By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay
At this time a year ago, seven-foot center Carlton Linguard Jr. arrived on the UTSA campus ineligible to play but with a positive outlook and a desire to kick-start his college basketball career.
As the season progressed, he made the most of a tough situation, trying to be a supportive teammate, practicing when he could and, perhaps most importantly, staying focused and committed to rectifying his ineligibility with hard work in the classroom.
Still, in spite of his efforts, the former San Antonio schoolboy from Stevens High School never got clearance to play, as he had hoped, after transferring into the UTSA program from Kansas State.
Consequently, the Roadrunners never realized the dream of inserting Linguard into a lineup that could — and probably would — have benefited immensely from his presence.
What has changed for Linguard since last summer? Well, just about everything, actually. Most importantly, unlike last year, he is now fully eligible. Also, 10 new scholarship players have entered the program to replace 10 that decided to leave in March.
But with Year 2 of his Alamo City homecoming upon us, one basic tenet of his basketball life remains the same — if the Roadrunners hope to bounce back and become a winning team in NCAA Division I, he will need to play a leading role in the resurgence.
Linguard, a 2019 Stevens graduate, leaned into his new leadership role Friday by discussing last year’s frustrations, his hopes for a brighter day for the Roadrunners and his dream of packing the Convocation Center with supportive fans.
“We’re showing that we’re in shape and that we can run and really get the ball up (the court),” he said. “We’re moving the ball. We’re not selfish. We’re disciplined and buying in — buying in way more. So, we just got to keep doing that.”
Linguard can’t hide his excitement at the prospect of playing in games for the first time since his last season at Kansas State in 2021-22. His eyes lit up a bit when asked if the Roadrunners would employ a more fast-paced attack.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “We got guards who can push it. We got guys who can fill in spots and move, actually attack, too. We got (centers and power forwards) who can do the same. So I feel like we can play the fast pace.”
UTSA coach Steve Henson isn’t necessarily looking for breakout offensive numbers from Linguard, but he said the Roadrunners will need him to impose his will as a defensive presence.
“You just notice his wingspan,” Henson said. “He’s not the quickest guy in the world, but he’s quick enough. He’s agile and he looks so natural in all of his movements. You just notice his hands, his (long) arms, his length.
“(Offensive) players get to a spot in a ball screen and try to make a pass out of there, he impacts it with his length. He’s got pretty good anticipation, and he gets to the spot … Carlton, being in that (Kansas State) system, it helped him.
“He’s skilled, he’s talented … We don’t want to put any extra pressure by over-selling him, but he’s a great teammate and he wants to help us win.”
Last year’s 10-22 record was a frustration for everyone in the Roadrunners’ camp. For Linguard, it was rough on a number of levels. For one thing, he wasn’t academically eligible initially.
He had to show a commitment in the classroom just so UTSA could put him on scholarship at the semester break. In addition, he wasn’t fully healthy until late in the season.
Initially, it was a knee that slowed him. Subsequently, by December, he started to flash potential, taking over in some practices with his athleticism and above-the-rim capabilities. Just about that time, though, he suffered a concussion.
Though Linguard had progressed past all the physical challenges by February, he still wasn’t eligible to play. So, with the team struggling, UTSA officials elected to drop the appeal to the NCAA, so that he could return in 2023-24 with two full seasons of eligibility remaining.
As it was, the Roadrunners went into the Conference USA tournament with a healthy 7-footer on the bench, and they lost by one point to the Rice Owls in the first round.
Linguard, speaking after practice late Friday afternoon, shrugged off a question about how the course of 2022-23 might have been altered if he had been able to play games in February and March.
“It would have been different,” he said. “That Conference (USA) tournament would have been a lot different. Especially that first game we played. Like, that would have been way different. I mean, you can’t really say because it didn’t happen.”
Regardless, the team’s late collapse precipitated decisions by most of last year’s players to leave the program, looking for other opportunities elsewhere.
Once the dust settled, 6-foot-11 Jacob Germany joined the program at Wichita State, while point guard Japhet Medor landed at Fordham University and John Buggs III turned up at North Texas.
Linguard declined to get too deep into his feelings about the exodus except to say generally that transfers have become a part of the equation in the new world of college hoops.
He seemed much more at ease discussing the here and now of a season that will get underway on Nov. 6. For the Roadrunners, who haven’t qualified for an NCAA tournament since 2011, it is their first year as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
UTSA will play in a quality mid-major conference against the likes of Memphis, Tulane and Temple. Also against Florida Atlantic, a C-USA program that made it all the way to the Final Four last April.
On a more personal level, the move will allow Linguard to see some familiar faces during the season, notably Germany at Wichita State and Buggs at North Texas. He said, in fact, that he knows people on many of the AAC campuses.
On the home front, he beamed optimism in discussing the opportunity to play home games in the Convocation Center in front of family members and friends.
One of his new UTSA teammates, walk-on guard Juan Reyna, who played in high school at Antonian, also will have that connection to friends within the local basketball community.
With that, Linguard figures that if the Roadrunners can start to win and generate excitement with all the new talent, the size of the crowds and the energy inside the school’s old home arena could start to become a factor.
As the former Big 12 player at Kansas State spoke to a reporter Friday afternoon, he glanced into the upper reaches of the arena and talked about trying to fill the seats.
Said Linguard, “Me and my teammates, we’re kind of promoting (the season) right now. We’re trying to get people to come out. There’s always a conversation. Like, ‘Hey come out an support us this year.’ We’re just trying to push the issue.
“We want to get the (arena) packed up (to the top). That’s the goal.”
The Roadrunners have been working out on a limited basis since the start of the summer. They completed their early fall semester sessions on Sept. 22.
Twice during the last week of conditioning, coaches had the players outside at dawn, one day running on the track and another day running on a road leading out north of the campus. Another session started at 6 in the morning on the court in the Convocation Center.
“We don’t get carried away talking about boot camp,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “You know, we’re not going to war. We have people (in the military) that really do go to war. We have people that really do go through boot camp. So we try not to over-do our terminology there.”
Longer workouts, considered official preseason practices, commenced on Monday.
Included in the 30 allowed sessions are two exhibition games set for Oct 24 against Trinity and Oct. 30 against McMurry. Both will be held at the Convocation Center. The regular season opens on Nov. 6 at home against Western Illinois. A four-game road trip commences on Nov. 10 at Minnesota. Conference play starts Jan. 2 at home against UAB.
Point guards — Adante Holiman, Christian Tucker, Juan Reyna.
Wing players (small forwards and shooting guards) — Isaiah Wyatt, PJ Carter, Nazar Mahmoud, Justin Thomas, Jordan Ivy-Curry.
Power/small forward — Dre Fuller Jr.
Power forwards — Chandler Cuthrell, Blessing Adesipe, Josh Reid.
Centers — Carlton Linguard, Jr., Trey Edmonds, Massal Diouf.
x-Thomas and Ivy-Curry are considered two-time transfers and can play this season only if the NCAA grants them waivers. Reyna and Reid are walk-ons.
Center Carlton Linguard Jr. finishes a play by clearing a rebound during a recent UTSA practice session. In a wide-ranging interview, Linguard says he dreams of a 'packed' home arena setting as the Roadrunners enter the American Athletic Conference. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/2I9Qv2rYyc
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) September 30, 2023