By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Quietly, one of the key players in the UTSA Roadrunners’ rotation has started to ratchet up his production.
Averaging 16.3 points and 4.6 rebounds over his last three games, Dre Fuller Jr. is doing it with such ease and smooth efficiency that it has almost gone unnoticed.
In that stretch, the 6-foot-6 graduate student from Fayetteville, N.C., has hit 51.5 percent of his shots from the field and 57.9 percent from three-point distance.
He capped the surge with a 23-point effort on the road against Rice last Saturday, a welcome sign for UTSA, which will play perhaps its toughest road game of the season tonight at the FedEx Forum against the 13th-ranked Memphis Tigers.
An all-around player with multiple skills, offensively and defensively, Fuller had been mired in a bad shooting funk, hitting only 7 of 36 from long distance in six games prior to his last three.
Because Fuller does so many things for the Roadrunners, coaches kept his playing time fairly level during the slump, which may have aided the turnaround.
Fuller said he appreciates it that UTSA coach Steve Henson hung in there with him as he worked things out.
“It showed he has the confidence in me,” Fuller said. “He sees me in here every day. So he knows how serious I take it. After the games, he’s telling me, ‘Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Let the game come to you.’ ”
Last year, Fuller went through some hard times while caring for his ailing mother.
He left Central Florida after three seasons, enrolled briefly at Florida Atlantic and then exited Division I basketball altogether when it became apparent that he needed to go home to help his mom.
All last year, he’d play pickup ball wherever he could and then visit with family. Tragically, his mom eventually passed away in March.
Since then, Fuller has been through an emotional roller coaster, first signing with the Roadrunners and then reporting to the UTSA camp in the summer and trying to get his game back together.
Fuller enjoyed a promising start to the season, scoring 16 at Minnesota in the second game and then pitching in a career-high 24 at Houston Christian.
Pretty soon, though, his shot started missing the mark. Fuller was 0 for 6 from three against Incarnate Word. Then 1 of 8 from the field against Lamar. At Oregon State, Fuller was two for 10 afield and 1 of 7 from three.
“I wouldn’t go talk to (the coach),” Fuller said. “(But) I had to ask somebody, ‘What going on?’ He told me. He said, ‘Your day will come.’ (He said) just keep working. What you do in the game, it’s all going to fall in place.
“Listening to family, they’re telling me the same thing. I just tried to settle my body down and just keep playing.”
Heeding the advice has worked. Against Prairie View A&M, he started slowly, taking four 3-point shots and making three of them. Against the UAB Blazers in the American conference opener, he hit six of 12 afield, including another three from long distance.
Then he exploded against Rice on Saturday, knocking down eight of 17, including five of nine from three. Seven-foot power forward Carlton Linguard Jr., a transfer from Kansas State, came alive as well, scoring 24 points on four of eight shooting from distance.
“Those two guys, Dre and Carlton, can and do impact the game in so many other ways,” Henson said. “(If) they make two or three threes in a game, that just adds to it.
“We don’t have to have that for those two guys to make an impact. And now both of those guys have had games where they’ve made four or five (from beyond the arc). And then we’re really in good shape.”
While Fuller sat out last year for personal reasons, Linguard was at UTSA, working on academics to regain his eligibility and rehabilitating some nagging injuries.
Maybe it’s just taken both of them some time to get into their groove? Henson said part of it may stem from coaches just now finding out how all the pieces fit together.
“As we’ve gone along, we’ve learned more about our guys,” he said. “We’ve kept our play book pretty simple. This team doesn’t need or want a big play book. They make enough basketball plays that, we keep it simple, and they can move the ball.
“You call somebody’s number and expect that we’re going to get him the ball in a spot two or three times a game, they like that. We’ve kind of been able to do that.
“We’ve got a handful of plays, we just know, we have to call it two or three times a game, every single night, and something good usually happens.”
Fuller said he likes the flow of the game now because so many of his teammates are getting involved on a nightly basis.
“We have a lot of guys that, once people scout us, they’re like, ‘Ok, there’s not just one person scoring. Everybody is scoring,’ he said. “That’s what makes us a tough. But, like I say, we’re still learning every day. We got 13 new guys.
“(We’re) still learning and hopefully we’ll start picking it up real soon.”
UTSA 7-8, 1-1
Memphis 13-2, 2-0
Charlotte at UTSA, Saturday, 7 p.m.