By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Hoping for a fast start with a new-look roster, the UTSA Roadrunners will host the non-scholarship Trinity University Tigers in an exhibition opener tonight at the Convocation Center.
“I just want to see what we can carry over (from practices),” eighth-year UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “They’ve worked hard. I like the pace that we’ve had. There are certain actions that we’re defending pretty well.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll see that from Trinity tomorrow. Probably will be some surprises. Always just curious about what will transfer. We’ll play a bunch of guys and see what our conditioning looks like.
“Hoping to see a great defensive effort. A great rebounding effort. Hope we’ve got some pace. The offense will take care of itself if we’re locked in on the other end of the floor.”
After tonight, the Roadrunners will continue practicing before hosting McMurry University next Monday to wrap up the exhibition schedule. The regular season opener is Nov. 6 at home against Western Illinois.
For the fans, the exhibition against Trinity will serve as an opportunity to take their first look at the Roadrunners since the roster was almost totally revamped during the offseason.
First-year players in the program who are expected to see action tonight include the likes of Adante’ Holiman, Dre Fuller, Jr., Nazar Mahmoud, PJ Carter, Isaiah Wyatt, Chandler Cuthrell, Trey Edmonds and Josh Reid.
Another player making his UTSA debut will be seven-foot center Carlton Linguard Jr., who is eligible for the first time after rectifying academic issues following a transfer in the summer of 2022 from Kansas State University.
Returning players from last year’s squad include Christian Tucker and Massal Diouf.
Jordan Ivy-Curry, Justin Thomas and Juan Reyna, who are all scheduled to sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules, are not expected to play against Trinity. It’s possible that they could be cleared at some point, but it would require a waiver from the NCAA. So, those three, along with guard/forward Blessing Adesipe, who is rehabilitating an injury, won’t be on the floor against Trinity, the coach said.
Initially, UTSA fans might notice lineup combinations in the frontcourt that will have more heft, if not more height, than last year.
In the interior, Henson might play Linguard (7-foot, 225 pounds) in the post along with Diouf (6-9, 240) or Edmonds (6-10, 255). A more traditional set could feature any of the three big men, paired with Cuthrell (6-8, 220) at power forward.
In addition, the Roadrunners also could go smaller on the front line with the versatile Fuller (6-6, 220).
In the backcourt, the Roadrunners believe they have some speed with the likes of Holiman and Tucker, both of them point guards, along with a grouping of wing players who will be tasked with running the floor, shooting and defending.
That group would include Carter, Mahmoud, Wyatt and also Fuller, a former three-year veteran from the Central Florida Knights who sat out all of last year following the death of his mother.
Henson said it’s possible that he might play both Tucker and Holiman, possibly one of the most natural scorers on the team, together.
“They both earned the right to be out on the court, so we’ll play them together quite a bit, I would anticipate,” the coach said. “Christian’s done a really good job for us. He’s taken a good step (forward) for us on both ends of the floor. He’s the (player) most familiar with what we’re doing, the most experienced in our program. So, yeah, both of those guys will play a lot.”
Asked to identify the newcomer who has made the biggest jump from his time of arrival earlier this summer, Henson didn’t hesitate in saying that it has been Carter, a 6-foot-5 wing player from Atlanta, who averaged 16.3 points and shot 43 percent from three last year at Georgia Highlands College.
“He’s doing now what we saw on film, what we anticipated,” Henson said. “When he first got here, he wasn’t in very good condition. I don’t think he did a lot in the spring. He was finishing up his academics. I don’t think he was on the court a lot certainly with intense game action of any kind.
“His condition (in the summer) prevented him from playing the way we anticipated. We were concerned early on, but his condition just got better and better. He’s been a good, solid player. Versatile. Good feel for the game. High IQ guy. He’s been really good since he got in shape.”
Another player who has made significant strides, the coach said, has been Wyatt. Last week, the 6-4 Ohioan who shot 46.9 percent from beyond the arc last year at Division II Chadron State, Neb., went on a six for seven, three-point shooting binge during a 15-minute full court, full-speed scrimmage.
“He had a lot to do academically this summer and that was wearing him down,” Henson said. “But once he got through that, we had to work on his conditioning. We knew he could shoot the ball well. He’s picked up on our schemes defensively. He’s improved on that end a lot.”
Players that have been better than expected? Henson talked about Edmonds, who played last year at Utah Tech. Edmonds is expected to be a defender and a rebounder, primarily. “He’s such a conscientious player who wants to do things right, on and off the court,” Henson said.
The coach also mentioned Mahmoud, a 6-5 freshman guard from the Austin area.
“We started recruiting him several years ago, Henson said. “I loved him when I first saw him. We were fairly aggressive with him, I guess, it was the summer before his junior year. I thought he had terrific upside. He’s a little better than I anticipated. He’s got some work to do defensively. But he knows (offensively) how to set his man up, make cuts, reads defenses and shoots it with confidence.”
After putting in all the work, UTSA players are anxious to test themselves against an opponent. Wyatt said that, with Trinity at the Division III level, he wants to see the Roadrunners win by at least a double-digit margin.
“We worked our butts off to get to this point, and now we’re heading into the season,” Wyatt said. “I already know, a lot of people have a different narrative about how UTSA basketball is, and we definitely want to change that.
“We’ve got quite a few new faces, and a lot of them have been through junior colleges, he added. “If anyone knows anything about junior colleges, we all have a chip on our shoulder. We all have something to prove.”
UTSA has played Trinity in exhibitions each of the past two seasons. Two years ago, the Roadrunners rolled to a 97-66 victory and last year, they shot the ball poorly but still won easily, 74-47.
The Tigers enter the game under the direction of fourth-year coach Jimmy Smith, who is expected to depend heavily this season on returning all-conference guards Tanner Brown and Jacob Harvey.
Harvey averaged 12.4 points per game for the Tigers last year. He hit 68 three-pointers and shot at a 42-percent clip from beyond the arc. Brown averaged 11.6 points and 4.5 rebounds. Trinity is 53-15 under Smith, who is entering his fourth season at the university.