A new era in UTSA basketball will dawn on Tuesday night at the Convocation Center.
The UTSA women will start the season under first-year Coach Karen Aston, with the Roadrunners tipping off against the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks at 5 p.m.
The men’s team, having retooled in the offseason without departed four-year scoring stars Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, will play its opener at 7:30 against the Division III Trinity Tigers.
The atmosphere in the arena, meanwhile, is expected to return to pre-pandemic dynamics.
There will be no Covid-19 restrictions on seating capacity, said a spokeswoman, who added that face coverings are recommended but not required.
Also, the school band is expected to return to the arena for the first time since the end of the 2019-20 season.
“Just as we’re excited to get back to playing ball games, I think the fans, the students and the band and all those folks are going to be excited about getting in here and getting the Convo going again,” sixth-year UTSA men’s coach Steve Henson said. “We start out (the season) with a doubleheader, with the women playing (first), which is kind of a unique situation, so I hope a bunch of people come out and plan on spending several hours in the Convo tomorrow night.”
Aston, announced on March 29 as UTSA’s 10th head coach in women’s basketball, is tasked with a monumental rebuilding job.
Over the past four years, the UTSA women have finished 9-21, 7-21, 6-23 and 2-18, respectively. In the past three seasons, the Roadrunners’ record in Conference USA is a combined 4-44, including 0-14 last year.
If anyone can right the ship, it might be Aston, who has forged a career record in NCAA Division I of 285-146 (.661). Aston coached at Texas from 2012-2020 and went 184-83 (.689) in that time, leading the Longhorns to six NCAA tournaments, including three Sweet 16s and an Elite 8.
UTSA sophomore Kyleigh McGuire said the new coaching staff, which also includes Jamie Carey, Empress Davenport and Cameron Miles, has been demanding.
“I think it’s a lot different than last year,” McGuire said. “They’re very particular when it comes to the small details. I think it really pushes us to try to be perfectionists. At the same time, they understand that we can make mistakes, so they’re very understanding, but they want to help us get better.
“They’re very encouraging. They want to see us succeed.”
In college basketball, turnarounds can happen fairly quickly, as evidenced by Henson’s first few years as the UTSA men’s coach.
When Henson and the current coaching staff arrived, the program had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In 2015-16, the last year under the previous staff, the Roadrunners’ fortunes plummeted as they finished 5-27 and 3-15 in Conference USA.
With Henson in charge, the team finished 14-19 in his first season. But then it began to improve steadily with the arrival of Jackson and Wallace.
Over the next four years, with Jackson and Wallace scoring more than 4,500 points between them, the Roadrunners posted three winning records overall and in the C-USA. Last year, they finished 15-11 and 9-7 in conference.
Now that the two have moved on, the Roadrunners will be a team in search of a new identity. Outside of a few injuries, Henson said the preseason camp was good for his team.
“First two or three weeks, I thought we were terrific,” he said. “I thought we lost our edge there for about a week and a half. But we’ve put together some good (practices). Two of the last three have been really good.”
On Monday, junior center Jacob Germany worked out through the entirety of an afternoon practice, a good sign for the Roadrunners. Germany, the team’s leading returning scorer, was hobbled for a few days last week after twisting his foot.
Henson said Germany won’t be on a minutes restriction against Trinity. “He was nearly 100 percent today, so we’ll play him as needed tomorrow night,” the coach said.