NCAA tournament opener has a San Antonio flavor

A&M-Corpus Christi guard Jalen Jackson playing at the UTSA Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

San Antonio’s Jalen Jackson leads the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders into the NCAA tournament today. Jackson is a junior guard from Wagner High School. — File photo by Joe Alexander

When the first game of the 2022 NCAA tournament tips off at 5:40 p.m. today, a couple of familiar faces from the Alamo City will step into the spotlight for the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.

A little more than 30 years ago, the coach of the Islanders, Steve Lutz, was scrapping around in a high school gym and playing for the East Central Hornets.

Only three years ago, Jalen Jackson, the Islanders’ starting guard, was playing in the backcourt for the Wagner Thunderbirds.

Today, they will try to make history when the Islanders face the Texas Southern Tigers in an NCAA First Four game at Dayton Arena in Ohio.

They’ll try to lead the Islanders in their 23rd year as a basketball program to their first NCAA victory. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi started basketball in 1999-2000. The Islanders were independent until 2006-07, when they made their debut in the Southland Conference.

That season, the Islanders also made their NCAA debut and lost a heartbreaker, falling 76-63 to Wisconsin.

Taking the floor at the United Center in Chicago, the 15th-seeded Islanders were led by another Alamo City standout — center Chris Daniels from Sam Houston High School — and they stunned the crowd by surging to a 25-7 lead with five minutes left in the first half.

The lead didn’t last long. The Badgers rallied behind All-American Alando Tucker’s 23 points to win going away. At the time, the NCAA tournament consisted of 64 teams. Today, it is a 68-team field.

That is the reason that the Islanders and the Tigers are playing, essentially, in a bracket outside of a bracket. The four winners in the First Four games move on to play in the Round of 64.

In the case of the Islanders and the Tigers, the winner will fly out of Dayton on Wednesday and head to Fort Worth, where they will face the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in an R64 game on Thursday.

According to rosters examined by The JB Replay, 10 players from the San Antonio area are on NCAA men’s basketball tournament rosters.

Jackson, Texas Tech’s Kevin McCullar (Wagner), Arkansas’ Stanley Umude (Warren) and Wyoming’s Brendan Wenzel (O’Connor) have started games this year, though Wenzel has been coming off the bench lately.

Freshman Langston Love (Steele) was projected to play a significant role this season for the top-seeded Baylor Bears, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.

Love is sitting out as a redshirt.

S.A. players to watch

Adam Benhayoune, a 6-5 LSU freshman from O’Connor.

Jalen Jackson, a 5-11 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi junior from Wagner. Jackson averages 6.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Kijana Love, Baylor, 6-1 senior guard from Steele; transfer from New Hampshire and St. Edward’s

Langston Love, Baylor, 6-5 freshman guard from Steele and Montverde Academy (Fla.).

Kevin McCullar, Texas Tech, 6-6 redshirt junior guard from Wagner. McCullar averages 9.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Stanley Umude, Arkansas, 6-6 senior from Warren; transfer from South Dakota. Umude averages 11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.1 steals.

Ethan White, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 6-3 grad student guard from East Central

Brendan Wenzel, Wyoming, 6-7 sophomore guard from O’Connor; transfer from Utah. Wenzel averages 5.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals

Players from San Antonio area who attended high school out of the area, now on rosters for NCAA tournament teams

Zach Clemence, Kansas, 6-10 freshman forward, hometown listed as San Antonio, from Findlay Prep (Nev.) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.)

Micah Peavy, TCU, 6-7 sophomore forward, hometown listed as Cibolo, from Duncanville; transfer from Texas Tech

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.