Deing scores 27 as UTSA downs determined St. Mary’s, 75-65

Dhieu Deing. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior Dhieu Deing has scored 53 points and has hit a combined 17 of 32 shots from the field in his last two games. Deing also has scored 20 or more in three of his last four. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Dhieu Deing did a little bit of everything on the basketball floor Monday night. He scored. He rebounded. He created on the dribble.

The multi-talented, 6-foot-5 forward even took a charge in crunch time that helped fend off a late rally, allowing the UTSA Roadrunners to surge past the St. Mary’s Rattlers 75-65 at the Convocation Center.

What’s next?

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany scored 18 on Monday night against St. Mary’s. He hit 6 of 11 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free throw line. – Photo by Joe Alexander


Is the former North Carolina prep standout now a candidate to sell soft drinks and popcorn at halftime?

How about issuing him a trombone and letting him rip off a few solos the next time the UTSA band comes out to play?

After Deing produced a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds against the Rattlers, UTSA center Jacob Germany marveled at the showing.

“Oh, he’s all over the place,” Germany said. “I think he had, what, 27 and 11 and four (assists)? He’s just doing everything. We wear these heart monitors (in practice), and his heartbeat is always the highest, because he’s always moving all over the place.

“That’s what he brings for us, and you know, we need that every game.”

On Deing’s defensive gem, St. Mary’s was trailing by six points with 1:33 remaining when forward Mamady Djikine posted up on the left block and tried to wheel into the lane for a shot.

Taking the brunt of the blow in his chest, Deing fell backward. Foul on Djikine, was the call.

“I seen the whole game that he was putting his shoulder down, so I read it,” Deing said.

Cedrick Alley Jr. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA senior Cedrick Alley Jr. led all rebounders with 12 as UTSA won the battle on the boards, 52-38. – Photo by Joe Alexander

On the other end, UTSA freshman guard Christian Tucker beat the defense to the rim, drew a whistle and knocked down two free throws with 1:16 left for a decisive eight-point spread. St. Mary’s never got closer than six the rest of the way.

For the Roadrunners, there wasn’t so much jubilation in the locker room as there was just a good feeling about surviving in what was sometimes an ugly game.

Besides Deing, the principals in the victory were Germany (18 points, four rebounds) and Cedrick Alley, Jr., (12 rebounds), not to mention a blue-collar effort off the bench from Lachlan Bofinger, Phoenix Ford, Erik Czumbel and Tucker.

Guard Caleb Jordan led four Rattlers with 17 points, but in a nod to the Roadrunners’ defense, it took him 18 shots to get there.

As a team, St. Mary’s managed only 34.7 percent shooting, including 28.9 percent in the first half when UTSA built a 37-25 lead. During one stretch in the first half, the Roadrunners flummoxed the Rattlers with a scheme that allowed only one field goal in 12 attempts.

Records

UTSA 5-3
St. Mary’s 1-2

Coming up

Thursday — UTSA at Grand Canyon, Ariz.

Notable

UTSA senior guard Darius McNeill, with a walking boot on his right foot, did not play. Coach Steve Henson said McNeill likely won’t be able to play at Grand Canyon. “He’s going to be out for a little while,” the coach said.

Christian Tucker. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Christian Tucker drew a foul on this drive to the basket en route to a pair of clutch free throws with 1:16 remaining. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Bofinger also hurt his right ankle in the second half and did not return. “He wanted (to go back in the game,” Henson said. “Just a little swelling. He’s incredibly tough. He was trying to get back in there and (trainer) Josh (Modica) shut him down. I anticipate him being a little sore tomorrow. (But) I think he’ll be able to practice.”

Deing has scored 53 points in his last two games. During that stretch, he has hit 17 of 32 from the field for 53.1 percent … He has scored 20 or more in three of his last four … With the victory, the Roadrunners improved to 10-3 against St. Mary’s, a Division II program in San Antonio, and they also completed a six-game homestand with a 4-2 record, including four wins in the last five.

Quotable

“So many weird plays (tonight). So many things we need to do better. Even at halftime, there was kind of a weird vibe. We’re up 12. Our guys should be in there feeling good. The guys knew we didn’t play the right way in certain areas of the game. St. Mary’s was good. We weren’t surprised … (Our) turnovers came in bunches. We didn’t handle their press very well. They pounded us inside. Just an uncomfortable game from a lot of standpoints.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson

Deing becomes more selective, scores a season-high 26 points

The play unfolded with less than a minute remaining. Leading by three, the UTSA Roadrunners needed a basket for breathing room against the determined Lamar Cardinals.

A video of the play shows the Roadrunners making at least eight passes, moving the ball around, from the wing, into the high post, and on to the other wing, before it started to move back the other way — all the way back.

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat Lamar 79-73 in men's basketball on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior center Jacob Germany produced 13 points and four rebounds for the Roadrunners. He hit 5 of 8 from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Ultimately, it ended up in Dhieu Deing’s hands, and the former North Carolina prep standout knew what to do with it. He caught it outside the 3-point arc and dribbled toward the baseline, where he pulled up to swish a 15-footer.

The shot boosted UTSA into a five-point lead with 40 seconds left, and Lamar never got closer than three the rest of the way. The Roadrunners went on to secure a 79-73 victory for their third win in four games.

“He’s making great, great progress,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Shot selection is a huge thing for him. We’ve gone through his last few ball games and looked at all of his shots. Last ball game, he took one or two that were just too hard.

“Again, he’s super confident. He thinks he can make everything.”

But to raise the level of his game, Deing needs to pick his spots better, and he did that against the Cardinals.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA beat Lamar 79-73 in men's basketball on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jordan Ivy-Curry contributed 13 points and four assists. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Deing scored 14 of his career-high 26 points in the second half as the Roadrunners bounced back from Sunday’s disappointing, 19-point home loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

UTSA pulled it off by making improvements in several areas — ball movement, shooting percentage from the field (47.2) and free-throw percentage (82.1).

The Cardinals were without one of their top backcourt players, but the Roadrunners will take a victory that pushes them back over the .500 mark.

“Team win,” Deing said. “Definitely had to bounce back. That was everybody coming to together. We got to keep on now. We got to make it consistent, though. Today, everybody was locked in and on the same page.”

Records

Lamar 1-5
UTSA 4-3

Coming up

St. Mary’s at UTSA, Monday, 7 p.m.

Free-throw edge

UTSA essentially won the game at the free throw line, hitting 23 of 28, including 15 of 18 after intermission.

Lamar played well but couldn’t convert as high a percentage on free throws, making only 15 of 24.

Deing’s consistency

Deing, from High Point, N.C., and a former player at two other colleges, has stepped into a starter’s role in his first year with the Roadrunners to score in double figures in all seven games.

Dhieu Deing. UTSA beat Lamar 79-73 in men's basketball on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Dhieu Deing connected on 8 of 14 shots from the field in UTSA’s victory over the Lamar Cardinals. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In besting his previous high of 20 points, he hit eight of 14 shots from the field, three of seven from long range, and seven of seven at the free throw line. He also had three rebounds and three assists.

“Just taking good shots,” he explained. “I feel like the other games, I was forcing it a little bit. We watched a lot of film, and I came back and took good shots.”

Christian Tucker steps up

After senior guard Darius McNeill left the game with a foot injury, freshman walk-on Christian Tucker had his best outing with nine points. Tucker, from Chandler, Ariz., scored all nine in nine, second-half minutes. He played 11 minutes overall, and hit six of seven at the free throw line.

First half

The Roadrunners entered the game with a new look, with a change in the starting lineup, and with different player combinations. In the end, they came out of it with a 35-28 lead on the Cardinals at halftime.

In the first six games of the season, poor shooting plagued the Roadrunners. The shakeup helped to an extent with the team hitting 44.4 percent in the early going.

The Cardinals, on the other end, were held to 36.7 percent. But they stayed in the game with a 23-14 rebounding edge, including 11-4 on the offensive glass.

Rotation shakeup

Freshman Lamin Sabally got his first start of the season and played seven minutes. He went scoreless on 0 for 2 shooting and had two rebounds. With Sabally starting, McNeill came off the bench.

McNeill, a senior transfer, played only five minutes before coming out with the foot problem. Forward Aleu Aleu made his UTSA debut, coming off the bench for almost five minutes.

He missed all three of his shots, including a couple of treys.

UTSA coaches remain hopeful that Aleu, a lithe, 6-foot-8 wing, can have an impact after he sat out almost the entire six weeks of preseason training with a quad injury. Henson said Aleu has had four full practices over the past week.

Lachlan Bofinger. UTSA beat Lamar 79-73 in men's basketball on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore Lachlan Bofinger enjoyed a high-efficiency game with four points, five rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Deing and Alley lead rally as UTSA tops IUPUI, 60-57

Dhieu Deing. UTSA came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Dhieu Deing scored 20 points and made some clutch plays at the end as UTSA rallied to defeat the IUPUI Jaguars by three. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Trailing by 10 points late in their third game in three days, the UTSA Roadrunners rallied Wednesday for a 60-57 victory over the IUPUI Jaguars.

UTSA was down 54-44 with 6:44 remaining when Jaguars guard Bobby Harvey buried a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.

Cedrick Alley Jr. UTSA came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Cedrick Alley Jr. scored eight points and pulled down 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass. – Photo by Joe Alexander

From there, the Roadrunners ripped off a 16-3 run to the buzzer, with forward Cedric Alley Jr. hitting the boards hard and newcomer Dhieu Deing scoring seven of the points.

What changed for the home team down the stretch?

“We really stopped feeling sorry for ourselves,” said Alley, who had a monster game with eight points and 14 rebounds. “We had to pick up our energy. I know that has to start with me.

“That’s why I started crashing the boards as hard as I could to try to get second-chance or third-chance opportunities.”

Despite the late collapse, IUPUI still had a chance to win in the final minute.

On one possession, Bakari Lastrap turned it over with a pass that was deflected, leading to a fast break layup by Deing that lifted UTSA into a 58-57 lead.

Deing missed the free throw, allowing the Jaguars one last chance. After an IUPUI timeout, though, Lastrap turned it over again.

As Alley grabbed the ball, he was fouled, and went to the line to shoot a 1-and-1. He made both to account for the final score.

While Alley was a force defensively, Deing also did his part, producing 20 points and five rebounds.

“Man, this feels real good right now,” said Deing, a newcomer who has scored 13, 15, 16, 11 and now 20 points in his first five games for the Roadrunners.

Dhieu Deing and Cedrick Alley Jr. look to the Roadrunners' coaches for instructions with 2.0 seconds left in the game. UTSA came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Dhieu Deing and Cedrick Alley Jr. look to the Roadrunners’ coaches for instructions with 2.0 seconds left in the game. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Deing said the Roadrunners just wanted to stay together as a team after IUPUI posted the double-digit lead.

“We’re just trying to see what our identity is as a team,” Deing said. “At that timeout when we were down six with about two minutes left, I told the team, ‘We’re going to do this together.’ ”

B.J. Maxwell led the Jaguars with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

First half

Maxwell scored 10 points in the first half for the Jaguars, who shot 50 percent from the floor in taking a 33-28 lead.

The Jaguars nailed four 3-point baskets, including two by Maxwell.

Despite poor shooting, UTSA stayed in the game because of its defense. It was the first time this year that the Roadrunners trailed at the half and won.

Records

UTSA 3-2
IUPUI 0-5

Coming up

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at UTSA, Sunday, 3 p.m.

Notes

IUPUI stands for Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Division I athletics teams at IUPUI play in the Horizon League. For IUPUI, Chuks Isitua hit 4 for 4 shots off the bench and finished with 10 points.

UTSA players celebrate after the Roadrunners came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA players celebrate after the Roadrunners came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA got contributions from Jacob Germany with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting and four rebounds. Jordan Ivy-Curry, who scored a career-high 27 Tuesday night against Denver, was held to nine points on 3 of 14 shooting.

The Roadrunners pulled out the win despite shooting 33.3 percent from the field as a team.

Last Friday, the Roadrunners were humbled in a 96-44 loss at the University of Oklahoma. Then as the multi-team event opened on its home court Monday, UTSA lost a heart-breaker, falling 65-62 to Texas A&M-Commerce on a buzzer-beating, 3-point shot.

The Roadrunners rebounded Tuesday night to beat Denver 78-64.

Ivy-Curry has emerged after five games as UTSA’s leading scorer with 15.6 per game. Dhieu Deing is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Jacob Germany is third in scoring at 13.4.

Jacob Germany. UTSA came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany produced 15 points and four rebounds against the IUPUI Jaguars. Germany, a 6-11 junior, is averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 rebounds for the season. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Oklahoma’s defense suffocates UTSA in a 96-44 blowout

The Oklahoma Sooners held UTSA scoreless for a span of almost eight minutes in the first half Friday night and then capitalized on the momentum, rolling to an easy 96-44 victory over the Roadrunners.

In the game played at the Noble Center in Norman, Okla., UTSA kept its head above water in the first few minutes, leading 4-2, before the home team set in motion a crushing defensive performance with a 17-0 run.

As the teams took a break for intermission, OU entered the UTSA record book by holding the Roadrunners to their fewest points in a half (10).

With a 33-10 lead, the Sooners came out and kept pouring it on in the second half, increasing the advantage to 30 with 16:55 left, to 40 with eight minutes remaining and, ultimately, to 53 with 33 seconds to go.

In the end, it was one of the most lopsided losses in UTSA’s 41-year school history.

“They just got after us from the start,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told Jay Howard on the team’s radio broadcast. “We just couldn’t get a good shot early on. We were fighting. We fought defensively for awhile. But I think just the fact that we could not get good looks at the basket eventually took some of our energy away from the defensive end, and it just steamrolled on us.”

Late in the half, OU center Tanner Groves asserted himself with shot-making both inside the paint and from 3-point range. Groves, during the streak, fired in one shot from beyond the arc, sank a mid-range jumper and flipped in a jump hook.

He finished with 21 points to lead four players in double figures. Umoja Gibson, Elijah Harkless and Marvin Johnson scored 10 each for the Sooners, who shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half and ended with 58.2 percent for the game.

On the flip side, UTSA shot 22.7 percent, just off the school record 22.6 percent set on March 2, 2013, in a 53-37 home loss to Seattle.

With first-year coach Porter Moser in charge, Oklahoma employed a switching defense, with obvious positive results.

“They got a bunch of interchangeable sized guys. That’s kind of what we try to do defensively. Certainly, they were able to blow up a lot of our action with their switching,” Henson said.

A bright spot for UTSA was forward Dhieu Deing, a newcomer to the team who played his high school career at High Point, N.C. Held scoreless early, Deing got hot late and hit five three-pointers. He finished with 15 points. Guard Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 10 points and center Jacob Germany six.

Records

Oklahoma 2-0
UTSA 1-1

Coming up

UTSA hosts a three-day, multi-team event starting Monday at the Convocation Center. The Roadrunners play Texas A&M-Commerce on Monday night at 7:30. They’ll take on Denver on Tuesday night at 7:30 and IUPUI on Wednesday afternoon at 4:30.

UTSA-OU notebook

With the victory, Oklahoma of the Big 12 Conference improved to 7-0 against UTSA all time, including 5-0 against the Henson-coached Roadrunners. OU handed Henson his worst loss last year, 105-66.

Coming into the game, UTSA men’s basketball was winless in 12 years against teams from the five biggest revenue-producing athletic conferences. The loss dropped UTSA to 0-24 against Power Five opponents in that span. The program’s last victory over a P5 team came in November of 2009 at Iowa of the Big Ten.

Moser came to OU from Loyola-Chicago to replace Lon Kruger, who retired after last season. Moser is best known by fans in South Texas for leading his team to the 2018 NCAA Final Four at the Alamodome.

Under Moser, OU has stocked its roster with transfers, including brothers Tanner Groves and Jacob Groves from Eastern Washington, Ethan Chargois (SMU) and Jordan Goldwire (Duke). Also, super senior Marvin Johnson (Eastern Illinois).

Goldwire played 116 games at Duke over the last four years.

UTSA’s Deing draws inspiration from his African heritage

Dhieu Deing is a 6-foot-5 guard who comes to the UTSA men's basketball team from Dodge City Kansas Community College. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA newcomer Dhieu Deing seems to thrive in the open court in a fast-paced game. UTSA coaches love his energy. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special report, for The JB Replay

As an American-born son of parents who grew up in northeastern Africa, UTSA forward Dhieu Deing has an almost ever-present smile on his face.

It’s a clear indication that he is grateful for the chance to pursue an NCAA Division I basketball dream.

Dhieu Deing is a 6-foot-5 guard who comes to the UTSA men's basketball team from Dodge City Kansas Community College. - photo by Joe Alexander

Dhieu Deing is a 6-foot-5 guard/forward who comes to UTSA from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. His family’s roots are in Africa, in South Sudan. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Preparing to play his first season with the Roadrunners, Deing says he thinks virtually every day about how much his parents sacrificed in their lives and how fortunate he is, as a result.

His mother and father, after all, would walk for miles through the Sudan some 25 years ago to flee an armed force determined to take over the area where they lived.

Once, he said, his parents picked up their six-month-old son – Dhieu’s older brother — and fled. They trekked all the way, on a north-bound path, to the nation of Egypt.

“Obviously my childhood wasn’t as crazy as (my mom’s) growing up,” Deing said. “But (my mother and father) came from Africa. They didn’t have any money (when they arrived in America). They didn’t have any clothes. They didn’t know English. There were a lot of things going on.”

Soon after the family arrived in the United States, Dhieu (pronounced dill) was born in Lafayette, La. The family later moved to North Carolina. Deing (pronounced ding) was in fifth grade when his father passed away.

“We lived in a shelter for about four years, five years,” he said. “So, it was a long childhood. I’m just blessed I didn’t have to go through (the experience of) army people coming to my house, trying to kill me and things like that. Trying to force me out of my house.

“My mom tells me stories every day. How she had to walk through fields, from country to country, I can’t even imagine how she went through all that. Every day I wake up and think about the sacrifice she put in for me.”

Deing, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward, evolved from these humble beginnings into an all-state player at High Point (N.C.) Central High School. He played a year in college at Division II South Carolina Aiken and then spent last season in junior college at Dodge City, Kan.

Over the last nine months, Deing has turned heads in the basketball world.
In the spring, he averaged 19.1 points per game at Dodge City, in the Jayhawk Athletic Conference. On top of that, he played in August and September for South Sudan’s national team in the FIBA AfroBasket tournament in Rwanda.

At age 20, he was the youngest player for South Sudan, which has been a country for only 10 years. In South Sudan’s first appearance at AfroBasket, Deing averaged 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists. His team finished a surprising seventh out of 16 teams.

“It was a really good opportunity for him,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “He was the youngest guy on his team. His country is one of the youngest countries in the world. So, they haven’t been on that stage before.”

Deing made the 12-man roster for South Sudan during a tryout camp held in Kigali, Rwanda, the nation’s capital city. He said about 25 players reported for the camp, and the competition to make the team was intense.

Adding to the pressure of the tryouts, for Deing, were the elements. The town of Kigali sits in a hilly region, at more than 4,100 feet above sea level.

“The altitude in Africa is way crazy … (camp) was going on for two or three days, and I’m contemplating whether I’m going to make the team,” he said. “People are like, ‘What’s going on?’ We were real tired. But once I adjusted, it was all right, from there.”

In South Sudan’s 88-86 victory over Uganda, Deing came off the bench to hit 7 of 15 shots from the floor. He scored 22 points, earning the praise of coach Royal Ivey.

“He can play,” Ivey said after the game. “He put on a show today for the world to see, that he is going to be around on this national team for a long time.” Added Uganda coach George Galanopoulos, “No. 6, he is a hell of a player, to be honest. He made some tough shots.”

Henson applauded the efforts of the South Sudanese team, which was organized by former NBA player Luol Deng.

“The expectations from the outside, I don’t think were very high for them,” Henson said. “I think they showed some people (what they could do). They overachieved and did some things that haven’t been done.

“I think as a group they felt good about it, and (Deing) certainly had a couple of really good games. He got a lot of people’s attention over there.”

Henson said Deing has had a good camp with the Roadrunners.

“He’s one of those guys, when you’re talking about playing fast, he’s at his best when it gets going up and down,” the coach said. “He’s at his best when we’re in the open court. He makes plays. Sees the floor pretty well. Just so energetic.

“You can see that. On the heart-rate monitors, he’s got the highest numbers every single day. That’s because he’s flying around.

“First few practices, we weren’t sure why his numbers were so high. It’s just, he gets from Point A to Point B and never stops moving. Offensively. Defensively.”

UTSA’s African connection this season doesn’t stop with Deing. His cousin is Aleu Aleu, a 6-8 forward who was born in Kenya. Aleu moved to the United States, attended high school in Austin and then moved on to Temple College.

Aleu Aleu is a 6-foot-8 junior guard/forward who comes to the UTSA men's basketball team from Temple Community College. - photo by Joe Alexander

Aleu Aleu, a 6-8 junior, is a newcomer out of Temple College. Aleu, who has been limited in workouts because of a leg injury, is from Kenya. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Both committed on the same day last year.

“Me and my cousin, Aleu, we decided, this is the perfect spot,” Deing said. “Coach Henson brought me and Aleu in. We just thought, we’re going to have to do this.”

Coaches are hopeful that Aleu will become a contributor in time, but, thus far, he has been limited to light workouts while rehabilitating an injured quad. Deing says he thinks Aleu will return to workouts soon.

“In about two weeks he’ll be back,” Deing said. “During the season, or, midseason, he’ll be 100 percent.”

Deing has had his ups and downs in UTSA practices. One day last week, he started workouts by making a couple of turnovers and then briefly hanging his head.

Later in the workout, he picked up the intensity and hit two 3-pointers, one of them from the corner as the clock was winding down.

“I’m still learning myself,” Deing said. “I’m still learning my game. I just turned 20 years old. I’m still trying to learn … what I can do to fix my game, trying to get to the next play (and) not just put my head down. Little things like that. That’s me.

“Sometimes I’m like that. I’m human. I make mistakes. I’m just trying to come back and fight better.”

Deing is a competitor who says he is inspired in basketball by Deng, the former All-American at Duke University who runs camps in America for South Sudanese athletes.

He also admires his mother, who works long shifts for a clothing manufacturer in North Carolina.

Long ago, she sacrificed for the family in the face of extreme adversity.

“That’s why I talk to her every day,” Deing said.

What is she like?

“She’s a sweet, sweet, sweet lady,” Deing said. “To me, she’s strict. But to everyone, she’s this loving person. I love my mom. I really don’t know how to explain it. She’s just like, always smiling. Never a dull moment. Always got confidence in me, even when I don’t have confidence in myself.

“She knows that I’m going to be doing something like Lu (Deng) one day. Giving back to the young kids like me. Wanting to do something big.”

Hopes are high as UTSA unveils revamped roster in first practice

Darius McNeill is one of the new players on the UTSA men's basketball roster. He is a 6-foot-3 senior transfer guard. - photo by Joe Alexander

High-energy guard Darius McNeill told reporters that he was relieved to receive clearance from the NCAA last week to play this season. He transferred into UTSA in the offseason after two years at Cal and one at SMU. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners hit the practice floor on Wednesday afternoon, opening preseason workouts confident that they can build on a winning tradition established by departed scoring stars Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.

With Jackson and Wallace, the Roadrunners produced a 65-60 record in four seasons, including 38-32 in Conference USA. The team forged winning conference records in three of four years with the duo, who left UTSA as the Nos. 1 and 2 scorers in school history.

UTSA men's basketball coach Steve Henson at the first practice for the 2021-22 season at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson starts his sixth season at UTSA hoping to find a winning formula with a revamped roster. – photo by Joe Alexander

Prior to their arrival, UTSA basketball was down, riding a dismal stretch of five straight years with losing records, both overall and in conference. So, while some of their own fans may worry about how the team can replace the two, the new group is hardly fazed by the challenge.

UTSA sophomore Jordan Ivy-Curry says he thinks he and his teammates will be fine. Asked by a reporter what life will be like without Jackson and Wallace, Ivy-Curry didn’t hesitate with his response. “It’s going to be better,” he said.

“We’re going to be better,” said Ivy-Curry, who is projected as the team’s starter at shooting guard. “Even without Keaton and Jhivvan, you know, they were great scorers, but I feel like we have some great guys that came in. They can do the same.”

Based on how the team competed in a three-hour workout at the Convocation Center, it’s obvious that the Roadrunners are different, perhaps better defensively, with a fleet of lengthy, athletic forwards and guards.

It remains to be seen how they will fare, though, without the dominant backcourt scoring prowess that Jackson and Wallace supplied.

“Obviously it’s a different feel out there,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “A lot of new energy. A lot of new faces. A lot of hungry guys. A lot of guys that are going to be fighting for roles. They think they’re fighting for shots. They need to be fighting for roles.

“But I think you can sense the excitement, the newness, the freshness.”

Also, the quickness.

With a potential starting wing group that consists of Ivy-Curry, along with newcomers Darius McNeill and Dhieu Deing, both of them transfers, the Roadrunners showed in the first workout how they can get up and down the court in a hurry.

In addition, UTSA also exhibited a physical presence in the paint with 6-11 Jacob Germany and 6-6, 230-pound power forward Cedrick Alley Jr., both of them holdovers from last year’s team that finished 15-11 overall and 9-7 in the C-USA.

Scrimmage highlights that stood out on the first day included a fast break led by McNeill, who jetted down the court, passing a few defenders along the way.

When he reached the paint, the former two-year starter at Cal in the Pac-12 stopped and two-handed a bullet pass to the corner.

When the ensuing jump shot misfired, Deing swept in from the wing to tip it in.

Deing may have had the most and memorable moments of any of the newcomers on opening day. When he wasn’t spotting up to hit threes, he showed off deft ball-handling and passing skills.

On one play, he drove baseline, attracted a defender and dumped off a pass to Lachlan Bofinger for a layup.

Even with the offensive flair on display, players cheered loudest for good defensive plays, an emphasis from the start of team building during summer workouts.

A confident group is coming together with the season opener scheduled for Nov. 9 at home against Trinity.

“Oh, we going to be better,” Ivy-Curry said. “Just watch.”

Finding a home

McNeill said it felt good to get out on the floor with his new teammates. It felt especially good because, only last Friday, UTSA announced that he had been cleared by the NCAA to play immediately without having to sit out a year.

After two years at Cal, McNeill moved to Dallas in 2019 to attend SMU, hoping to be closer to his Houston home. Also, hoping to play right away. It didn’t happen. Denied by the NCAA, he sat out all of 2019-20 before finally getting a shot with the Mustangs last season.

Feeling restless last spring, McNeill elected to transfer again, and UTSA answered the call.

“When I first came in, it was like, up and down,” he said. “I was sad, because I didn’t want to go through the same thing I did at SMU. Nobody understands, you practice every day and you’re working for something and they tell you, ‘No.’

“It was like a hurt feeling. Now I get to play. My family gets to come see me play and I get to help the team win.”

Maturing as a player

Feeling good physically, 6-foot-11 center Jacob Germany also has a sense of ease that comes from being a veteran college player. A few years ago, he was a freshman, uncertain about his ability to play the college game at a high level.

Now, he’s a junior, feeling settled and more sure of himself.

“It’s definitely different,” he said. “Big mindset change. Confidence, you know, is a lot higher. Freshmen come in and most of ’em are going to be scared and just trying to fit in. I enjoy it more now. I feel more comfortable. It’s really nice, honestly.”