than to be a head coach prepared him for coaching one of the best Division I programs in Texas.
"The last couple of years have been tough. We've been winning, but there's that itch there that you want to be a head coach, you want that opportunity," Hooten said. "There were a couple of jobs that I looked at the last couple of years. Some of them I didn't want, some I didn't get, but there's a reason it didn't happen that way and it gave me an opportunity to be a head Division I basketball coach."
Sam Houston State has gone 127-59 in the six years he's been there, including going 25-8 this year and earning its second-ever trip to the NCAA Division I tournament.
"As far as the bar, the bar has already been set here. Everyone knows how successful this program is and how consistent this program's been," Hooten said. "What we want to do is just continue going in that direction and when people hear the name Sam Houston State, they'll know that we've got a winning tradition."
Marlin, who resigned from Sam Houston to take the same position at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, coached a defense-first team and Hooten will stay with that, he said, because it's worked.
It's also the same style of game used by his former coaches Lonn Reismann at Tarleton, where Hooten served as assistant for 11 years, and former MCC coach Ken DeWeese, who is now the head men's basketball coach at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
"Jason was unusual," DeWeese said. "When he was a player, he adopted the (defense-first) philosophy because he knew it right away. I think that's one of the reasons I liked him so much and had so much respect for him early is because he was very cerebral in his approach of the game."
Hooten held Ellison school basketball records in all-time scoring and assists before going on to be an all-conference honorable mention at MCC and a two-year letterman at Tarleton under Reismann, where he was a big part of the Texans' 26-5 records both years.
When he was hired at Sam Houston State in 2004, Hooten understood a day like Friday might come. Hooten, like the 2009-10 Bearkats, finally broke through.
"Was this team special? Yes, there's no question this year's team was special but you get to a point in the year where you've got have a little luck and we got a little luck this year," Hooten said. "... We've been right there on the brink the last couple years as well and maybe one time or another, we just didn't get the break.
"This team worked hard all year long and just kept getting better and better and we peaked at the right time."
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.