What if? Lon Kruger once got a call to gauge his interest in UTSA

Before Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger left the UTSA Convocation Center Monday night with his 621st career victory, I knew I had to ask him about a story that I’d heard for years.

Did former UTSA athletic director Rudy Davalos really call him back in the 1980s, inquiring about whether he wanted to coach the Roadrunners?

“I think we had that conversation,” Kruger said.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. — Photo by Joe Alexander

As the story goes, Davalos was worried that he was about to lose Don Eddy, who was interviewing for the head coaching job at Oral Roberts in Oklahoma.

Which prompted Davalos to start looking around to see who might be available to fill the void.

He ended up calling Kruger, who was in his 30s and coaching the Pan American University Broncs in Edinburg.

Pan American is now known as UT Rio Grande Valley.

“I don’t remember the details,” Kruger said. “But as you mention that, it seems like there’s some truth to that. We had a conversation about, ‘What if?’ ”

As it turned out, Eddy did not get the Oral Roberts job.

He returned to UTSA for a fifth season, and Kruger would continue to build his program in the Valley.

By the spring of 1986, Pan American won 20 games, and after the season, Kruger got a much better opportunity.

He took over in the offseason at Kansas State, his alma mater, and ended up reeling in a pretty good recruit by the name of Steve Henson.

As Kruger’s very first recruit in Manhattan, Henson went on to star as a point guard for the Wildcats.

Now in his third year as UTSA’s coach, Henson would also play several years in the NBA.

“Steve was our first recruit,” Kruger said. “He was a fantastic player and a great leader. No surprise that he’s continued that throughout his life.”

Henson later served as an assistant under Kruger at Illinois, with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, at UNLV and at Oklahoma.

Kruger was the first college coach to lead five different programs to the NCAA tournament.

He’s coached two teams to the Final Four, including his 2016 OU team, which was aided at the time by Henson.

“He’a just had an unbelievable work ethic,” Kruger said of the UTSA coach. “He had it as an NBA player and as an assistant coach. Now he’s doing it as a head coach.”

UTSA coach Steve Henson. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Postscript

For the record, Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday night in front of a rowdy crowd of 2,494.

With the victory, Kruger improved to 621-395 in his career. He is 4-3 against UTSA, including 2-3 in his four years at Pan American and now 2-0 at OU.

As for whether he would have come to UTSA if Eddy had left the program, we’ll never know.

“It just didn’t happen,” Kruger said.

Lon Kruger vs. UTSA

Legendary college basketball coach Lon Kruger is 4-3 in his career against UTSA, including 2-3 when he worked at Pan American and 2-0 at Oklahoma.

1983-84

Jan. 28, 1984 – At Edinburg – UTSA def. Pan American, 68-67

Feb. 25, 1984 – At San Antonio – UTSA def. Pan American, 75-68

1984-85

Jan. 19, 1985 – At San Antonio – Pan American def. UTSA, 79-70

Jan. 24, 1985 – At Edinburg – UTSA def. Pan American, 60-59

1985-86

Jan. 25, 1986 – At San Antonio – Pan American def. UTSA, 84-71, OT

2017-18

Dec. 4, 2017 – At Norman, Oklahoma – Oklahoma def. UTSA, 97-85

2018-19

No. 12, 2018 — At San Antonio – Oklahoma def. UTSA, 87-67

Oklahoma rallies in the second half to beat UTSA, 87-67

UTSA sophomore guard Keaton Wallace. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTSA sophomore Keaton Wallace pulls up for a shot Monday night with OU forward Brady Manek defending. Wallace scored a team-high 16 points. — Photo by Joe Alexander

For UTSA basketball fans stressing out over an 0-2 start, there’s really no reason to panic.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson will find a way — that is, if you believe Oklahoma Sooners coach Lon Kruger.

Trailing by four points six minutes into the second half Monday night, Kruger’s Sooners powered past the Roadrunners, 87-67.

A crowd of 2,494 at he Convocation Center watched as OU manufactured a 39-15 run in the last 14 minutes to turn back a UTSA upset bid.

Combined with a 77-76 loss last week to Division II St. Edward’s, the Roadrunners remain winless leading into a Wednesday night road test at Oklahoma State.

Kruger suggested afterward that Henson, his longtime former assistant, will figure it out.

Remember, Henson is the guy who arrived at UTSA in 2016 to take over a team with five victories the previous season.

UTSA won 14 games in the coach’s first year, followed by 20 last year.

It’s an achievement that has surprised even Kruger, Henson’s coaching mentor since the late 1980s.

“No one is going to work harder at it than Steve and do it with more integrity than Steve,” Kruger said. “That they did it so quickly (in turning around the program) may be a little bit of a surprise.

“No, he’s got all the qualities to be an outstanding coach. He’s been one for two years, and I expect that to continue.

“I like his ball club this year a lot,” said Kruger, whose Sooners improved to 2-0. “You get (Jhivvan) Jackson back healthy and a couple others playing well, I like his team a whole lot.”

Jackson, UTSA’s leading scorer, is due back in December following knee surgery last spring.

Without him, the Roadrunners lack a go-to man when they need a bucket.

As a result, UTSA shot 44 percent against St. Edward’s and followed with 35.6 percent against Oklahoma.

The Roadrunners have also been turnover prone.

They had 19 in the opener and 14 against the Sooners, including several down the stretch.

Henson characterized the team’s mood after the loss as disappointed, “as it should be.”

“Disappointed that we didn’t play the way we needed to,” Henson said. “We fought, competed. Our effort was good. Our focus was good. Preparation was good, and they’re a good team.

“The main topic was turnovers. Some forced. Some unforced. They trapped us a little bit, which is something I thought our team would thrive off of … But (we) didn’t handle that very well.”

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger watched as his team overcame a four-point, second-half deficit to beat UTSA by 20. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Individuals

Oklahoma — Shooting guard Christian James scored a game-high 24 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Point guard Aaron Calixte had 18 points and four assists. Forward Brady Manek contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.

UTSA — Guard Keaton Wallace had 16 points, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Forward Nick Allen scored 15. Point guard Giovanni De Nicolao had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven turnovers.

First half

With the offense struggling, the Roadrunners went scoreless for the first eight minutes and fell behind, 7-0. But after trailing by 12, they rallied with a 23-11 run to tie the game. Keaton Wallace hit consecutive threes in the streak, including one from long distance (see video below). OU retaliated with an 11-1 run to the buzzer, lifting OU into a 39-29 lead at the break.

Second half

The Roadrunners enjoyed the best six-minute stretch of the season at the outset, roaring from behind with a 23-9 run to take a 52-48 lead. Nick Allen keyed the streak with three baskets, including a driving layup, a three-pointer and a layup. De Nicolao and Wallace also added threes during the streak. Undaunted, the Sooners countered with solid bench play from Miles Reynolds and Jamal Bienemy. A Bienemy steal and layup, a jumper and another layup put OU up by five. The Sooners would not look back.

Nick Allen. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Nick Allen drives to the hoop against Oklahoma’s Christian James. Allen finished with 15 points.

Nick Allen predicts ‘electric’ atmosphere for OU-UTSA

Nick Allen. St. Edward's beat UTSA 77-76 in men's basketball on Wednesday night, Nov. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Nick Allen

Attendance at UTSA men’s basketball is notoriously modest.

Last year, the Roadrunners won 20 games for the first time in seven years, and the biggest crowd of the season was 2,210 for UTEP.

Historically, it’s a considered a good night when 1,200 or 1,300 fans turn out. Last year, the average was 1,146.

Crowd watchers will be on alert tonight when the Oklahoma Sooners tip off against the Roadrunners at 7 p.m.

Likely, Oklahoma is the most high profile program that UTSA has ever hosted at the Convocation Center, considering that OU plays in one of the major conferences and only three years ago was playing in the Final Four.

“It’s awesome,” UTSA forward Nick Allen said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show that we can play at that level. There’s not really that much separation between these levels of schools.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Allen can’t wait to see what the atmosphere will be like.

“It’s going to be electric,” he predicted. “It’s going to be big time. It’ll be a lot of fun. People are going to be really into it. We’re really, really into it.

“We’re super-duper excited. I can’t wait.”

Asked what it would be like to play in front of a full house of people every night, Allen’s eyes lit up.

“That would be amazing, he said. “I think that is such an advantage when it comes to any sport. You come into someone else’s home and you feel the energy.

“You feel … not only do you play against five peoople, but I can feel a whole arena of people that do not like me and do not want me to win.”

UTSA played well against OU last year in Norman, trailing by single digits until the last few minutes. The Sooners eventually pulled out a 97-85 victory.

“It was different,” Allen said. “They had Trae Young on the floor, so they played a very different style of basketball. They played very open. The court was very, very spread.

“I think this year, it’s going to be a little bit different because they’re not going to have that. I think they’re going to play with more strength than speed and open-ness.”

OU opened its season with a 91-76 road victory at UT Pan American, while UTSA surprisingly lost at home to a Division II opponent, falling 77-76 to St. Edward’s.

Allen said UTSA has been “locked in, really focused” in practices since the opener.

“We’re not exactly OK with what happened … it put a little taste in our mouth, and we came to work, so, practices have been really good,” he said.

UTSA didn’t shoot the ball very well and, at other times, suffered from too many possessions in which they didn’t get a shot because of turnovers.

“There was some youthfulness to it, definitely,”‘ Allen said. “It’s the first game of the season, so there’s always that …. It was just little things. Like, little wrinkles. Just, attention to detail.”

UTSA braces for a visit from the Oklahoma Sooners


UTSA coach Steve Henson starts practice Sunday afternoon in preparation for a much-anticipated home game Monday night against the Oklahoma Sooners.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon at UTSA, assistant basketball coach Mike Peck stopped outside the locker room, opening his eyes wide when asked about the challenge of playing a home game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

“I thought about staying in church til game time, just praying,” Peck said. “Steve said, ‘No.’ ”

Peck’s boss, UTSA head coach Steve Henson, smiled at his assistant’s comment.

Henson acknowledged the challenge at hand in facing the Sooners, for whom he worked as an assistant before taking the job at UTSA in 2016.

But he also said it’s not necessarily in his team’s best interest to slow it down.

Oklahoma (1-0) and UTSA (0-1) will tip off on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

“They’re an imposing looking crew,” Henson said. “They are. They’ve done a great job. A couple of those skinny guys came in there, and Bryce Daub on the (OU) strength and conditioning staff has done a great job, bulking them up.

“We’re not going to out-muscle ’em. We’re not going to overpower ’em. But, we’re going to try to spread ’em out, move ’em, attack ’em.

“A lot of times, when you’re playing an elite program like that, you’re worried about trying to slow things down, thinking fewer possessions is better, that fewer possessions is going to increase your chances for winning.

“We’re not going to look at it that way. I don’t know that that’s to our advantage. I think more possessions is better than fewer possessions.”

Taylor, Peevy lead Incarnate Word past UT Tyler

Incarnate Word is off to a 2-1 start under first-year coach Carson Cunningham (at left).

Freshman guard Morgan Taylor scored 19 points and sophomore forward Christian Peevy added 15 Saturday as the Incarnate Word Cardinals downed UT Tyler, 66-54, at the McDermott Center.

With the victory, UIW improved to 2-1 on the season. UIW will host Texas Lutheran on Monday night to complete a three-game homestand.

UIW is a fledgling NCAA Division I program competing in the Southland Conference.

The Cardinals are playing in their first season under coach Carson Cunningham, a former guard at Purdue.

Cunningham is in his first season as a Division I coach after working the past five seasons at NAIA Carroll College in Montana.

So far, the coach has been playing with a lot of young players.

It hurt him in the opener last week when UIW was pounded 87-37 against Big 12 power Texas Tech.

But the young Cardinals seem to be finding some confidence against teams from the lower levels of college basketball.

First, they defeated NAIA St. Francis, Illinois, 63-49, on Friday night.

Next, a night later, they handled UT-Tyler with ease.

Both nights, Cunningham started four freshmen and a sophomore.

Despite their youth, the Cardinals pulled away from the Patriots mid-way through the first half and led by 22 several times in the second half.

Notes

The Patriots are in the first year of a transition from NCAA Division III to Division II.


UIW senior Charles Brown hits a shot in the paint Friday night against St. Francis, Illinois. Freshman point guard Morgan Taylor started the play out front by passing to another freshman, Romello Wilbert, who fed Brown in the post.

Cunningham wins first game as UIW basketball coach

The University of the Incarnate Word held St. Francis, Illinois, to 28.6 percent shooting Friday night en route to a 63-49 victory, the first for Carson Cunningham as coach of the Cardinals.

With the win, UIW improved to 1-1 on the season and earned a measure of redemption after a 50-point loss at Texas Tech on Tuesday.

St. Francis remained at 0-0 as it played the game as an exhibition.

“It was nice to see the guys really working on defense,” said Cunningham, who was in his UIW home debut. “I thought they were really trying to execute the game plan on defense.

“Give St. Francis a ton of credit. They played great, and they played really hard. It’s nice to get the win. I think it’s also going to help us get better.”

UIW plays as an NCAA Division I program in the Southland Conference, and so St. Francis, an NAIA team based in Joliet, Illinois, entered the Convocation Center looking for an upset.

In the second half, the Saints put together a 15-4 run to take a 39-38 lead with 11:52 remaining. Undaunted, UIW scored 13 of the next 15 points to regain control.

After a fast break dunk by freshman guard Morgan Taylor, UIW was up, 51-41. St. Francis never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Individual leaders

Senior forward Charles Brown III came off the bench to score 14 points to lead the Cardinals, who shot 60 percent rrom the floor.

In addition, Taylor scored 11 in a team-high 34 minutes. Sophomore forward Christian Peevy added 10, all in the first half.

St. Francis point guard Terrion Howard, only 5-feet-4, led the Fighting Saints with 20.

First half

Peevy came off the bench for 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in the half.

Notes

The game marked the home debut for Cunningham, who was hired last March to replace Ken Burmeister. Burmeister stepped down after 12 seasons as coach.

Cunningham, who worked the past five seasons at Carroll College in Montana, started four freshmen and a sophomore. He has eight freshman on his 15-man roster.

Moment of silence

A moment of silence was observed before the game for the late Simi Socks, a former UIW player who died last June.

Socks, a power forward, played in 80 games for the Cardinals over the past three seasons.

Near the end of the first half (see video above), St. Francis defenders cut off Peevy on the baseline. But Peevy dished between two men to freshman Bryce Davis for a layup.

UIW’s Cunningham wants to play with ‘competitive fire’

I’m really anxious to go out and watch Coach Carson Cunningham’s home debut as the University of the Incarnate Word’s men’s basketball coach tonight.

UIW will host St. Francis of Illinois at 7 p.m. at the McDermott Convocation Center.

As tipoff draws near, I remember the first time I had a chance to interview the new coach.

Back in March, UIW had just announced Cunningham, and I was on another assignment out on the Northwest Side of San Antonio.

I can’t remember if he called me, or if I called him, but when I did get him on the phone, I was sitting in the foyer of a Luby’s restaurant.

It was pretty strange, with people coming in and out of the eatery, and I’m sitting on a little bench, asking the coach about his vision for the future of the program.

“The goal is to build a values-infused program that aligns with the mission of the university, delivers a fulfilling experience for the student-athletes and has a tremendous competitive fire,” Cunningham said.

Now that I think about it, I may need to go grab a late lunch before tipoff.

Records

UIW (0-1)
St. Francis (0-0)

Season opener

Texas Tech shot 63 percent in the second half Tuesday night and blew out UIW, 87-37. Tech was an Elite Eight team last year in the NCAA tournament.

Players to watch for UIW

Antoine Smith — A 6-7 freshman from Westerville, Ohio, who scored 16 at Texas Tech on 5 of 9 shooting.

Charles Brown III — A 6-7 senior from New Orleans, Brown led UIW in scoring last year. He was held to five points in Lubbock.

Coming up

UIW plays at home Saturday night, hosting Texas-Tyler, and again on Monday, against Texas Lutheran.

Notable

St. Francis coach Ryan Marks is a familiar face in Texas college basketball circles, having coached previously at St. Edward’s University in Austin and at Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

UIW forward Charles Brown III takes it strong to the basket against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. (Soobum Im / The University of the Incarnate Word)

UTSA hopes to contend for a conference championship


UTSA forward Nick Allen rises up to hit a corner three-pointer in practice. The Roadrunners open the season Nov. 7 at home against St. Edward’s.

Eight days before showtime, third-year UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson stopped to talk to reporters after practice Tuesday afternoon and said he wants his team to compete for a championship.

Since UTSA has been picked to finish fifth in the C-USA poll, reporters asked Henson if the goals are loftier than that, given all the talent returning from a 20-win team.

“We’re not talking about a number of wins or any of that,” Henson said. “But we’re moving in the right direction. We’re stronger than we were. We’re deep. We got some pretty good maturity, some good leadership. We’re trying to position ourselves to make a run at a league title.”

The Roadrunners kick off the season at home against St. Edward’s, an NCAA Division II team from the Heartland Conference, on Nov. 7. On Nov. 12, UTSA will welcome coach Lon Kruger and the high-powered Oklahoma Sooners.

A starting lineup could consist of Nick Allen and promising newcomer Atem Bior in the post positions, with Byron Frohnen at wing and Keaton Wallace and Giovanni De Nicolao at the guard spots.

UTSA is expected to have one of the better backcourts in the conference, especially when sophomore Jhivvan Jackson is cleared to play.

Jackson, UTSA’s leading scorer last year, is recovering well from a knee injury and is tentatively set to play in early December, Henson said.

A promising newcomer

Henson said he has been particularly pleased with the play of Bior, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound power forward from Brisbane, Australia, who will bring a physical style under the glass.

“He’s a strong guy,” Henson said. “He’s extremely quick, rebounds the ball above the rim. You know, we got a bunch of guys that box out and chase after rebounds, but you notice him getting rebounds up higher than the other guys.”

Bior, who played last year at New Mexico Military Institute, averaged 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in leading the Broncos to an 18-12 record.

He started 29 of 30 games, shooting 48 percent from the field and 76 percent at the free-throw line. Bior is classified as a junior.

UTSA power forward Atem Bior hails from Brisbane, Australia.

Kansas is No. 1 in AP preseason basketball poll

AP Preseason All-American team

The Associated Press 2018-19 preseason All-America team, with school, height, year and votes from a 65-member national media panel (key 2017-18 statistics in parentheses):

Carsen Edwards, Purdue, 6-1, 200, sophomore, 63 votes (18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 40.6 3pt fg pct, 1.1 steals)

Luke Maye, North Carolina, 6-8, 240, senior, 52 (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.4 apg, 43.1 3pt fg pct, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks)

R.J. Barrett, Duke, 6-7, 202, freshman, 50 (high school: 28.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.5 apg)

Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 6-9, 235, junior, 30 (Memphis 2016-17: 19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals)

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 237, senior, 23 (17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 52.8 fg pct, 1.5 steals)

Caleb Martin, Nevada, 6-7, 205, senior, 23 (18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 40.3 3pt fg pct, 1.3 steals)

Other receiving votes: Grant Williams, Tennessee, 18; Tyus Battle, Syracuse, 11; Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga, 10; Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s, 10; Kyle Guy, Virginia, 8; Mike Daum, South Dakota State, 6; Markus Howard, Marquette, 5; Reid Travis, Kentucky, 5; Zion Williamson, Duke, 3; Tremont Waters, LSU, 2; Cassius Winston, Michigan State, 2; Sagaba Konate, West Virginia, 1; Romeo Langford, Indiana, 1; Eric Paschall, Villanova, 1; Jontay Porter, Missouri, 1.

UTSA basketball: throwing down a few dunks for the fans

The UTSA Roadrunners showed off for the fans Tuesday night at the Convocation Center.

Coming off a 20-win season, UTSA will open the new year on Nov. 7 at home against St. Edward’s.

The Roadrunners host the Oklahoma Sooners on Nov. 12.