UTSA forward Luka Barisic opts out for the rest of the season

Senior forward Luka Barisic has taken the Covid-19 opt out and will not be with the UTSA Roadrunners for the remainder of the season as he attempts to complete requirements for his academic degree, Coach Steve Henson announced Tuesday afternoon.

Luka Barisic had 18 points and 10 rebounds as UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Luka Barisic had his best game of the season on Dec. 22 when he produced 18 points and 10 rebounds against Lamar. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We certainly wish him well. He was a big part of what we were doing. But we certainly understand where he was coming from and wish him nothing but the best,” Henson said.

Barisic, a 6-foot-10 post from Osijek, in Croatia, joined the team before the 2019-20 season as a transfer from Highland (Ill.) Community College. He played in 32 games with 21 starts for the Roadrunners last year and averaged 6.6 points and 3 rebounds. This year, he played in 14 of the team’s 15 games, all off the bench. He averaged 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Asked how difficult a decision it was for Barisic, Henson said he thinks “a lot of things” went into it.

“You know, it’s always hard for the kids to have those conversations,” he said. “It’s disappointing. I want every one of our student-athletes to come in here and have a great experience and leave feeling really good about things. So it’s disappointing. I’m disappointed for him. I’m not disappointed in him. I’m disappointed for him that … but I also understand.

“So much has been going on. He’s two classes away from graduating, and to be able to do that from wherever he is…He said he was going to look for a flight to get home. He hasn’t been home in a long time. So I got to think that had something to do with it, as well.”

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring, all NCAA Division I basketball players have been granted an additional year of eligibility, but Henson said he doesn’t expect Barisic to return.

“We didn’t discuss that,” the coach said. “My guess is that he’s ready to get that degree and explore things back home. He might still have the opportunity to play back home in one of the leagues there. So that would be my guess. Coming out of here … with a good degree in hand … I wouldn’t anticipate him coming back here or playing anywhere else in college. I think if he continues to play it would be at the professional level.”

Coming up

UTEP at UTSA, Thursday, 6 p.m.
UTSA at UTEP, Saturday, 8 p.m.


UTEP 7-7, 3-5
UTSA 7-8, 3-5

UTSA rolls past Lamar as Barisic produces a double-double

Luka Barisic had 18 points and 10 rebounds as UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Luka Barisic supplied much-needed early offense by hitting 4 of 8 shots in the first half. He finished 7 of 11 for a career-high 18 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Senior forward Luka Barisic finished with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night, rallying the UTSA Roadrunners past the Lamar Cardinals, 88-66.

After trailing for much of the first half on their home floor at the Convocation Center, UTSA called on its bench to light a spark.

Three international players — Barisic, Erik Czumbel and Lachlan Bofinger — along with a few others made it happen, as UTSA defeated an NCAA Division I program for the first time this season and improved to 4-0 at home.

Taking a three-point lead into the second half, the Roadrunners started to play much better on both ends.

As a result, they routed the Cardinals 54-35 in the final 20 minutes behind 65 percent shooting from the floor.

For the game, the Roadrunners’ reserves hit 15 of 22 afield and outscored the Cardinals, 41-21.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace missed his first three shots but made four of his last seven to finish with 12 points. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA has a nine-day break before opening Conference USA play at Rice.

The Roadrunners play the Owls on back-to-back days in Houston, on Jan. 1-2, to kick off the conference phase of the schedule.


UTSA 4-3
Lamar 1-7


Luka Barisic, a 6-foot-10 native of Croatia, arrived at UTSA last season as a junior college transfer. After averaging 6.6 points in his first year as a Roadrunner, he entered the Lamar game averaging 7.5. Against the Cardinals, he checked in at 16:57 of the first half, and after missing his first shot, he made his next three to spark the Roadrunners. He finished 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 6 from three-point territory.


“I was just feeling good. I made some shots. That raised the confidence. Then, it’s much easier to play.” — Luka Barisic.

Flow of the game

From the opening tip, Lamar played with confidence, as the team shot 50 percent from the field or better for the first 15 minutes. Guard Davion Buster led the way with three 3-point shots.

Several times, the Cardinals pushed the lead to six, the last time with 4:04 remaining before the break.

Keaton Wallace hit his only field goal of the first half with three seconds left, lifting the Roadrunners into a 34-31 lead at intermission.

The shot capped a 12-3 run for UTSA in the final four minutes and created a sense of momentum leading into the dressing room.

Erik Czumbel. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore guard Erik Czumbel had nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA led all the way in the second half. At one point, the Cardinals pulled within two with 15 minutes left. But the Roadrunners kicked up the tempo and sent the visitors reeling with a 21-7 run, capped by dunks from Bofinger and Jacob Germany.

UTSA led by as much as 25 with less than two minutes remaining.

Coach’s corner

Steve Henson: “I didn’t think we came out with the kind of fight that I thought we would have. We were pretty energetic at shootaround. We had a good practice yesterday. Our guys just didn’t get off to a very good start. The game itself didn’t have much flow. It was kind of slow. We weren’t getting stops and we couldn’t run … Jhivvan (Jackson) didn’t shoot it well early. That was one of the positives. We were able to play through one of those nights.”

Finding balance

The Roadrunners won by 22 points on a night when Jackson hit only 3 of 13 shots from the floor. It’s a good sign moving forward that the Roadrunners didn’t crater under those circumstances. Instead, they got balanced scoring, including the team-leading 18 points from Barisic, but also Wallace (12), Eric Parrish (11) and Germany (10). Jackson and Czumbel had nine each.

Croatian forward brings multiple skills to UTSA basketball

UTSA forward Luka Barisic had nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes last week in an exhibition victory against Texas A&M International. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Luka Barisic had nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes in an exhibition game last week against Texas A&M International. – photo by Joe Alexander

If you execute a Google search for the city of Osijek, Croatia, you may come across a video showing aerial views of a picturesque community built on the river Drava, which cuts a wide swath through the town and meanders out across a marshy terrain in the distance.

Within Osijek itself, a paved promenade runs adjacent to the river. Bells ring out from a few quaint, spire-topped churches, which stand tall above clusters of four- and five-story buildings. This is the hometown of promising UTSA basketball newcomer Luka Barisic.

In Texas terms, Osijek is about the size of New Braunfels. Its population is pegged at anywhere from 84,000 to 88,000, according to various websites. But if you think Barisic is homesick or awestruck about living in a metropolitan area in South Texas, so far away from his European roots, think again.

The 21-year-old junior forward is a young man who has been on his own, away from home, for the past six years. In high school, Barisic attended a private academy in Zagreb, Croatia. For the past two years, he has lived and played junior college basketball in Freeport, Ill., about a two-hour drive to Chicago.

“My home town (of Osijek) is probably less than 100,000 (population),” Barisic said. “When you see Chicago, it’s probably like all of Croatia, because it’s like, four million people. It’s a big city. (It) gives you a good view of where you are, that you are in the U.S.”

UTSA forward Luka Barisic charges through traffic on the dribble in an exhibition against Texas A&M International. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Luka Barisic charges through traffic on the dribble in an exhibition against Texas A&M International. – photo by Joe Alexander

In July, he moved to San Antonio and started classes at UTSA. On Tuesday night, he likely will get a starting nod at forward in the Roadrunners’ season opener at Oklahoma. For Barisic, a former small-town kid from central Europe, it will be a major moment in his life.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “My team, we are like, ready and waiting for Tuesday.”

Also ready is Danko Barisic, 34, the ball player’s proud older brother. Some 15 years ago, Danko left Croatia to play in the United States. He spent two years at Weber State and two more at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Danko likes his brother’s chances to succeed.

“He’s really a good player,” said Danko Barisic, a 2008 St. Mary’s graduate and a Boerne resident. “He’s very humble, but he’s also a confident kid. Anyone who comes in contact with him know he is wise beyond his years.

Self-sufficient and motivated

“He’s been living away from home since he was 15 years old, when he started playing for a basketball academy back home. He’s self-sufficient and motivated. I think he’s going to do well.”

In the past year, UTSA coach Steve Henson reeled in a top-notch recruiting class featuring four-star center Jacob Germany, Barisic and others. If Barisic gets the starting nod against OU, as expected, he will be the only one of the incoming class to do so.

“Luka is certainly a three-point threat,” Henson said. “He’s also a very good passer.”

Henson said UTSA will miss forward Nick Allen, a four-year player for the Roadrunners who has played out his eligibility. But the coach hopes that newcomers such as Barisic, Germany and Phoenix Ford can step in to fill the void.

Barisic, who carries 240 pounds on a 6-foot-10 frame, has a unique skill-set that attracted interest from several NCAA Division I programs.

“We knew he was a good passer in the post,” Henson said. “(But) he passes it better from the perimeter than we anticipated. (He’s) a highly-skilled guy. He’s not the most athletic guy. If we’re going to compare him to Nick (Allen), he’s not as quick. He’s not as defensive minded.

“But, certainly, we hope we can offset that with just his high skill level. Pretty high IQ as well. So, he’s going to have a huge role for us.”

Honing advanced skills

Barisic developed an all-around game years ago in competition against older players, his brother said.

“He had always played with guys a little older, handling the ball on the outside,” Danko Barisic said. “His coaches had the foresight to develop that part of his game. They let him develop his skills on the outside early on. Handling the ball. Shooting the three.”

After Henson saw Luka Barisic play in the national junior college tournament in 2018, a scholarship offer was tendered.

But the family waited, and other phone calls started to come in. They came from Drake, the University of San Diego, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Illinois, the player’s older brother said. Barisic also took an unofficial visit to Minnesota, a power program in the Big Ten.

He eventually signed with UTSA in the spring this year.

“I was talking to a lot of coaches, to a lot of schools, some Big Ten schools,” Luka Barisic said. “But I was not impressed with some schools. What coach Henson presented was very good for me. So, I decided to come here.

“I think it’s a great program that (can) develop me, to play and enjoy the game of basketball.”

A family feel matters

Henson said he figured that with the ball player’s older brother living in the area, UTSA would have a good chance to sign him. Barisic didn’t discount the idea that having family within 30 miles of campus was a positive.

“Of course, that was some plus,” the ball player said. “But that wasn’t something that was the most important for my decision.”

Barisic has played at a high level for the past two years. In the summer of 2018, he made the under-18 Croatia National Team. In 2018-19, he averaged 17.9 points and 6.8 rebounds at Highland (Ill.) Community College and made third-team NJCAA All-American.

He said he liked the feel of the UTSA program when he came to visit. He said it felt sort of like home.

“One of the most important things about sport in general is chemistry,” Barisic said. “And, right now, I can tell you that we got great chemistry in the locker room. We’re like a big family. I think that is very important to us, and that it will bring good results.”