Armed with an improved Jacob Germany, UTSA to open at OU

Jacob Germany. UAB beat UTSA in CUSA on Thursday. - photo by Joe Alexander

Expectations are high for sophomore center Jacob Germany as UTSA opens the season Wednesday night at the University of Oklahoma. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

Who says a kid from a small town in Oklahoma can’t learn how to become a man of the world?

Jacob Germany is doing just that after spending only one year in the UTSA basketball program.

Jacob Germany. Prarie View A&M beat UTSA 79-72 on Saturday night at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA fans remember Jacob Germany’s attacks at the rim last season. He averaged 5.5 points as a freshman – Photo by Joe Alexander

“One of my roommates (Erik Czumbel) is actually from Italy,” Germany told a television reporter over the summer. “He’s teaching me Italian on the low. That’s fun.

“It’s crazy to see the different cultures on the team and see how basketball can bring other cultures together.”

Not only is Germany growing as a person, he’s made significant strides on the hardwood, as well.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore from Kingston, Okla., is emerging as the type of impact player in college that was expected of him after leading his high school to the Class 3A state title in 2018-19.

“Jacob’s doing great,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “He gained some weight. Gained some muscle. You know, he’s so talented. It’s amazing the things he can do that look so easy.

Ja - photo by Joe Alexander

Germany entered high school at 6-foot-5 but kept on growing into a lanky, 6-11 frame. After a year at UTSA, he’s gained almost 20 pounds, up to 234. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“We’re just trying to get him to go harder, play with energy, fly around. He’s literally the fastest guy on the team, on turf, in 20-yard sprints. He’s an amazing athlete.

“We’re just trying to get him to play hard every single possession.”

The Roadrunners open the season Wednesday night in Germany’s home state, at the University of Oklahoma.

Fans at OU will see a different athlete than the one that led Kingston to a 28-2 record a few years ago.

He’s packed on about 20 pounds, which, along with the 31 games he played last year, has added an entirely different dimension to his game.

Adding more to his game

“With Jacob, the big thing for him is experience,” UTSA assistant Scott Thompson said. “You know, playing at our level last year was so important for him.”

Reports out of the weight room suggest that he has also emerged as one of the strongest players on the team.

“He’s a guy that’s benefited so much from coach (Christian) Wood’s strength program,” Thompson said. “His body continues to change. He’s been up to 234, I think, at one point. For his length and height, to be able to run and move like he does, you know, is unbelievable.

“This offseason, he spent a lot of time working on his ball skills. I think you’re going to see him score a lot more in the paint. Facing up at 10 and 12 feet, he’s shooting his jumper so much more consistently.”

Germany averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, but he showed last week that he is capable of more, contributing 24 points in an intra-squad scrimmage at UTSA.

“The game is so easy for him,” UTSA forward Adrian Rodriguez said. “He’s so big, so athletic, all you have to do is throw it up (for him). When he jumps, there’s not much else anybody can do.”

Becoming a prep star

Kingston coach Taylor Wiebener said it was “a lot of fun” to coach Germany in high school.

“To be able to put a 6-10 or 6-11 guy on the floor, you know, there’s not a lot of high schools around here able to do that,” he said Monday in a telephone interview. “Throw on top of that, (that) Jacob is very skilled for a big man (and) he moves around so well. So, that was kind of icing on the cake.

“We felt good having him on the floor, just protecting the rim, and (scoring), as well. I mean, Jacob was fun to coach.

“Early in his career, I made it basically my mission to try to make him tougher, because he had the tools … But,the one thing he was going to have to have, was some toughness.”

Basically, Wiebener tried to get maximum effort out of his lanky center.

‘In the gym constantly’

“That was kind of our goal,” Wiebener said. “He took care of a lot of the fundamental skills on his own. He was a gym rat. I mean, he was in the gym constantly, working on things. So that part, we didn’t have to worry about.”

Initially, Wiebener didn’t know what he had in Germany, who was about 6-foot-5 as a high school freshman.

“Honestly, he was a little awkward,” Wiebener said. “Like, eighth and ninth grade, he was tall (and) real skinny. Kind of awkward. So I said, ‘He’s fixing to stop growing pretty quick.’ But, every summer … I wouldn’t see him, (and when) he’d come back, it seemed like he’d grown another 2-3 inches.

“By the time he graduated, he was a legit 6-10 or 6-11.”

Coaching Germany at the high school level was an adventure in terms of trying to get him to add weight, Wiebener said.

“I remember his sophomore or junior year, we had been on him about it,” the coach said. “I told him, ‘Your dad is a chef. You’re the only kid I know that, your dad’s a chef, and you’re as skinny as you are.’ Once he hit that 200-pound mark, that was kind of a milestone for us.”

Winning a state title

As a junior, Germany used the added strength in leading Kingston to the state finals.

He also saw his name rise on the prospect lists. As a senior, Germany paced his team all the way to the title, producing 21 points and 12 rebounds in the 3A championship game.

Another challenge for him as he entered college last year came in adjusting to the speed of the game.

Because the Roadrunners play at a tempo that is rated as one of the fastest in NCAA Division I, Henson’s players need to have the ability to run well and run hard for sustained periods of time.

By the end of last season, Germany was picking it up on that front. He had gained a better feel for everything, really, and as a result, he was able to move into UTSA’s starting lineup.

Now, he wants to take another step as he starts his sophomore year.

“All around, really, I’ve been putting on some weight,” he said Monday on a Zoom conference call. “I’ve been working on my motor. Going (hard) all the time. Not taking plays off. Just being that energetic guy that the coaches want me to be.

“That’s really where I’ve stepped up.”

Growing as a person

Asked how his Italian language skills are coming along, he shrugged and said he’s made “very little” progress along those lines.

“It’s probably words I can’t say on camera,” Germany said, smiling.

During the offseason, Germany said he worked out at a gym at his church back home in Kingston, a town of about 1,700 people nestled near Lake Texoma, just to the north of the Red River in southern Oklahoma.

He worked on some moves on the court, but, mainly, he said he worked on his mental game.

“It was hard being a freshman and everyone expected me to do all this stuff,” he said. “Especially being from a small town, coming to this big, big city … Especially coming from a small school where there’s not so much competition.

“There was a lot of pressure on me last year. If I did anything bad, I would get really mad. I wouldn’t necessarily show it. But, like, I had real bad anger issues. Over quarantine I was able to grow mentally and mature a little bit.”

Earning a starting job

Germany, who started 10 games at the end of last season, is expected to start in the post for the Roadrunners against the Sooners.

Alongside Germany, the others in the first five are expected to include Cedrick Alley Jr. at a forward position, plus Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Eric Parrish at guards.

Jackson and Wallace formed the highest-scoring backcourt duo in the nation last year. Parrish and Alley are transfers playing in their first games for UTSA.

Henson said Germany has been “really, really good” in preseason workouts.

“Our expectations of him are so high, higher than he has of himself, even,” Henson said. “Every now and then, we’ll think, ‘He didn’t have the greatest practice.’ And then we’ll look and (we ask), ‘What did he look like a year ago? (The difference) is phenomenal, (in) the improvement he’s made.

“So, the sky’s the limit for him. He’s just barely scratching his potential.”

UTSA forward Adrian Rodriguez is set for an expanded role

Adrian Rodriguez. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Adrian Rodriguez (No. 15) says he feels like the UTSA Roadrunners ‘are taking the right steps’ in preseason practices to become a winning team. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Several months ago, UTSA forward Adrian Rodriguez approached Steve Henson with a proposition. He told the Roadrunners’ fifth-year head coach that he wanted to lose some weight in attempt to maximize his physical conditioning for the upcoming college basketball season.

Rodriguez emphasized that if he ever failed to live up to his daily resolve, he wanted Henson to step in, to remind him of the promise he made. The pact seems to be paying dividends. With the season-opener scheduled for Wednesday night at Oklahoma, UTSA has a much-improved, front-court player on its hands.

Trimmed down to 240 pounds on a 6-foot-7 frame, he is feeling good, and moving well.

“Adrian Rodriguez has shown real, real positive signs in the … last five, six weeks,” Henson said. “He’s in probably the best shape of his life. Or, since he’s been here, post injury. He’s been really, really good, noticeably different with his conditioning, with his mindset.

“So we anticipate him playing quite a bit … We’ve been really, really pleased with him.”

Steve Henson. UTSA beat UTEP 86-70 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson says Adrian Rodriguez’s commitment to offseason conditioning has paid dividends. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In a telephone interview on Thursday morning, the UTSA redshirt junior from Tulsa (Okla.) Union High School talked about his humble roots as a player, about his high hopes for the team and about the genesis of his heart-to-heart talk with Henson.

“At some point at the beginning of summer,” Rodriguez said, “after (the start of) the quarantine, I just felt like I had to do something different. You know? Like, the first three years, (with) the injuries and things like that, it didn’t really go my way. I just felt like I had to do something different.

“So, I made it a point to lose weight and improve on the physical aspect. And so, I went in and talked to (the coach) to make sure he held me accountable, that I didn’t fall off.”

In some ways, UTSA fans haven’t seen the real Rodriguez yet even though he has been on the team for three years.

Rodriguez, a former all-state player in high school, hasn’t made many headlines at UTSA to this point. He has yet to show up on many highlight reels. To this point, he’s known mostly for his hard luck.

In 2017, Rodriguez blew out his knee in his first college game and was lost for the season. In the past two years, he has enjoyed his moments as an aggressive defensive player in the post. But he has come off the bench primarily, averaging 8.7 minutes and 11.4 minutes, respectively.

As dawn breaks on a new season, however, his frustrating nights on the bench could be coming to an end. Assistant coach Scott Thompson echoed Henson, predicting “a big role” for the player if he continues to work for it.

“The reason we went after Adrian so hard after we got the job (here) was because of his (high) IQ and feel for the game,” Thompson said. “He’s an incredible teammate. He’s a winner. You know, that knee injury for him was devastating for his career.

Getting in ‘peak condition’

“He’s just had to work really hard to get his conditioning back, and that’s always been the big thing with him. Being under-sized, as a front line guy, you just have to be in peak condition, and he’s worked hard to get back into shape.”

In the past few years, Rodriguez’s emotional fire has been evident. At practices, he will get so wrapped up in five-on-five drills that he sometimes shouts and slams his hands on the floor after a defensive stop.

In practices and in games, Rodriguez is always talking, trying to communicate to help his teammates. He’s sort of like former University of Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler, Thompson said. When OU reached the NCAA Final Four in 2015-16, Lon Kruger was the head coach and Buddy Hield was the scoring machine.

Henson and Thompson were on the Sooners’ staff, just before they both came to UTSA.

Adrian Rodriguez. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Rodriguez averaged 11.4 minutes in 23 games last year. A screener on offense and a defensive specialist, he produced 1.7 points and 3.3 rebounds.

“The guy on that that team that didn’t get the credit he deserved was Ryan Spangler,” Thompson said. “He was our four-five man who kind of anchored our defense. Adrian kind of has that same feel. He’s able to call out actions … you know, to communicate to guys on how to guard ball screens.

“He’s advanced in his basketball IQ … He doesn’t need a ton of reps (with starters), and he picks up things very quickly.”

Born in El Paso to parents who grew up in Mexico, Rodriguez lived in Texas for awhile, moved to Colorado and then moved on to Tulsa when he was in fourth grade. He said he didn’t really follow basketball, let alone play it, until his eighth-grade year.

“And that was only because my brother played on varsity,” he said. “That year, I was horrible.”

Given his limitations, Rodriguez did start to show some resolve in learning the game. He started to pick the brain of his father, Abel Rodriguez, who once played collegiately in Mexico and for Mexico’s 19-and-under program.

Family roots in Mexico

“My dad used to play, back in his day, and he was always into the little things (in the game),” Adrian Rodriguez said. “Like, setting good screens. Setting screens, rolling and talking. He wasn’t the most skilled guy. But he was always on the floor because he would do everything right. With effort plays, things like that.

“So from the very beginning, everything I learned was (how) to do the little things.”

Pretty soon, the little things turned into big things.

Under coach Rudy Garcia, Rodriguez played on a high school team at Tulsa Union that won state when he was a freshman and then added regional titles every other year. As a senior, he was all-state while averaging 14.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks.

Now at UTSA, he’s getting ready to embark on his fourth season with the Roadrunners, all while making strides toward a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s got a 3.0 grade-point average and seems to be well on his way.

Sometimes, he wonders how it all happened.

‘How did I get here?’

“I have a little saying, like, ‘How did I get here?’ ” he said. “It’s all crazy. Until my junior year (in high school) I didn’t even think I was going to be able to play (in college). From that mindset to where I am now, it’s crazy.”

In his injury-scarred first season at UTSA, the Roadrunners won 20 games. In his second year, they won 17. Both seasons, UTSA finished 11-7 in Conference USA, competing with and beating some of the best teams in the league. Last year, the Roadrunners suffered a fall, with the team finishing 13-19 overall and 7-11.

Despite the pandemic, preseason workouts in the past few months have been productive, Rodriguez said, and an attitude adjustment may hold the key to it all.

“I think we look really good right now,” he said. “The chemistry is there. It seems like everybody is setting their egos aside and really playing for one thing, and that’s to win. Last year we had a chance to be really good and it didn’t go our way. I think this year, we’re taking the right steps to get where we need to be.”

In terms of his own situation, Rodriguez said it’s encouraging to hear that the head coach has noticed how hard he has worked personally to make it happen.

“It re-assures me that what I’ve done is the right thing,” he said. “I believe everything (in offseason conditioning) that I’ve been doing is not to benefit me — but to help the team. So if he sees that improvement, then, to me, it means we’re (on track) to win. And so, that’s the best part, for me.”