Olivari, Fiedler lead rally as Rice takes down UTSA in overtime

Japhet Medor. Rice beat UTSA 88-81 in overtime in Conference USA men's basketball at the Convocation Center on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Point guard Japhet Medor led the UTSA Roadrunners with a season-high 30 points on 11 of 21 shooting from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Guard Quincy Olivari tied his season high with 30 points and center Max Fiedler had a triple-double Monday night as the Rice Owls erased an 18-point deficit to down the UTSA Roadrunners, 88-81, in overtime.

Fiedler, a 6-foot-11 junior, hit 10 of 12 shots from the field and finished with 24 points. He also produced 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

Playing with poise on UTSA’s home court, the Owls also received a boost from guard Travis Evee in the extra period. The 6-foot-1 playmaker buried a three on the end of a long possession with 1:56 remaining to help the visitors pull away.

Massal Diouf. Rice beat UTSA 88-81 in overtime in Conference USA men's basketball at the Convocation Center on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Massal Diouf (at right) had his hands full all night as he tried to check Rice center Max Fiedler, who finished with a 24-point triple double. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Evee finished with 19 points for the Owls, who improved to 13-5 on the season and 4-3 in Conference USA.

Japhet Medor scored 30 points to lead the Roadrunners. UTSA fell to 7-12 overall and 1-7 in the C-USA despite playing well for most of regulation. The Roadrunners played for the second straight game without injured center Jacob Germany, who is out with a concussion.

Rice coach Scott Pera said “it came down to defense” in climbing out of double-digit deficits that spanned much of both halves.

“I thought (assistant coaches) Van (Green) and Greg (Howell) did a great job making a huge adjustment for the second half,” Pera said in a video posted to Rice’s Twitter page. “We got just enough stops. I thought we could get good shots offensively.

“Obviously, we weren’t making ’em in the first half. Even in the second half, we just struggled. We struggled with things we are normally good at. But our kids are old enough now to stay with it. They also listened to the game plan down the stretch, and that was to own three feet and in.

“Keep getting that ball three feet and in. Get to that foul line, because they were in the double bonus. You know, Mekhi (Mason) hit a huge three when Quincy drove. Travis hit a huge three. And then Cam (Sheffield) made an unbelievable play to get us the ball late. And Travis hit a big shot — again (in the overtime).

“Just a great team win, and I thought our three older guys (Olivari, Fiedler and Evee) certainly carried us.”

For UTSA, the loss stung badly. It was the team’s fourth straight setback. It was also a lost chance for the Roadrunners to prove that they could beat one of the better teams in the C-USA.

In addition, they needed the momentum with two home games remaining this week, including a Thursday night test against the conference-leading FAU Owls.

They needed the win, but they couldn’t get it, despite holding an 18-point lead with four minutes left in the first half and a 13-point spread at intermission. When Christian Tucker hit a jumper with 7:06 left in the game, the Roadrunners hiked the advantage to 16.

At that juncture, things started to unravel for the home team.

DJ Richards. Rice beat UTSA 88-81 in overtime in Conference USA men's basketball at the Convocation Center on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman DJ Richards scored 14 points for his seventh straight double-figure scoring effort. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Owls, one of the better offensive squads in the nation, started to roll. Olivari hit a jumper with 6:47 remaining to start a 21-5 run by Rice to the end of regulation.

A couple of misses on the front end of one-and-one free-throw situations and a turnover against the Sheffield-led backcourt pressure in the final minute cost UTSA dearly.

In addition, Medor had a chance to win it for the Roadrunners with 1.1 seconds left, but he couldn’t get it done. With UTSA trailing by one, he went to the free throw line and missed the first attempt, and then he tied it 72-72 by knocking down the second.

Once the game reached overtime, the Owls took control. They played better defense and outscored the Roadrunners 16-9. With UTSA failing to generate offense on its own end, Olivari knocked down six free throws in the final 1:24 to seal it.

Asked about the mood in the locker room afterward, UTSA coach Steve Henson said it “was what it should be.”

“Our guys were devastated,” the coach said. “This one hurts bad. I wouldn’t expect any other response.”

Notable

Jacob Germany suffered the concussion sometime during the UTEP game last Wednesday in El Paso, Henson said. As a result, he sat out last Saturday at Charlotte and again Monday night against Rice.

Henson said he doesn’t expect Germany to to play on Thursday against the FAU Owls. He said “there’s a chance” that the 6-foot-11 senior will be ready by Saturday.

The timeline for the return of forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah is also murky. Addo-Ankrah has missed all eight conference games with a fracture in his left wrist. Henson said he could begin shooting some at the end of this week and could have the cast removed next week.

Records

Rice 13-5, 4-3
UTSA 7-12, 1-7

Coming up

FAU at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Individuals

Rice — Guard Quincy Olivari scored 30 and pulled down eight rebounds. He also had 30 points on Dec. 17 at home against Northwestern State and on Dec. 4 on the road at Texas State. Olivari hit nine of 18 from the field and five of 12 on three-pointers. Max Fiedler had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Five of his rebounds were on the offensive end. Travis Evee had 19 points and five assists.

Aleu Aleu. Rice beat UTSA 88-81 in overtime in Conference USA men's basketball at the Convocation Center on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

With Jacob Germany not playing, Aleu Aleu started at forward and contributed nine points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA — Japhet Medor scored 30 points, including 19 points on seven of 11 shooting from the floor in the first half. In the second half, he cooled off to three for eight, and then one for two in the overtime. On free throws, Medor was six for eight for the game, but he missed a couple in the final minute. DJ Richards scored 14 and John Buggs III 13. Aleu Aleu started and produced nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in 40 minutes.

First half

Playing without their starting center for the second straight game, the Roadrunners kicked up the tempo and raced to a 45-32 halftime lead on the Owls.

UTSA hit eight three-point shots en route to one of their best offensive halves in weeks. Buggs and Richards buried three triples each, and Medor had two. Medor led the way with 19 points and three assists.

The Roadrunners played with pace from the outset. Even though the Owls rank as one of the top-scoring teams in NCAA Division I, the Roadrunners didn’t back down from the challenge. With 4:07 remaining, they had built their biggest lead at 18 points.

UTSA played without injured senior center Jacob Germany for the second game in a row.

Buggs-Ousmane friendship adds a layer of intrigue to the UTSA-North Texas rivalry

John Buggs III. A beat Bethune-Cookman 90-69 in men's basketball on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s John Buggs III says his good friend Abou Ousmane of the North Texas Mean Green has been playfully ‘talking noise’ on the eve of tonight’s game at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

If you ask John Buggs III a question, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get an interesting answer, around which he almost always spins a yarn about his life in basketball.

For instance, I asked Buggs yesterday about playing tonight at the UTSA Convocation Center against the North Texas Mean Green.

It’s the Conference USA opener for both Buggs and the UTSA Roadrunners and the Mean Green, who have been a dominant force in the league for the past five seasons.

As a newcomer in the UTSA program, Buggs has yet to experience what it’s like to host the Mean Green at the Bird Cage.

Other than last season when North Texas dominated in a 59-48 victory, the UTSA-North Texas games played in San Antonio recently have been close, coming down to one or two possessions in the final minutes.

The crowd, as you’d expect, has usually been animated and vocal.

I was curious to get Buggs’ take on the rivalry, and what the game means to him at this juncture of an up and down season for the Roadrunners.

Also, what it means to him, to get a crack at the defending conference regular-season champions on opening night.

“I feel like we’re very excited,” Buggs said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity that we have. We can definitely open a lot of eyes by getting a win, you know.”

It’s been a tough deal for UTSA to get many wins against North Texas lately.

In five previous seasons under Coach Grant McCasland, the Mean Green have posted a 6-2 record against the Roadrunners, including 3-2 in San Antonio.

Since 2017-18, North Texas has won handily in all three games against UTSA in Denton, all by double digits. In San Antonio, as mentioned, the games have been hotly contested for most of the 40 minutes on the game clock.

For instance, in December 2017, UTSA freshmen Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace and Co. battled to the end before North Texas made a few plays and won, 72-71.

In January 2019, Jackson hit a memorable, spinning jump shot in the final seconds to lift the Roadrunners to a 76-74 victory.

Two years ago, during the pandemic season, North Texas played at UTSA on back-to-back nights. The Mean Green pulled out a 77-70 decision on the front end of the double dip.

But UTSA bounced back the next night to exact revenge, winning 77-69 against a North Texas team that would go on to play in the NCAA tournament.

Last season, North Texas was all over UTSA at the Bird Cage with a smothering defensive effort. It was all Mean Green down the stretch in a 59-48 drubbing.

Buggs likely doesn’t know all the history, but he does know a little about this year’s North Texas squad based on film study.

He knows North Texas is a quality team, one of the best in the nation defensively, and that a win tonight for UTSA could really alter the trajectory of the season.

“I’m really excited,” Buggs said, a smile creasing his face. “One of my (former) teammates plays on their team, so we’ve been talking back and forth a little bit.”

Who does he know?

“Abou Ousmane,” Buggs replied. “We played together for a year at prep school.”

In Connecticut, in the 2018-19 season, right?

At the Putnam Science Academy?

“Yeah, he’s a little younger than me,” Buggs said. “But we were at the same prep school for a little while. Last year, when I was at Juco (at Hill College, in Hillsboro) I went to watch him play (in Denton) many, many times.

“(Ousmane) was one of my best friends in prep school. So, you know, we got a little duel going on (this week).”

If you think about it, the Buggs-Ousmane reunion is quite a hoops coincidence. Buggs is from northwest Louisiana and Ousmane, a 6-10 forward, is from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Both played together at the prep school in northeast Connecticut for one year, became friends and now they’re on opposite teams for a bragging-rights type game, scheduled to be contested in San Antonio, a few days before Christmas in 2022.

“We definitely have kept in touch,” Buggs said, smiling. “It’s going to be a show (tonight) for sure.”

So, have you talked to him or texted in the last several days?

“Yeah, I talked to him two days ago?” he said in an interview Wednesday at UTSA. “Actually before the Bethune-Cookman game (last Sunday), he was calling, talking noise. You know, he was throwing (verbal) shots. I said, ‘We ready.’ It’s going to be a good test for us tomorrow.

“Definitely.”

Wrist injury is expected to sideline UTSA’s Isaiah Addo-Ankrah for four weeks

Quietly, UTSA forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah served as an inspiration to his teammates for all the extra time he spent working on his game in the offseason.

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. A beat Bethune-Cookman 90-69 in men's basketball on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah played in all 11 games this season and averaged 7.3 points before an X-ray revealed a wrist fracture that would keep him out four weeks. — File photo by Joe Alexander

In early September, for instance, the UTSA women’s basketball team usually worked out in the morning hours, followed by the women’s volleyball squad in the early afternoon, followed later in the day by Addo-Ankrah and his friends in men’s basketball.

Sometimes, a visitor would show up in the morning thinking that Coach Karen Aston’s women’s basketball squad would be on the floor, only to discover that it was a scheduled day off.

Instead, the visitor would walk in to a nearly empty gym to the sound of squeaking shoes, with a couple of Coach Steve Henson’s men’s team players taking advantage of the open court to get up extra shots.

One day, it was Addo-Ankrah, who explained later that he’d committed to complete a couple of challenges from coaches — to make 10,000 3-pointers, outside of scheduled practices — in two different segments of the offseason.

As a consequence, the Houston native was in the gym up to three times a day from June through September. It was disheartening, in that regard, for the Roadrunners to learn recently that a fractured wrist 11 games into the season will sideline Addo-Ankrah for four weeks.

“It’s really disturbing to hear that,” UTSA guard John Buggs III said on the eve of the team’s Conference USA opener against North Texas. “Isaiah’s probably one of the more hard-working players on our team.

“He doesn’t have as many (natural) gifts as other people athletically, but, man, his work ethic … It’s just so heartbreaking for him. We hate that for him. Hopefully he’ll get well as soon as possible.”

The renewal of the hotly-contested, in-state rivalry between the Roadrunners and the Mean Green will take place on Thursday night at UTSA. Fortunately for UTSA, center Jacob Germany is expected to play.

Germany suffered a nasty-looking ankle sprain on Sunday afternoon in the Roadrunners’ 90-69 victory over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. UTSA (6-5) had a day off on Monday and then practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the defending C-USA regular-season champions.

Led by guards Tylor Perry and Kai Huntsberry, North Texas (9-2) has won four in a row on the season. In addition, the Grant McCasland-coached Mean Green have won six out of eight against the Roadrunners in the series over the past five seasons.

Henson discussed his team’s preparations and his personnel issues after a two-hour drill Wednesday afternoon.

“We didn’t do much, up and down, either day,” Henson said. “As much as we’d love for there to be some pace in the game tomorrow, we don’t anticipate there will be a lot of pace, so we did a lot of stuff on the halfcourt, offensively and defensively. Jacob was able to do most of it both days.

“He looked progressively better today than he did yesterday, so I don’t think he’ll be 100 percent, but he’ll play.”

Addo-Ankrah apparently had been playing with some discomfort in his left (non-shooting) wrist for some time. Because of lingering pain, a new X-ray was ordered. It revealed a fracture.

“He’s going to miss about four weeks,” the coach said.

The circumstances on how Addo-Ankrah suffered the injury weren’t immediately clear.

“He injured it a long time ago,” Henson said. “Initially, it didn’t show a fracture. He started feeling a little better. But he wasn’t quite getting over the hump there, so they re-X-rayed and they found a small fracture.”

For the season, Addo-Ankrah had played in all 11 games with eight starts. A three-point shooting specialist, he was fifth on the team, averaging 7.3 points.

Though Addo-Ankrah made a season-high four triples on Sunday afternoon against Bethune-Cookman, his shooting percentages were down from last season, as he was hitting .366 from the field and .313 from three.

Henson didn’t specify how he planned to fill the 23.5-minutes per game void. But, likely, players such as Aleu Aleu, Lamin Sabally and Lachlan Bofinger will need to step up.

“I think (Isaiah’s) presence will be missed as far as spacing the floor and creating driving lanes, that type of thing,” Buggs said. “But we have other guys that can get in the lane or attack the paint, affect the game with offensive rebounding, that type of stuff.

“I think we have guys that are ready to step up and take on a bigger role.”

Buggs said it’s a good sign for the team to see the efforts that Germany made to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon.

“It just sends a message that we’re all about being tough and trying to grind it out, and do whatever we need to do to win,” Buggs said. “I feel like, with Jacob playing, that puts us in the best position to win.”

Coming up

North Texas at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Records

UTSA 6-5
North Texas 9-2

Notable

North Texas’ top players are guards Perry and Huntsberry, with 6-10 power forward Abou Ousmane playing inside. Buggs said he was Ousmane’s teammate years ago in Connecticut at the Putnam Science Academy.

“He was one of my best friends in prep school,” Buggs said.

Buggs said he talked to Ousmane recently, likely in the days before the Bethune-Cookman game. “He was calling, talking noise,” Buggs said. “He was throwing (verbal) shots. I said, ‘Hey, we ready.’ It’s going to be a good test for us tomorrow. Definitely.”

The Mean Green have won at least 20 games in four of the past five seasons under McCasland. They reached the NCAA tournament in 2021 and advanced to the round of 32.

Last year, they finished 25-7 and 16-2 in the C-USA. North Texas played in the NIT, defeated Texas State and then lost to Virginia in the second round.

Prairie View A&M and its big-guard tandem to challenge the UTSA Roadrunners

Jacob Germany celebrates as time runs out. UTSA beat Texas State 61-56 in men's basketball on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany and the UTSA Roadrunners will try to build on momentum as they host the Prairie View A&M Panthers tonight at the Convocation Center. UTSA had its best game of the season last Thursday night in downing the Texas State Bobcats. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Prairie View A&M Panthers will call on a couple of talented big guards to test the improving UTSA Roadrunners tonight.

Six-foot-five Will Douglas and 6-3 Jeremiah Gambrell will lead the Panthers (3-1) against the Roadrunners (3-1) at the UTSA Convocation Center. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

A week ago today, the two players with a combined 174 games of experience in NCAA Division I basketball paced Prairie View of the Southwestern Athletic Conference to a 70-59 victory on its home court over the Washington State Cougars.

Douglas, a Prairie View newcomer this season, exploded for 26 points and seven rebounds against the Cougars of the Pac-12. Gambrell scored 19.

Earlier, Washington State had downed the Texas State Bobcats, 83-61, on its home court in Pullman, Wash.

By extended comparison, UTSA played its best game of the season last Thursday in knocking off the Bobcats, 61-56, at the Convocation Center.

Against the Bobcats, the challenge for UTSA was to slow down 5-foot-9 Mason Harrell. Harrell scored 20 on the Roadrunners, but a 2-3 zone defense limited most of the rest of the Texas State offensive threats.

In the meantime, UTSA guards Japhet Medor and John Buggs combined for 29 points to lead the victory.

While Medor and Buggs aren’t the biggest guards in NCAA Division I and may not match up well in size compared to most players they’ll see this season — such as Douglas and Gambrell — they’re showing the ability to play at a high level.

In addition, 6-foot-5 UTSA freshman D.J. Richards is also coming along and gaining more confidence, giving the Roadrunners a chance to grow their offensive capabilities with three unique talents.

Medor is a slasher on the dribble, while Buggs and Richards are two quick-release, 3-point shooting threats.

Lately, Medor is the Roadrunners’ biggest problem for opponents. His quickness is hard to defend, even with help.

The Bobcats couldn’t stay in front of him at the end of a closely-contested game, and UTSA ended up winning by five.

UTSA coach Steve Henson applauded Medor for taking what the Bobcats’ defense was giving him. As the game progressed, Texas State’s defense kept extending, putting more pressure on the perimeter.

“Late in the game, it was super-extended and taking away passes,” Henson said. “When Japhet did beat his own guy, there wasn’t much help (to slow him) from getting to the rim, and we needed that. I wish we had two or three guys who could do that.

“We put (Christian) Tucker in there a little in the first half, because he’s a guy that can give us a little penetration. That’s key. They took us out of our stuff. They manhandled us out on the perimeter.

“You just got to get by your guy, which is what Japhet did, and he converted.”

Defending against Douglas and Gambrell could pose problems for the Roadrunners.

Not only is Douglas talented, he’s also experienced. The Memphis native has played in 102 games in his career, including 72 at SMU over four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21. At Prairie View, he played in 26 last season and in four in this, his sixth season as a collegian. Douglas is averaging 19.8 points on 52 percent shooting from the field.

In addition, he’s one of the Panthers’ best rebounders, averaging 5.5. Gambrell, with 72 games of experience in Division I, also brings experience. The Houston native is a fifth-year player, having spent two years at Western Kentucky and the past three at Prairie View. He’s averaging 13 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Coming up

Prairie View A&M at UTSA, tonight at 7, at the UTSA Convocation Center. The Roadrunners host the 210 San Antonio Shootout this weekend. They’ll play Grambling State on Friday night (at 7:30), followed by games against Dartmouth on Sunday (7:30) and Incarnate Word on Monday (6:30).

Records

UTSA (3-1)
Prairie View A&M (3-1)

An ‘old head’ and his new backcourt mate are set to lead the UTSA Roadrunners

UTSA's John Buggs III, a sophomore guard from Homer, Louisiana, at men's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s John Buggs III, a redshirt sophomore from Homer, La., is expected to start at shooting guard Wednesday night in an exhibition game against the Schreiner Mountaineers. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard John Buggs III would like to say that he brings the same athleticism and burst to the basketball court that he did when he was a high school senior in Homer, La. But that would not actually be the case.

After five surgeries, including major reconstructions on each knee, Buggs relies more on guile and finesse than all-out assaults on the rim.

“The high school me, you’d see me dunking on people, that kind of stuff,” he said. “I kind of became an old head (since then). A lot of jump shots (now). A lot of floaters. Not trying to get to the rim. Using a lot of pace. Not trying to blow by people. Kind of more of a mind game now.”

Whatever the case, the “old head,” now listed as a UTSA redshirt sophomore, has proven himself as more than capable of playing for the Roadrunners.

From the start of the summer, through the early fall semester workouts and into the grind of more intense preseason practices, Buggs and backcourt mate Japhet Medor have supplied a steadying presence to a program looking to bounce back from a tough year.

Accordingly, both are expected to start Wednesday night in an exhibition home game against the Schreiner University Mountaineers.

Counting a closed scrimmage in Belton against UT Arlington a few weeks ago, it is UTSA’s second contest of the preseason against another team and its first in front of the fans. The Roadrunners will host Trinity University in the season opener on Monday night.

Medor, a senior, will play the point against Schreiner. The 6-foot-2 Buggs will be stationed at the two guard, with Erik Czumbel, on the wing, at the three. Isaiah Addo-Ankrah will open at the four, while Germany patrols the paint at center.

Earlier this week, the Roadrunners gathered to meet, to discuss individual roles and various topics. Head Coach Steve Henson made one observation that stuck with Germany, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago.

Henson told the players that the newcomers “really helped the (returning players) mature, if that makes sense,” said Germany, who added that he agrees with the sentiment.

“You look at Buggs and Japhet and the way they approach the game, and even Isaiah, they helped Lamin (Sabally) and Josh (Farmer) — even me — mature to the point where we’re just locked in. All in. Completely bought in to this team,” the 6-foot-11 Oklahoman said.

After experiencing the negative vibes of last year’s 10-22 disappointment, Germany said Buggs and Medor brought in an intangible — a positive spirit. He said the feeling spread to the rest of the players on the roster, and even to the coaching staff. “It just clicked really well,” he said.

“Their attitude and personality just made things so much better,” Germany said. “You look forward to seeing them every day.”

Henson said he agrees that the two guards, both of them four years removed from high school, have made a difference in the team’s preparation.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” the coach said. “Just two terrific teammates. Just their nature. I don’t think they did anything consciously to make that happen. It’s just who they are. Both of them are a little older. They’ve been around awhile.”

Medor, who grew up in South Florida, attended prep school for a year and then spent three seasons at the junior college level.

He’s a point guard with speed who loves to distribute. Medor, at 6 feet, can spot up and shoot from the outside, and he does dunk with surprising authority. But his primary function in Henson’s system will be to create for others.

Buggs, from Homer, in northwest Louisiana, also experienced a year of prep school. He then spent one season at the University of Massachusetts in 2019-20, followed by two more at Hill College in central Texas, about 35 miles north of Waco.

At UMass, Buggs played in four games before he blew out his right knee. He never played again for the NCAA Division I Minutemen. One year later, at Hill, in Hillsboro, Buggs injured his left knee in the season opener.

It cost him all of the 2020-21 season.

Once a dynamic 6-foot-2 guard who could electrify with his athleticism, he was relegated to another year of rehabilitation. Last season, Buggs bounced back by averaging 15.2 points per game. Notably, he hit 89 of 188 from 3-point range, good for 47.3 percent.

Buggs said Tuesday afternoon that it feels good to be back in Division I.

“It’s really just a long time coming,” he said. “I mean, it’s all the same. I feel like I been doing the same thing since before Division I. When I was in prep school (in Connecticut, in 2018-19), I pretty much played along with a Division I team. So it’s pretty much the same thing. It all translates.

“I’m just excited to be back on this level. It’s more about proving to myself that I could do it. I feel like I was (written) off with the back-to-back injuries. (With) Covid. All of that. So, it’s just kind of surreal. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for, for a very long time.

“I won’t waste the opportunity. I appreciate it so much. Because, I know a million people would gladly be in my shoes.”

From another angle, this preseason marks the first in years for Buggs in which he feels as if he has been healthy enough to prepare himself properly.

“I had five surgeries in all, on my knees,” he said. “I had one before my first major one. Then after that I just had a lot of them, back-to-back. So it was kind of like two years of straight rehabbing. Watching basketball. Not being able to be on the court.

“So I’m really excited because, this year was like my first offseason to actually train and get up shots and put in work. Because the last two summers, going into the season, like at Hill, I got cleared in October. And the season started in November.

“I really didn’t have (any) summers to get any workouts in. So I’m really excited to see how far I’ve come along.”

Buggs has enjoyed some good moments in the last 30-something days of practices. When he finds a rhythm, his teammates sense that everything he shoots is going to find the bottom of the net. For instance, as Buggs unleashes a jumper from long distance, players often call it good as the ball leaves his hand.

In many instances, they have been correct.

Also, the chemistry between Buggs and Medor has been noticeable. Medor is perhaps the first pass-first point guard that UTSA has had since Giovanni De Nicolao. With his quickness, he can get into the paint, and with his awareness, he can get the ball to shooters — with touch.

Opposing teams will need to pay attention first to Medor, to stop his penetration, but also to Buggs, who apparently has been given something akin to a green light. Likely, he and Addo-Ankrah are the most dangerous three-point threats on the team.

Buggs said it’s been an easy transition for him to make, coming in from his two years at Hillsboro.

“Maybe my (UTSA) coaches want me to shoot a little more,” he said. “But, it’s been easy because the team, they’re all on board with what the coaches are saying. If the coaches say, ‘Buggs, you should have shot that shot,’ then, you have 9 or 10 guys saying, ‘Shoot the ball.’

“There’s no second-guessing. There’s no questioning, so I really appreciate my teammates for that. Especially playing with Japhet Medor. He makes it so easy. You get so many easy shots. It’s been really easy. Really simple.”

Tonight’s exhibition

NCAA Division III Schreiner College at Division I UTSA, 7 p.m. The outcome doesn’t count on either team’s record.

Season opener

UTSA hosts Division III Trinity University on Monday at 7 p.m. The Roadrunners will play next on Nov. 11 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The postseason for the Islanders last year included a Southland Conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

UTSA works toward season-opening games in November

The UTSA men’s basketball team continued on Tuesday to ramp up preparation for the season, which starts in November.

After a day off on Wednesday, Coach Steve Henson’s Roadrunners will work out Thursday with referees for the first time this fall. They’ll practice again on Friday to get ready for a closed scrimmage set for Saturday in Belton against UT Arlington.

On Nov. 2, UTSA hosts an exhibition game against Schreiner College. The season opener is Nov. 7 at home against San Antonio-based Trinity University.

Last year, the Roadrunners struggled with a number of problems. Injuries. Covid-19. An academic casualty. Even team chemistry, to an extent.

On the floor, the inconsistency showed up in a few different areas. An inability to get multiple players involved in the offense. Poor shot selection and, ultimately, problems in producing enough points to win.

This fall, the team has been relatively healthy except for center Carlton Linguard Jr.’s knee issue. But newcomers John Buggs III (seen above) and Japhet Medor (below) have inspired optimism that the team could be on the verge of a bounce back season.

UTSA players have cooked up Sunday dinner, and also team chemistry, in the early going

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

Scenes of bodies banging in the paint, players muscling for position on the perimeter and hard-fought possessions that ended with the ball caroming off the rim probably outnumbered the jump shots that swished through the nets on Tuesday afternoon at UTSA.

In the fourth week of time-limited, early-fall semester workouts, Steve Henson’s Roadrunners clearly remain something of a work in progress.

Jacob Germany, UTSA beat Denver 78-64 in men's basketball on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany emerged last season as one of the best offensive centers in Conference USA. – photo by Joe Alexander

One thing is certain, though. In the time that players on Henson’s seventh team at UTSA have been together since June, they have bonded well together. This semester, they’re practicing on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, congregating in study hall on Wednesdays, and then going back into workouts on Thursdays and Fridays.

On Saturday? They’re thinking like a lot of other UTSA students at this time of the year. “We’ll probably drive up to Austin (for the game against Texas) and tailgate a little bit,” said senior center Jacob Germany, who may also have something planned for Sunday, as well.

In weeks past, players have met at his apartment to talk over spiritual matters, not to mention chowing down on some of the 6-foot-11 Oklahoman’s finest culinary offerings. “We’ll have steak sandwiches, or spaghetti,” said Germany, who is the son of a chef and knows his way around the kitchen.

Last winter and spring, there were many days and nights when Germany didn’t look like he was having a whole lot of fun, and most of it likely stemmed from losing. Plagued with injuries, academic casualties and Covid-19 disruptions, the Roadrunners lost 22 games.

Germany enjoyed a fine season individually, averaging 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. Though he made only honorable mention all conference, it was easy to see that his offensive game was one of the most advanced — if not the most advanced — of anyone playing his position in the C-USA.

But not even on nights when he’d go for 20-point, double-doubles did he seem as if he was enjoying himself all that much. In contrast, his easy-going demeanor on Tuesday afternoon was telling. He smiled easily. He just seemed at peace as he surveyed the scene at the Convocation Center.

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, a walk-on who won a scholarship over the summer, took shot after shot on one end of the floor. By himself, he kept firing away. On the other end, guard John Buggs III, a newcomer, was also doing a solo routine, pumping up jumpers after everyone else had repaired to the dressing room.

“Look at those guys, out here 45 minutes after, still working,” Germany said.

This time last year, UTSA’s team was just hard to analyze. The key players were Jordan Ivy-Curry, Dhieu Deing, Cedrick Alley and Germany. It wasn’t as good as the 2017- to 2021-era Roadrunners team that featured guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.

But it looked to me as if it could be a unit that would at least win half its games. To me, it looked good enough on paper to come out of the regular season, perhaps in the middle of the pack, with a chance to get hot at the conference tournament. As everyone knows, though, the 2021-22 Roadrunners never got close to that level.

And from last year’s nucleus, only Germany remains. In some respects, that’s sort of a frightening prospect. If you lose Ivy-Curry, Deing and Alley, you lose scoring, rebounding and athleticism, for sure. But I’m not so sure that this new team, perhaps with less overall athleticism, doesn’t have the capability to be more successful.

Maybe much more so.

Why? For one thing, it’s got a pass-first point guard in Japhet Meador and a physical two-guard in Buggs. Neither is comparable to Ivy-Curry or Deing in athletic ability. But in skill level and savvy? From early indications, both have displayed solid individual talents that could, in turn, make it easier for talent around them to flourish.

On Tuesday afternoon, at least, two returning players that struggled for much of last year looked much more settled and improved. Senior guard Erik Czumbel had a really good practice. Six-foot-seven sophomore forward Lamin Sabally also shot the ball with authority.

In one sequence, he took a shorter defender down to the low post and scored over the top. In another, he pulled up and swished a couple from the perimeter. Forward Aleu Aleu, beset with injuries since he arrived last year, didn’t look great but I’ve always thought he could be major factor if he can get healthy and into top shape.

Germany, for his part, said he thinks 6-foot-9 sophomore Josh Farmer has made the most progress of any of the returning players.

The key to it all may be Meador, a Florida native. It’s arguable that UTSA hasn’t had a player with distribution skills like him since Giovanni De Nicolao, who turned pro in 2018. “Japhet is crazy good,” Germany said. “When he comes off screens, he sees everything. His vision is really good.”

Seeing the floor is one thing. Seeing into the future in college basketball is another. It’s not easy, particularly at the mid-major level, because there are so many variable. But at least in mid-September, the leading returning scorer on the Roadrunners has a good feeling that bonding and team-building over the past few months could make a difference next March.

“We’re a lot closer this year,” Germany said. “It’s kind of refreshing.”

All together now — UTSA hopes to build on intangibles and move past troubled times

UTSA men's basketball player Massal Diouf at the Convocation Center on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Massal Diouf, from The Netherlands, played well Wednesday afternoon in a series of informal pickup games at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Acknowledging a “bad taste” left over from a disappointing 10-win season, seventh-year UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson has expressed guarded optimism about his latest work-in-progress, a squad buoyed by senior center Jacob Germany, an infusion of backcourt talent and a feeling that the group is pulling together as one.

Steve Henson. UAB beat UTSA 68-56 on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Conference USA men's basketball at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Seventh-year UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson says he likes the feel around his program, with everyone pulling together. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Henson didn’t mention the word redemption. But he said he hasn’t been as hungry or as excited to win since he took the UTSA job in 2016. “You have to turn the page, just move on (and) get that bad taste out of your mouth,” the coach said in an interview at his office on Tuesday.

Derailed by adversity, including injuries, Covid-19 disruptions, a senior starter lost to academics and issues related to key scorers who couldn’t stay on the same page with the coaches, Henson’s sixth team at UTSA finished 10-22 overall and 3-15 in Conference USA.

It was a humbling experience for the coach, who had guided the Roadrunners to winning seasons in three of the previous four years, including a 20-win season in 2017-18.

“Going back and watching some of those games (from last year, on tape), it doesn’t get any better three, four, five months later,” he said. “It was frustrating to see us play that way. So, there’s that motivating factor.”

The other primary motivation is a new collection of players that Henson really likes.

“Eight or nine weeks (in the summer) with these guys, with one week off in the middle, they’re just so enjoyable to be around,” the coach said. “They come to the office. They enjoy each other. They have a good time.

“They work. They invest. They put the time in. The energy level is terrific with this group.”

The newcomers

The Roadrunners reeled in five new players last spring, and two of them could take on starters’ roles and significant playing time when the season tips off in November.

Junior guards Japhet Medor and John Buggs III have shown promise. Medor, a 5-foot-11 Floridian with quickness and an ability to create in the paint, will compete at point guard. Buggs is a Louisiana native who can do a little of everything as a shooting guard.

UTSA men's basketball player Japhet Medor at the Convocation Center on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA newcomer Japhet Medor, a junior transfer, is expected to contend for a starter’s role at point guard. He’s known as an effective distributor, but he also displayed in informal scrimmages on Wednesday a smooth stroke on his jump shot. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“Our juco guards are extremely mature,” Henson said. “They just absolutely understand how to be great teammates and leaders … We’re counting on those two to have a big impact on us in terms of minutes and roles but also in intangible things, as well.”

Another guard, 6-5 freshman DJ Richards, is from Cypress Creek High School in the Houston area. He prepped at Montverde Academy in Florida last season.

Hoping to earn playing time in the post is freshman Massal Diouf (6-9, 235) from Gouda, The Netherlands. He’s played with U-16 and U-18 Dutch national teams and attended Western Canada Prep Academy.

Seven-foot Carlton Linguard Jr., who played at Stevens High School in San Antonio, isn’t academically eligible yet. Linguard (7-0, 220) isn’t expected to play for at least the first semester. At the outset of his college career, he had one solid season at Temple Junior College and spent past two in a lesser role at Kansas State in the Big 12.

Big man returns

Germany averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last year as a junior. Even though the Roadrunners struggled, the 6-foot-11 Oklahoman emerged as one of the best offensive post players in the C-USA. Germany displayed an expanded array of skills, throwing hook shots from 10 and 12 feet while improving his scoring average by five points from his sophomore year.

Earning a scholarship

Coming off a surprisingly strong second season in the program, three-point shooting specialist Isaiah Addo-Ankrah was awarded a scholarship this summer. The 6-foot-6 Houston native broke out in January of last season by hitting three 3-pointers off the bench at UTEP and five at Rice. He is classified as a sophomore.

Getting healthy

Multi-skilled Aleu Aleu has been cleared for contact work when the team begins its initial phase of fall-semester practice on Monday, Henson said. Limited by leg injuries and missing time due to Covid-19, the 6-foot-8 wing played only 10 games for the Roadrunners last season.

Speculation

Players capable of handling point guard duties this year might include the likes of Japhet, senior Erik Czumbel and sophomore Christian Tucker. At the two-guard, look for Buggs, Czumbel and Richards. Wing forwards would include Addo-Ankrah, Aleu, Lamin Sabally and Azavier Johnson. A power forward group might be comprised of Lachlan Bofinger, Josh Farmer, Aleu and Addo-Ankrah. At center? Germany, Farmer, Diouf and Linguard.

The schedule

UTSA will host the Schreiner Mountaineers on Nov. 2 in an exhibition, according to the schedule announced on Tuesday.

UTSA men's basketball player John Buggs III at the Convocation Center on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA newcomer John Buggs III has impressed coaches with his skills and leadership. The Louisiana native averaged 15.2 points and shot 47.3 percent from three last year at Hill College. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The regular season will commence on Nov. 7 at home against Trinity. On Nov. 11, the Roadrunners will play on the road against the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, who in the postseason last spring swept to the Southland Conference title en route to the NCAA tournament.

UTSA returns home to play the St. Mary’s Rattlers on Nov. 14. A homestand continues with a visit from Sun Belt regular-season champion Texas State on Nov. 17, and from Prairie View A&M on Nov. 22.

In the 210 San Antonio Shootout, UTSA hosts Grambling State on Nov. 25, Dartmouth on Nov. 27 and Incarnate Word on Nov. 28.

Hitting the road, the Roadrunners play at the University of New Mexico on Dec. 10 and at Utah on Dec. 13. The Utah game will be the only one in the regular season against a power conference program. In a final tune up before conference, UTSA hosts Bethune Cookman on Dec. 18. C-USA play starts early, on Dec. 22, with a visit from the North Texas Mean Green.