Cowabunga! A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ran a Halloween-day basketball practice today at the UTSA Convocation Center. Speculation swirled that the turtle was really Coach Karen Aston. I'll look into it. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/eI5F9SY1RO
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) October 31, 2023
By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
When I first walked into the UTSA Convocation Center today, I sensed some really strange vibes. I looked down on the baseline, and I could see that Roadrunners women’s basketball coach Karen Aston was wearing a Halloween costume. Her shirt was bright green, with a splash of gold on the front. For added flair, she was wearing red wrap-around glasses of some sort.
Immediately, I thought the glasses might be goggles, and that she might have assumed some SpongeBob SquarePants-type alter ego. Not true, as it turned out. Officials confirmed that Aston was dressed as a ninja turtle. And not just any ninja. She was ninja sensation “Raphael,” a movie character who apparently never met a slice of pizza that he didn’t like.
Which I guess explains the slice of pepperoni pizza hanging off the front of the coach’s shirt.
As if any other craziness was necessary, Aston’s costume came complete with a plastic green and gold mask, though the coach didn’t wear it during the workout. After practice, I knew I needed to talk to her, because, well, how often do you get a chance to interview a successful Division I women’s basketball coach rocking a turtle mask?
But first, I approached star forward Jordyn Jenkins, to ask her opinion of the coach’s Halloween schtick.
Smiling, Jenkins explained that the coaches showed up last year dressed as the ‘Minions,’ of mini-movie fame. This year, she added, the Halloween silliness morphed into a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme. Smiling, she said, “I expect nothing but greatness from them.”
Expectations for the Roadrunners this year? Well, it’s time we started breaking it down, because on Wednesday night they’ll host the St. Mary’s University Rattlers in their one and only exhibition this fall. The preseason game will be played in advance of the regular-season opener scheduled for Monday night at Arizona State.
Jenkins, rehabilitating a right knee injury, likely won’t play in either the exhibition or the opener.
As reported in this space on Sept. 11, she suffered the mishap in postseason workouts in April and then underwent surgery. Officially, last year’s Conference USA Player of the Year is expected to be listed as “week to week” going into the Arizona State game, without any sort of estimate on when she can return.
Asked if she had a goal in mind on when she’d like to return, Jenkins declined to specify any point on the schedule, saying only that she doesn’t want to rush it.
Though she isn’t yet practicing with the team, Jenkins said she is doing well physically. “I’m kind of just dealing with an injury that I had in the offseason,” she said in her first public comments since taking up the rehabilitation process. “Rehab’s been good. Been working hard. Been on the court a lot. You know, just trying to keep it up.”
Elaborating, she said she’s working on offensive skills primarily and trying to stay sharp. “I’m moving around good and I feel good,” she said. “You know it’s just about getting shots up.”
Last year, Jenkins averaged 20.6 points and 7.5 rebounds. In tallying a school record 659 points, the 6-foot native of Kent, Wash., went on to become UTSA’s first Player of the Year in Conference USA. She was also Newcomer of the Year and first-team, all conference. Previously, she had played two seasons at USC and made the all-Pac 12 team in 2022.
As a team, the Roadrunners started slowly last fall and winter but came on strong in February and March to become a force, going 9-4 down the stretch and winning twice in the C-USA postseason.
Jenkins was a big part of all that, scoring in the 30s three times during the season, and hitting a season-high 40 at North Texas on Feb. 20. But even if she isn’t in the lineup immediately this fall, UTSA is talented at several positions and could be competitive in a November schedule that also includes a game against New Mexico State at home, followed by a string of road tests at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UT Arlington, Texas Tech and Sam Houston, and then another home game against Texas State.
To start fast, UTSA will need Elyssa Coleman and guards Sidney Love and Kyra White to play well. They’ll also need help from the likes of forwards Maya Linton, Kyleigh McGuire, Idara Udo and Cheyenne Rowe to step up and play steady basketball in the position where Jenkins dominated last season.
“We seem a little more solid, a little more experienced, just more sure of what we’re doing,” Aston said. “So I think we’ll be better. Obviously, the elephant in the room is Jordyn not being available as early as we’d liked. So I think you have to take some shared responsibility.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge factor. It’s something that’s noticeable when you see our team play right now (because) we did play a lot through her. But at the end of the day, we’re going to grow from this. There’s no question. Players will take some more responsibility in different areas, so, it bodes well for the long run of the season.”
Entering the American Athletic Conference this season, UTSA has been picked eighth in the 14-team league, a development that doesn’t seem to have fazed Jenkins at all.
“Wherever we are (in the polls), we just have to look at it and do something about it,” she said. “I think we can be in a really good spot in conference. We just got to work hard and be consistent. It’s really about us. As long as we’re good, we can really do whatever we want, eight more places better.”
Jenkins didn’t mention anything like a ninja mentality. Or a coach inspired by the ninja legend, Raphael. But she said she has hopes that the Roadrunners have enough fortitude to make a run in the AAC in February and March.
“I think it could possibly take us a little bit (of time) to get things going at the beginning of the season,” she said. “We have a tough preseason schedule, and it’ll set us up to be really great. Once again, we’re young, and we have a lot of dogs (with toughness, on our roster). Once we have our energy and our chemistry working, we can be dangerous. Last year, we showed that a little bit.”