UTSA’s Addo-Ankrah says scholarship won’t change his approach to basketball

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. UTSA lost to Western Kentucky 71-65 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Former walk-on Isaiah Addo-Ankrah emerged as UTSA’s best 3-point shooter last season. He hit 42 percent from behind the arc and was later awarded a scholarship. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special report for The JB Replay

Tonight, for the first time, UTSA’s Isaiah Addo-Ankrah will take the court in front of fans as an NCAA Division I scholarship basketball player.

The landmark moment in the former walk-on’s career will arrive as the UTSA men’s and women’s teams host Rowdy Jam, a tip-off event to celebrate the start of the season. Rowdy Jam will run from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Rec Center.

Addo-Ankrah said in an interview last week that he is taking seriously his ascension in roster status, though not to the extent that he feels any sort of added pressure or responsibility.

“No,” he said. “I still feel like I’m that walk-on with that chip on my shoulder even though I got the scholarship. I don’t feel like I got to do more. I feel like I just need to keep working.”

With Rowdy Jam, the basketball programs will unveil their teams to the fans. Admission is free for all students who bring their student ID. Last season, the UTSA men (10-22) and women (7-23) suffered through some tough times.

Addo-Ankrah said he thinks the Roadrunners’ men will be “way better” than last year.

“I feel like we’re more connected,” he said. “Still got a long ways to go (in) being a little bit tougher. But, a way better team than last year. Team-wise, we have all the right pieces. Everyone gets together and there’s no, like, drama. Or anything like that.”

During last season’s drama, Addo-Ankrah emerged as one of the bright spots. He started to show during conference play that he could contribute in a meaningful way.

Down the stretch, the former standout at Houston Second Baptist High School became the Roadrunners’ most reliable threat from 3-point distance.

As a result, he was told during the offseason that he would be elevated to scholarship status. He said in an interview on Oct. 20 that it was an emotional moment for him.

He was home, in his apartment making breakfast with his mother, when his cell phone buzzed. Coach Steve Henson calling with news that he would no longer need to pay his own way to attend UTSA.

“It was a cool moment,” he said. “A lot of tears in my kitchen.”

Addo-Ankrah, a 2019 graduate of Houston Second Baptist High School, had spent the past three years wondering if the scholarship would ever come. Likely, he also had questions at times as to whether he could make it to the next practice.

In his first season out of high school, Addo-Ankrah attended the University of Houston. First, as a walk-on tryout for the men’s team. Later, as a practice player for the UH women’s squad.

“(When) I was at U of H, that’s when I really had the most doubt,” he said. “You’re not playing basketball. You’re playing with the girls and you’re guarding them and stuff. That’s when you had the most doubt.”

After enrolling at UTSA in 2020, he felt a sense of optimism in catching on with Henson’s Roadrunners. But at the same time, there were never any guarantees. Addo-Ankrah played only six games in mop-up duty as a freshman.

“My freshman year (at UTSA)?” he asked. “I’d say it was hard. Because I was away from home, and there was Covid and you’re isolated and you’re not really getting in (to the program), but you got to know what to do.

“You have to try to figure everything out. You’re living alone. Then you got to play basketball, and I was skinny.”

The Roadrunners weren’t a particularly physical team in the 2020-21 season. But they did have a couple of players who weighed more than 220 pounds, including one at 240. At the time, Addo-Ankrah tipped the scales at 180.

“I remember my first day at practice, (former UTSA forward) Luka Barisic hit me in the stomach,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Aw man, I don’t know if I’m built for this.’ ”

To his surprise, Addo-Ankrah was built to last. Though he played sparingly as a freshman and started his sophomore year in an equally limited role, things started to change after the Christmas break.

Unfortunately for the team, players started to come down with Covid on seemingly an every-other-week basis.

Later, Cedrick Alley was ruled academically ineligible. Dhieu Deing and Jordan Ivy-Curry left the team team, though Deing returned to finish out the year. Aleu Aleu injured a knee and was lost for the season.

It was a mess, and leading into a road trip at UTEP, the Roadrunners took the floor with only six scholarship players. Addo-Ankrah stepped into the fray and knocked down three, 3-point shots off the bench.

For the season, he knocked down 32 of 76 treys, leading the team with a 42.1 shooting percentage from behind the arc.

It was a bittersweet stretch for Addo-Ankrah, who was finally getting to play consistently at the same time that the program was crumbling toward a 10-22 finish. This season, Addo-Ankrah feels much better about the team’s prospects.

“I feel like we’re more connected,” he said. “Still got a long ways to go (in) being a little bit tougher. But, a way better team than last year. Team-wise, we have all the right pieces. Everyone gets together and there’s no, like, drama. Or anything like that.”

Asked what he meant by being “more connected,” Addo-Ankrah offered a revealing description of last year’s experience.

“I feel like I got brothers now,” he said. “Like, last year I’d be coming in and, like, I didn’t know who I could talk to. Anyone on the team (this season), I can have a conversation with. That I can hang out with. Things like that.

“Not even (just) on the court. Off the court. I know that they got my back, and they care for me.”

Last year, for the season, Addo-Ankrah played in 21 of 32 games. The 6-foot-7, 200-pounder averaged 5.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in a little more than 16 minutes. This season, the Roadrunners likely are looking to him for additional scoring punch.

During fall practices, he’s been part of an intriguing small-ball unit, with four perimeter players consisting of 5-foot-11 Japhet Medor, 6-2 John Buggs, 6-3 Erik Czumbel and himself, with 6-11 Jacob Germany in the post.

Coaches apparently like the floor spacing possibilities, with four three-point threats surrounding Germany, the returning scoring leader from last year.

Most often, Medor is the point guard in that lineup, with Buggs at shooting guard, Czumbel at wing forward and Addo-Ankrah at power forward.

“All three (of the guards) can play-make,” Addo-Ankrah said. “EZ can play the one and take Japhet off ball (at times). He’s calm. You know what he brings to the table. Like, he’s going to go hard every time.

“And you know Buggs can shoot it. If it gets down in the shot clock, he can get a bucket, and so can Japhet. So can Jacob. So, (coach) likes that lineup.”

If the Roadrunners play with that lineup to a great extent, Addo-Ankrah knows he will need to focus on rebounding a little more than usual.

“You got to be tough,” he said. “You got to box out. (Assistant) coach (Adam) Hood challenged me to get more rebounds. Because, normally, I’ve been playing guard, so I don’t crash as much. (He says) ‘every time you see a ball, go attack it.’ That’s the only thing I got to look at. I don’t mind it at all.”

At the same time, the Roadrunners will need to see Addo-Ankrah at his best on the offensive end, and he knows it.

In an effort to remedy offensive woes from last year, coaches have challenged each player on the roster to hit 10,000 three-point shots in two different segments of the offseason.

The first segment ran from June to August, Addo-Ankrah said. The next one started in September and is scheduled to run for the next few days, through the end of October.

Addo-Ankrah said he made 17,000 treys by the end of August. He said he’s knocked down another 13,000 this fall, and he said those were at different times outside of scheduled team practices.

“And that’s just threes,” he said. “I still shoot mid-range (shots). That’s another thing about this year, about the brotherhood. I got a lot more people to shoot with (this year). People to talk to. To work out with.

“Sometimes we’ll play (one on one). I think that’s going to help us out a lot. Coach putting that shooting challenge in, to get in the gym more. He wants us to have something to shoot for.”

UTSA’s Atwood: ‘We’re aiming for more than just a winning season’

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, at UTSA women's basketball practice on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, has returned to practice on a full-speed basis after a few months rehabilitating an Achilles injury. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Refining her skills and building stamina gradually, UTSA senior guard Hailey Atwood on Monday morning expressed optimism not only for her successful comeback from a sore Achilles, but also for the team’s chances to register a winning season.

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, at UTSA women's basketball practice on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Both Atwood (above) and Kyra White were limited by minor injuries early in the fall semester, but both are expected to be ready to play when the Roadrunners open the season Nov. 7 at Stephen F. Austin. . – Photo by Joe Alexander

She said it’s hard to estimate where she is physically after going through her first full-contact practice of the preseason.

“I’ve been battling that Achilles injury and getting that better over the last two months,” she said. “Today was actually my first practice, full go, full court. So I think the main thing for me is getting back into shape.”

The season opener for the UTSA women is Nov. 7 at Stephen F. Austin. The Roadrunners haven’t had a winning season since a 16-15 record in 2014-15. Atwood said she wants the team to think bigger than that.

“I feel like that’s the bare minimum expectation,” she said. “We were ranked No. 9 (in the Conference USA preseason poll.) I think it’s disrespectful. No one sees the hard work that we’ve been putting in, and, yeah, every team in this conference is putting in that work.

“But I think we have high expectations … We’re aiming for more than just a winning season.”

On an individual level, Atwood is working hard to make up for practice time lost to rehabilitation on her Achilles.

“Obviously, it’s October and it’s kind of a hard place to start, to just be thrown into the fire,” she said. “For me I would say I’m at, like, 88 percent. Those 12 percent are like polishing up on the things I missed and getting back in shape.”

UTSA finished 7-23 last season, in Karen Aston’s first year as coach at the school. A core of six players from last year return, including four of them who averaged more than 20 minutes per game — center Elyssa Coleman, plus guards Queen Ulabo, Deborah Nwakamma and Atwood. Two others are Kyleigh McGuire and Kennedy Harrell.

“In the spring, we spent a lot of time doing a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two stuff,” Aston said in an interview last week. “I thought all the players that returned for us improved a lot. I feel bad for Hailey that she’s been out, because she might have been the most improved of all the returners.

“If you look at all of them, their shooting is significantly better. Their ball skills are better, and that’s because of the work that the coaches have put in with them.”

Atwood and newcomer Kyra White were among players limited with minor injuries at the start of the fall semester, and now both are taking part in all team activities. On Monday, one group of players showed off a good-looking flow in 5-on-5, full-court action.

The five consisted of Coleman and Jordyn Jenkins on the front line, with White and Nwakamma on the wings and freshman Sidney Love at the point guard. Jenkins and White are newcomers, transfers from Southern Cal.

A second group consisted of Jenkins and Maya Linton in the frontcourt, with Ulabo and Atwood on the wings and Siena Guttadauro at point guard. Linton and Guttadauro are freshmen.

Last season, Atwood came in from junior college and played in 27 games, starting 12 for the Roadrunners. Pushing through physical problems, she averaged 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 21.9 minutes.

Atwood called last season a “rough experience” for her both “basketball-wise and life-wise.” She wasn’t sound physically, coming in off a knee injury. A former junior college standout at Blinn, she was also trying to figure out the pace of Division I competition.

On top of the usual issues faced by players taking a step up to the next level, Atwood suffered a personal loss when her great grandmother passed away. If that weren’t enough, she also contracted Covid.

“After that, I just never got back in the flow of things,” Atwood said. With the experience behind her, the 5-foot-8 Austin native said she does feel better this season, just in knowing what Aston and the other coaches expect of her.

Mainly, she knows she needs to play her role and to take care of her own job individually. Also, perhaps most importantly, she realizes the importance of giving maximum effort.

“You’re not going to be perfect,” Atwood said. “You’re not going to make every single shot. You’re going to turn the ball over. You’re going to miss a box-out here and there. But, coach doesn’t care about that. It’s about the effort you give.”

Averaging 18.5 points and seven rebounds in 2020-21 at Blinn College, the former Austin Bowie High School standout is a player who could make a significant impact on the Roadrunners’ rebuilding effort this year.

In shooting drills, she shows off a stylish form — unleashing the ball on a high-arc, with perfect backspin. She said it’s something she has developed at UTSA, by getting “down into” her shot and then following through after her release.

“Obviously, I’m going to continue to shoot,” Atwood said. “My mid-range is definitely better than my 3-pointer. A lot of that came from when I was injured. The reps I would get (were) in the mid-range. Being able to extend my range out, it’s going to help me.”

As for the team, Atwood senses that players are meshing well, in spite of all the newcomers and returners just getting to know each other personally and as players.

“I definitely think we’re in a better place than we were last year,” she said. “I think we’re in a much better place. I’m very confident. We’re ready, but we’ll be even more prepared in (two weeks) when we tip off.”

Picked to finish last? Roadrunners irritated by C-USA poll results

The UTSA Roadrunners carried plenty of motivation into practices this fall. They didn’t have the success they wanted last year, and they wanted to make sure they did everything they could to make amends.

For sure, they didn’t need a preseason poll to get fired up to come to practice.

All that notwithstanding, waking up to news that they had been picked to finish last in the official Conference USA preseason poll gave at least a few of the players an extra something to think about.

“That was the first thing I saw on Twitter today,” Roadrunners forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah said after Thursday’s practice. “I can’t lie to you. It (ticked) me off a little bit. I know it (ticked) some of the guys off because we were talking about it.

“You can’t worry about other people’s opinions. We know what we got. We just got to stay together and prove people wrong and prove ourselves right.”

For the second-straight season, UAB has been voted by the C-USA’s head coaches as the preseason favorite to win the regular-season championship.

Western Kentucky was pegged second and North Texas third. UTSA was picked 11th, or, last, in the poll. Questioned about the news, UTSA coach Steve Henson shrugged it off.

“I just told (players) to be smart at how they handled it,” Henson said. “But I’m sure they didn’t like the way it looked. It is what it is. Some of them will use it as extra motivation. I’m not the kind that’s going to print it out and stick it on the lockers.

“I got enough reasons to be motivated to play good basketball. My concern was to have a good practice today, not where we were picked in the league.”

One certainty is that nobody will remember the preseason poll five years from now.

“No, but some will use it as motivation,” Henson said. “It’s not the right way to get motivated to be a good team. There’s a lot of good reasons to compete and to line up and try to have a good practice and have a good first game.

“I’m (thinking) more about being a better team when we line up to play Schreiner in two weeks. That’s what I’m focused on.”

The Roadrunners play Schreiner in their one and only exhibition on Nov. 2. On Nov. 7, they open the regular season against at home against Trinity.

C-USA preseason poll

1. UAB
2. WKU
3. North Texas
4. Middle Tennessee
5. Florida Atlantic
6. Louisiana Tech
7. Rice
9. Charlotte
10. FIU
11. UTSA

Preseason player of the Year

Jordan Walker, UAB

All conference

Alijah Martin, Florida Atlantic – sophomore guard
Cobe Williams, Louisiana Tech – junior guard
Teafale Lenard Jr., Middle Tennessee – sophomore guard
Tylor Perry, North Texas – senior guard
Quincy Olivari, Rice – junior guard
Eric Gaines, UAB – sophomore guard
Jordan Walker, UAB – senior guard
Emmanuel Akot, WKU – graduate senior guard
Dayvion McKnight, WKU* – junior guard
Jamarion Sharp, WKU – senior center

UTSA women picked ninth in preseason C-USA basketball poll

UTSA has been picked to finish ninth in Conference USA women’s basketball, according to the conference’s preseason poll announced Thursday.

Jordyn Jenkins at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Jordyn Jenkins leads UTSA into a regular-season opener at Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 7. Jenkins has been named to the preseason all-Conference USA squad. – photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners forward Jordyn Jenkins, a transfer from Southern Cal, has been named to the preseason all-conference squad.

According to the poll, which has been released out of the C-USA office, Middle Tennessee State has been picked to win the title, followed by Louisiana Tech and Charlotte.

The projected order of finish is as follows, with first place votes in parentheses and total points:

1. Middle Tennessee (9) 118
2. LA Tech 104
3. Charlotte (2) 95
4. Rice 77
5. North Texas 75
6. WKU 66
7. UAB 58
8. UTEP 43
9. UTSA 36
10. FIU 34
11. Florida Atlantic 20

Preseason Player of the Year

Keiunna Walker, LA Tech


Mikayla Boykin, Charlotte, senior guard
Jada McMillian, Charlotte, senior guard
Anna Larr Roberson, LA Tech, junior forward
Keiunna Walker, LA Tech, senior guard
Kseniya Malashka, Middle Tennessee, redshirt senior forward
Savannah Wheeler, Middle Tennessee, senior guard
Courtney Whitson, Middle Tennessee, senior forward
Quincy Noble, North Texas, senior guard
Ashlee Austin, Rice, senior forward
Jordyn Jenkins, UTSA, junior forward

Nostalgia flows freely as Keaton Wallace returns to UTSA

Five years ago, a skinny, a left-handed shooting guard from the Dallas area arrived at UTSA without much fanfare, but with a will to win matched by only a few players in school history.

Along with his four-year teammate, Jhivvan Jackson, Wallace forged a career that ranks as one of the university’s greatest, up there with the likes of Derrick Gervin, Devin Brown, Devin Gibson and Jeromie Hill.

Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Southwestern Adventist from Keene, Texas, 123-43 in a non-conference game on Thursday, March 4, 2021, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Teammates Jhivvan Jackson (left) and Keaton Wallace emerged as the top to scorers in UTSA school history. Jackson scored 2,551 and Wallace 2,080 in four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21. — File photo by Joe Alexander.

Given Wallace’s stature and his trademark humble, soft-spoken nature, his appearance at a UTSA practice on Tuesday afternoon seemed almost as cool as the breezes blowing through the oak and cedar.

Wallace entered the building just as Coach Steve Henson’s practice was getting underway. After speaking briefly with a reporter at courtside, he walked down and under the south end basket, circling toward the players’ side of the floor.

Once there, he found a ball, took a seat in a courtside chair and dribbled between his legs, all while taking in every nuance of the two-hour workout.

Afterward, Wallace met with the players, including two of his former teammates, seniors Jacob Germany and Erik Czumbel. He also met with Henson and other coaches who recruited him to campus out of Richardson High School.

Later, as he reminisced with a reporter, the nostalgia started to flow freely. First, the reporter told Wallace a story.

In 2017, UTSA had returned from a scrimmage at Sam Houston State, and coaches were buzzing about a freshman sharp-shooter. The buzz centered on Wallace, who had hit six three-pointers in Huntsville in his unofficial debut for the Roadrunners.

The performance was not a fluke.

Wallace went on to score 2,080 points. He also knocked down 715 field goals, including 346 threes. All three totals would rank second in school history to Jackson, his teammate and backcourt partner.

Known as the “UTSA Splash Brothers,” Jackson and Wallace led the Roadrunners to three winning records in four seasons.

Wallace, preparing to enter his second season in the NBA G League, came through San Antonio to spend some time before he returns to Southern California, where he will join the Clippers’ minor league camp in about a week.

“It’s really good to see everyone again,” Wallace said. “A lot of good memories here, a lot of good moments we had with the fans and the team and with the school. Just a lot of love.”

Most who remember the Jackson-Wallace era at UTSA will recall a home game against Old Dominion in which the Roadrunners erased a 17-point deficit in the final few minutes to win.

The building seemed to be shaking with noise after Wallace hit an off-balance three out of the corner during the rally.

“It was one of the greatest moments in the Convo,” he said. “We (were) down big in the second half, by 17, and we just found a way. We found a way to make it happen.”

UTSA coach Steve Henson said it was “terrific” to see Wallace again.

“It’s great to have him around,” the coach said. “He’s going to be around for several days this week. He was excited to be here. We were all excited to have him around.”

Henson said that the start of Wallace’s career came up after practice when players gathered at center court.

“We were just talking about him, what he was like as a senior in high school and what he weighed when he got here as a freshman in college — 161 pounds — and how he transitioned into his sophomore year,” Henson said.

From his first year to the next, Wallace put in the time and put on some pounds. As a result, his scoring averaged rocketed from 11.4 as a freshman all the way to 20.2 as a sophomore in 2018-19, the first of three straight years in which he was named to the all-Conference USA second team.

Wallace finished his four years averaging 16.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He played in 125 games.

“Keaton was guy who, right away when he got on campus, he did the things we’re talking to our guys about (now),” Henson said. “He took care of his body. Still does. Got his sleep. Ate right. Got his treatment. Put in tons and tons of hours shooting the basketball.

“He just had a mature approach to (taking care of) his body. Some guys get that. Some guys don’t.”

Though neither Jackson nor Wallace heard their names called in the 2021 NBA Draft, both are still playing professionally. After nearly a year rehabilitating a shoulder injury, Jackson spent a short time last summer in a Spanish pro league. He signed recently with a team in Belgium.

In 2021, Wallace played for the Memphis Grizzlies’ summer league team. Later, he was selected with the ninth pick in the second round of the G-League draft by the Wisconsin Herd. He was subsequently traded to the Ontario Clippers, where he finished the remainder of the G-League season.

In 31 regular season games, he averaged 18.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Though Wallace was recently waived out of the Los Angeles Clippers’ camp, it’s possible that he could be a candidate for a call-up on 10-day, NBA contract sometime this season.

“If I get a call up, I get a call up,” he said. “I don’t think about it too much. I just try to do my job every day, every game.”

Wallace has always dreamed of playing in the NBA.

He mentioned it a few times during his UTSA career. It’s now even possible that he and his younger brother, University of Kentucky freshman Cason Wallace, could both be playing at the highest level some day.

All the emotions notwithstanding, Keaton Wallace said he can’t afford to dwell on being one transaction away from the big time when he knows that every-day improvement in his game is so crucial.

“It’s just part of being a pro,” he said. “You just come in every day, trying to get better. You try to go and, you know, just do your job. That’s how I see it.”

UTSA’s Aston practicing patience during fall camp workouts

Coach Karen Aston at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Karen Aston is monitoring the progress of her five talented freshmen 20 days out from a Nov. 7 season opener at Stephen F. Austin. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With five talented freshmen among eight newcomers on her team, UTSA women’s basketball coach Karen Aston has known for some time now that she would need to be patient during the fall preseason camp.

Aston is going through one of those stretches now. Exactly 20 days out from a Nov. 7 season opener at Stephen F. Austin, the coach is making the most of the time allotted to teach the game.

“We had a full scrimmage last week against the guys and there (were) some glaring weaknesses that we needed to address,” she said Tuesday morning. “I think the last couple of practices, we’ve done that.

“It’s like plugging holes,” Aston said. “You figure out something that you need to get better at, and you work on that, and then another (issue) comes up.

“We just have so many new faces, with so many freshmen, the information overload is upon them with the wear and tear of preseason practices. In 20 days, regardless of whether we’re ready or not, it’s like, we got to start playing.

“You got to go and start to get the feel of what this is going to be like. You can talk about it in practice, but, when they get in the games, it starts to resonate a little more.”

Guard Sidney Love from San Antonio-area Steele leads the UTSA freshmen. She is seeing the floor quite a bit during workouts and, with an advanced offensive game, looks to be bidding to start the opener.

Others are guards Madison Cockrell, Siena Guttadauro and Alexis Parker and forward Maya Linton.

A few days ago, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked about how he planned to throw some of his young players “into the frying pan” to see what they could do.

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen with us, with these freshmen,” Aston said. “Some are moving along a little quicker than others.

“Some are better in some areas. Some can shoot the ball really well but they don’t exactly know the pace or the physicality, so they’ll come around, each one of them probably on their own clock.”

Though Aston hasn’t named names exactly on her projected starting five, Love likely is in serious contention to start.

“I think she’s starting to figure some things out,” Aston said. “I thought she went through a pretty rough patch last week on probably just the load of practice, the pressure, all of that.”

Love has been better this week as two older, more experience players — Kyra White and Hailey Atwood — step up their repetitions in practice after sitting out team drills for much of camp in August and September.

As both work their way into shape, Love is responding.

“Having (junior transfer) Kyra White and Hailey back at practice has helped her tremendously,” Aston said. “It should help all the young ones, because (the freshmen) have been plugging along without any role models, so to say.

“I think having those two back has really helped (Love). It’s taken a little pressure off her shoulders.”

For much of the early fall workouts, Love handled most of the load at point guard.

White, a San Antonio-area Judson grad and a 5-9 junior transfer from Southern Cal, initiated the offense quite a bit at Tuesday’s workout. With White at the point, Aston had Love on the wing at a shooting guard.

“Moving her to the two and sometimes lightening that load, has been really good for her,” Aston said. “She seems to be having a better week this week because Kyra’s back.”

UTSA’s Medor bolsters his career through support from a big family

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

On the court, UTSA senior Japhet Medor likes to consider himself as a pass-first point guard, a distributor of the basketball. A team player. First and foremost, he wants to win and to see his teammates, his brothers, have fun.

1 Japhet Medor UTSA basketball at photo day on Sept. 22, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Japhet Medor is preparing to make his NCAA Division I debut with the UTSA Roadrunners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Off the court, he’s a businessman, promoting his own clothing line, the “Top Floor Boyz.”

But perhaps more to the point of his own identity, Medor is a family man. As the youngest of seven siblings, he expresses gratitude for the guidance of his parents and all of his real-life brothers and a sister, who always provided him with a safe haven.

“It was like, for me, being around them, they’ve been in the same situations I’ve been in,” said Medor, 23, from Wellington, Fla. “A lot of them played sports and a lot — well, all of them — own a business for themselves.

“So just being able to pick their brain and know what and what not to do, growing up, was good. It was good for me. When there’s a hurricane day, you get to have fun with your family (and) stay in.”

Medor has always looked up to hoops icons like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry.

But, his career as a ball player all started with his sister, Vanessa, and his brothers, including Chris, Evens, Greg, Fred and Dean, all of them supplying him with the steady encouragement that he needed.

“My older brother (Greg) was definitely my mentor. (He) trains me, coaches me,” Medor said. “He always helps me out. My other brothers, they always pick my game apart. Like, if I’m playing, they’ll tell me what I’m doing wrong. (They’ll say) what I’m not doing right.”

By all accounts, the UTSA newcomer is getting it right on a pretty consistent basis in his first year of NCAA Division I. Chris, Evens, Greg and the others in the Medor clan should really have few worries about the baby of the family.

In fact, Medor is pushing during fall camp practices to become the Roadrunners’ starting point guard when the season opens in a few weeks.

UTSA coach Steve Henson has been happy with his progress since the summer. On Thursday, during a fast-paced practice that included about an hour of five-on-five, the 6-foot playmaker stood out as perhaps the best player on the floor at the Convocation Center.

“Today, I thought Japhet just had a different explosiveness about him,” Henson said. “I thought he had an extra gear today.”

It’s been a long, long journey through the basketball landscape for Medor, who was one of the nation’s top scorers and assist men in junior college last year at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

All told, the 2018 graduate of Lake Worth High School spent one year in prep school and three in community colleges, toiling away to make a name for himself.

Now, with the season set to start Nov. 2 in an exhibition against Schreiner and then a Nov. 7 home opener against Trinity, Medor is on the verge of realizing his dream. He’ll be a Division I point guard. Is he feeling the adrenaline? You better believe it.

But in keeping with his personality, he steers the conversation away from his own feelings and talks instead about his teammates. About the team’s dreams.

“With the feeling we have (on) the team right now … the coaching staff and the players, it’s got us fueled up and excited for the season,” Medor said. “Just seeing what everyone is doing right now (in practice), it’s amazing what we can put together.”

Medor is expected to set the tempo for UTSA’s attack with his speed.

“He sees the game and feels it,” Roadrunners associate head coach Mike Peck said. “He really wants to try to set up his teammates (by) hitting the open guy. He sees things before they happen sometimes. He makes plays for other players. Puts shooters in position to … catch and shoot. Which is huge for us. He’s been great in that regard.

“We knew he was fast. But when you see it up close and in person when you’re on the floor with him, it’s at a different level.”

UTSA coaches have also talked during the fall about the maturity and leadership that transfer guards such as John Buggs III and Medor will bring to the program. Peck said Medor’s maturity likely stems from the player’s close-knit family, but also from traveling a hard road to Division I.

“He spent three years at the junior college level,” Peck said. “So, he’s seen some things and dealt with some things … He’s gone through the junior college route where they don’t get much. And you got to fight for everything.

“Coming here and having the resources, I think he has an appreciation for that, and that just adds to his maturity.”

UTSA assistant coach Scott Thompson made the initial contact with Medor last spring. Peck followed up with a visit and started to push to get him on the team as soon as possible. According to reports, he picked UTSA over Valparaiso, Stetson, Fordham and a few others.

Just as Medor made a careful decision on where to attend school this fall, he’s also wise to the world, Peck said.

“He’s definitely got that free-enterprise mindset,” the coach said. “He likes fashion and what’s trendy. He’s tuned into that, like a lot of kids. But even more so with him.”

Medor said he and a friend started the Top Floor Boyz business through a casual conversation a few years ago.

“Like, when we were around each other, we’d always say (it), Top Floor Boyz,” he said. “About 2018, we started an LLC for it, and we started pushing it. Wherever I go, I’ll wear Top Floor Boyz. I’ll push it. I’ll wear my own brand. Stuff like that.”

Medor is also expected to push the pace for the Roadrunners’ offense. Combined with Christian Tucker, the UTSA attack will have two problems for which opposing defenses will need to contend.

In Medor, the Roadrunners have a player who knew from an early age how he wanted to play the game. He was a teammate in high shool with Trent Frazier, a former star at the University of Illinois.

Watching Frazier helped Medor understand how much impact he could have on a game just by hitting the open man with a sweet pass.

“It’s an exciting feeling,”he said. “Just seeing your team happy and working with you. To get a stop on defense and go down to the other end … It just feels good with everyone playing together. You want everyone playing together and being happy together.”

Referees add spice to a UTSA fall camp basketball practice

For the first time this fall, the UTSA Roadrunners took the court with referees blowing whistles on infractions against the rules.

The Roadrunners, led by senior guard Japhet Medor, seemed to adapt well during a spirited Thursday afternoon workout. Coach Steve Henson said he thought it was a positive experience.

“I thought we’d be fouling a lot more, because we’ve been very aggressive in practice,” Henson said. “I was glad to see they didn’t call a ton of hand-checks on us. They called a couple of moving screens, which was not surprising.

“There (were) a few fouls we need to clean up. But I think players knew we were going to have officials here toda, so they were a little excited. Felt more like a scrimmage day than a practice day.”

Henson said the team overall had good energy.

“I thought the ball really moved,” he said. “We made some good plays, some really good plays, for each other. Got some wide open looks. Three-point shooters knocked down shots today. That was really good to see.”

Noting that the Roadrunners “weren’t always the most athletic” team in Conference USA last year, the coach was pleasantly surprised at some of the aesthetics.

“We had two or three possessions where we had two or three guys above the rim, tapping,” he said. “(We had) some big-time offensive rebounda from different guys. I was pretty encouraged.”

The duel between speedy point guards was entertaining, with Medor and sophomore Christian Tucker taking turns either setting up teammates or making shots.

“We’re obviously talking a lot about Japhet,” Henson said. “We know (Erik) Czumbel can slide over there and help us, as well. But Christian’s had a good stretch of practices. He’s done a heck of a job.

“He did fine this summer, but I think he’s gotten a lot better the last two or three weeks. Now today, I though Japhet just had a different explosiveness about him, early on in practice. I thought he had an extra gear today.”

Medor, a 6-footer, alternately would use his speed either to burst into the paint or to jump a passing lane for a defelection. Tipping one errant pass, Medor took it three quarters of the length of the court, with Jacob Germany following along.

Germany ended up dunking it.

UTSA practice at a glance

Slicing and dicing

UTSA works toward season-opening games in November

The UTSA men’s basketball team continued on Tuesday to ramp up preparation for the season, which starts in November.

After a day off on Wednesday, Coach Steve Henson’s Roadrunners will work out Thursday with referees for the first time this fall. They’ll practice again on Friday to get ready for a closed scrimmage set for Saturday in Belton against UT Arlington.

On Nov. 2, UTSA hosts an exhibition game against Schreiner College. The season opener is Nov. 7 at home against San Antonio-based Trinity University.

Last year, the Roadrunners struggled with a number of problems. Injuries. Covid-19. An academic casualty. Even team chemistry, to an extent.

On the floor, the inconsistency showed up in a few different areas. An inability to get multiple players involved in the offense. Poor shot selection and, ultimately, problems in producing enough points to win.

This fall, the team has been relatively healthy except for center Carlton Linguard Jr.’s knee issue. But newcomers John Buggs III (seen above) and Japhet Medor (below) have inspired optimism that the team could be on the verge of a bounce back season.

A ‘wonderful surprise:’ UTSA women listen to an NIL proposal

A financial proposal under the new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rule in college sports was presented Tuesday morning to members of the UTSA women’s basketball team.

Roadrunners coach Karen Aston said it’s the first deal of its kind for her team as a group.

Details weren’t immediately available, but it sounded as if it might involve an appearance or appearances. At the end of practice, Aston invited two men attending the workout to talk to her players at center court.

The two spelled out the terms to the players and invited them to participate. Afterward, some players were reading the paperwork on the court.

“That’s a huge deal for this program, to have somebody invest in our young women,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “No matter what the amount and what the transaction is, or whatever you want to call it, just to have people that really care about women’s basketball and athletics in this city is something that I think could catch fire.

“It takes somebody to step up to the plate and be generous … and we’ll go from there. Like I said, I hope it catches fire.”

Aston declined to disclose the details, saying she wanted to go through the “proper channels” before she makes any statements in that regard.

“I knew they were coming to practice but I didn’t know they were presenting that,” she said. “That was a wonderful surprise for our coaching staff and our players. I’m happy for ’em. Again, every little bit matters.”

Aston said her team has individuals with “small building blocks of NIL,” but as for the whole entire team, “that was unexpected.”

“It was very generous,” she said.

In basketball-related developments, senior Hailey Atwood and junior transfer Kyra White have stepped up their level of activity in practices. Both took part in team drills.

Since the fall semester started, players have attended workouts and have worked out mostly on their own. Tuesday, both were involved in team sets on a limited basis.

“They’ve been in some halfcourt stuff,” Aston said. “They’re limited right now to half court. Kyra is a little bit ahead of Hailey. As far as being able to go a certain amount of minutes. But it’s definitely progress.”

Aston said she’s encouraged because both are experienced players. White played 77 games the past three seasons at Southern Cal. Atwood played 27 games and started 12 for the Roadrunners last season.

As a team, the coach said she likes the way the group is progressing defensively.

“I feel like any time you work on skills and actions in the summer and fall your defense is typically a little bit behind, and it is,” Aston said. “But we’ve concentrated (on it) the last couple of days, so I think we’ve made a little progress.”

The Roadrunners open their season on Nov. 7 against Stephen F. Austin.