No crying in basketball: UTSA’s Henson won’t make excuses for a 7-14 record

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. Florida International beat UTSA 77-72 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Isaiah Addo-Ankrah returned to game action for the first time in more than a month and scored 12 points off the bench. The FIU Panthers held on at the end to win 77-72, handing the Roadrunners their sixth straight loss. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

With the UTSA Roadrunners riding a discouraging six-game losing streak, Coach Steve Henson declined to blame injury misfortune for his troubles. He easily could have, but he didn’t.

For the first nine Conference USA games on the schedule, Henson was without one of his best outside shooters, and over the past four, he was also missing his best inside scoring threat for two and his starting point guard for the next two.

In fact, it could be argued that with an athletic 7-footer playing exactly zero games all season because of academic and injury issues, UTSA hasn’t been whole at any point since the first ball was tossed up back in November.

Jacob Germany. Florida International beat UTSA 77-72 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany produced 19 points and 13 rebouinds against Florida International. He hit eight of 14 shots from the field, and six of his rebounds were on the offensive end. – Photo by Joe Alexander

All of it is true, but if you listen to Henson, the halfway point in the C-USA regular season is no time to start lamenting the injuries or dwelling on what might have been.

The coach insisted after a 77-72 loss to the FIU Panthers on Saturday afternoon that the Roadrunners simply need to keep their heads up and get back to work.

“There’s enough areas to be frustrated with,” Henson said. “That’s not one that I’m focused on. You start doing that, and it sounds like you’re looking for excuses. We’re not going to do that.”

Nevertheless, the loss to FIU dropped UTSA to 7-14 on the season and to 1-9 in conference play. UTSA is in last place in the C-USA with 10 games remaining, and Henson plans on coaching the players who are available, starting with a practice on Monday afternoon and then a game on Thursday night at North Texas.

“The other guys (that we have playing) are good players,” the coach said. “They’ve got the opportunity, so we’ve just got to do things better. We need to flow better offensively. We need to fight harder defensively, take better care of the basketball.

“Those are the things that I’m focused on.”

In an afternoon matinee at the UTSA Convocation Center, FIU sophomore Denver Jones scored eight of his team-high 27 points in the final 2:02 as the Panthers held on to snap their own four-game losing streak.

With the victory, FIU improved to 9-11 and to 3-6 in the C-USA. Trailing by 18 early in the second half, the Roadrunners charged to within five with 1:40 remaining. UTSA freshman guard DJ Richards hit a triple from the wing that trimmed the lead to 71-66.

Florida International coach Jeremy Ballard. Florida International beat UTSA 77-72 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Florida International coach Jeremy Ballard applauded his players for playing hard after losing by 20 points at UTEP on Thursday night. – Photo by Joe Alexander

From there, UTSA forced a missed shot and had a chance — if it could pull down a defensive rebound — to set up for an opportunity that might cut the lead to three or even two points. FIU reserve center Seth Pinkney, however, had other ideas. He snared a key offensive rebound to stop the momentum.

With new life, FIU got the ball to Jones, who subsequently went to the free-throw line with 50.5 seconds left and hit both ends of a one-and-one. His two clutch makes lifted the Panthers into a seven-point advantage. UTSA couldn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.

Fifth-year FIU coach Jeremy Ballard said it felt great to end the losing streak.

“It felt better than relief, because our guys put a lot of emotional preparation into this game, and we knew we didn’t play anywhere near the best version of ourself on Thursday (in an 81-61 loss at UTEP),” he said. “We really felt like that was in the posture that showed up in El Paso.

“So, it’s tough to win on Saturday on these (C-USA road) trips. In fact, this is the first one we’ve won since I’ve been here. We’re very excited. I was just proud of our spirit, how connected we were out there, and it showed with our play.”

In the big picture, the Panthers won the game with defense, limiting UTSA to 37.3 percent shooting. Specifically, they did a good job in holding Roadrunners shooting guard John Buggs III to 0 for 10 from the field.

Center Jacob Germany, in his second game back after sitting out two with a concussion, led the Roadrunners with 19 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.

Richards, from the Houston area, finished with 18 points. He hit five of 11 from beyond the three-point arc.

Steve Henson. Florida International beat UTSA 77-72 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson says he won’t use injuries as an excuse for a six-game losing streak and a 1-9 record in Conference USA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Another bright spot was forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, who returned from a left wrist injury that had kept him out for nine games and more than a month. A right-handed shooter, he hit two threes and scored 12 points in almost 20 minutes of playing time.

Addo-Ankrah described the mood in the locker room as “a little down.”

“We’re angry, tired of losing,” Addo-Ankrah said. “We know we should have won that one today. We just didn’t execute on some possessions. It only comes to — what did we lose by, five? — we only lost by two possessions. It’s just the little things that we could have done better.”

Point guard Japhet Medor, UTSA’s leading scorer, sat out for the second-straight game with a sprained right foot. Medor suffered the injury in Wednesday’s practice, and on Thursday night, he missed his first game of the year.

He tried to practice Friday and discovered that he could run in a straight line, and that he could also back-pedal, but that he had trouble moving from side to side. So, he remained in the walking boot on Saturday.

UTSA will monitor him closely next week to see if he can play at North Texas.

It was a tough week all the way around for the Roadrunners. Without Germany, they lost to Rice, 88-81, in overtime on Monday. Even with Germany back, they dropped an 83-64 decision to 24th-ranked Florida Atlantic on Thursday as Medor sat on the side, his foot in a boot.

Finally, they fell too far behind FIU on Saturday (by 18 early in the second half) and, without Medor again, just couldn’t catch up. Even with the losses, the worst of the week for Henson might have been news that he thought he might get a few days ago but never did.

DJ Richards. Florida International beat UTSA 77-72 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman guard DJ Richards pumped in 18 points for his 13th game of the season in double figures. He’s averaging 11 points and 4.7 rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

He was expecting to hear from the NCAA on the eligibility status of 7-foot center Carlton Linguard, Jr., and he still has not heard a word, so the waiting game continues.

In the meantime, Linguard is trying to get healthy. He’s made it through a knee injury. Now he’s trying to make it through rehabilitation from a concussion, hoping to start full-contact soon — perhaps next week.

“Last several days he has not been doing anything in contact,” Henson said. “He can do all the skill work, all the shell offense, the offense dry. Pre-practice, ball handling, he can do all of that. We’ll see how he responds Monday and Tuesday and maybe get him back in there full speed by Tuesday or Wednesday, hopefully.”

Even if Linguard gets healthy enough to play and is also cleared by the NCAA, a decision will loom as to whether he sees the floor this spring. Does he come back and play in the second half and burn a year of eligiblity?

If so, he would only have one year left to play for the Roadrunners. If he doesn’t play this spring, Linguard would have two years left.

Records

FIU 9-11, 3-6
UTSA 7-14, 1-9

Coming up

UTSA at North Texas, Thursday
Louisiana Tech at UTSA, Jan. 28

Western Kentucky’s Cunningham will continue to serve as interim coach in Stansbury’s absence

Western Kentucky's Jamarion Sharp blocking a shot against UTSA in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Western Kentucky’s 7-foot-5 Jamarion Sharp averages an NCAA Division I-leading 4.36 blocked shots leading into a Saturday afternoon game at UTSA. Sharp is shown here protecting the rim against the Roadrunners last February. – File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

One of the traditional powers in Conference USA men’s basketball is in San Antonio to test the UTSA Roadrunners.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-6 overall, 0-3 C-USA) will face the Roadrunners (7-8, 1-3) on Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center. Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

Unlike previous meetings when both teams were playing for position at the top of the standings, this meeting is an outlier in the series, with both trailing in the 11-team field and trying to gain traction in the conference race.

A spokeswoman for the Western Kentucky program said that coach Rick Stansbury did not travel with the team because of a health matter, and, for the fourth straight game, assistant Phil Cunningham will be the interim head coach.

Regardless, UTSA’s Steve Henson knows that Western Kentucky has the ability to compete with just about anyone in the C-USA on a given day.

“You look across the board, coming up, and every team we play here in the next two or three ball games is either really good or really athletic. Or, they play incredibly hard,” Henson said. “Or all of the above. There’s just not a break.”

“Heading into the year, I thought the top three or four teams might be the best they’ve ever been. But as the season’s unfolded, five through 10 are really good. I think it’s the best top to bottom that it’s ever been.”

UTSA gave itself a jolt of momentum Thursday night when it won at home against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, 75-72. The Roadrunners led by 17 midway through the second half and then won by three at the buzzer.

Both Jacob Germany and Japhet Medor played well throughout for the Roadrunners, and then John Buggs III supplied the dramatic finish with a buzzer-beating three pointer.

“I think it’s huge for momentum,” said Germany, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds. “We can use this definitely as a stepping-stone in the right direction. You know, we started out 0-3 against good opponents, but … hopefully this jump starts us.”

Western Kentucky will be looking for a similar boost today. Only a few weeks ago, the Hilltoppers had an 8-3 record leading into the C-USA portion of its schedule.

Since then, they have lost their first three conference games by a combined 12 points — at home to the Rice Owls, on the road to Middle Tennessee State and at home again to the North Texas Mean Green.

Cunningham has led the team on the bench in all three games. Stansbury has posted four 20-win seasons in his previous six at the school.

Playing in Bowling Green, Ky., only two days ago, the Hilltoppers fell behind North Texas 21-2 in the opening minutes.

WKU didn’t score a field goal until 10:17 of the first half when guard Dayvion McKnight hit jumper from the left side of the basket. The Hilltoppers kept playing, kept scoring and pulled within 32-24 at the half.

Western Kentucky kept it close in the second half and trailed by single-digit margins through the last five minutes.

In the end, North Texas guard Kai Huntsberry provided enough cushion to secure the victory when hit three of four free throws in the last 40 seconds.

Dayvion McKnight, who led the Hilltoppers with 29 points, hit a shot with 15 seconds left to make it a three-point game. With Western Kentucky down by the eventual final score, McKnight missed twice from the field in waning seconds.

McKnight finished by hitting eight of 16 shots from the field and 13 of 15 at the free-throw line. He was 0-2 from three-point distance. Senior guard Jordan Rawls did not play because of a hand injury.

Notable

Western Kentucky center Jamarion Sharp leads the conference and the nation in blocked shots, averaging 4.36 a game, while teammate Luke Framton leads the conference with 50 percent three-point shooting. Hilltoppers guard Dayvion McKnight leads the team with 17.1 points per game. Japhet Medor leads UTSA with 13 points per game, while Germany leads in rebounding and is second in conference with 7.6 rebounds. John Buggs leads UTSA and is third in C-USA three-point percentage at 42.4.

Coming up

Western Kentucky at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Records

UTSA 7-8, 1-3
Western Kentucky 8-6, 0-3

C-USA men
Standings through Jan. 6

Florida Atlantic 3-0, 13-1
UAB 3-1, 12-3
North Texas 3-1, 12-3
Rice 2-2, 11-4
Charlotte 2-2, 11-4
Middle Tennessee 2-2, 9-6
Louisiana Tech 2-2, 9-6
UTEP 1-2, 8-6
FIU 1-2, 7-7
UTSA 1-3, 7-8
WKU 0-3, 8-6

UTSA’s Steve Henson: ‘I think we’re locked in and ready to go’

Steve Henson. UTSA beat Bethune-Cookman 90-69 in men's basketball on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Steve Henson’s UTSA Roadrunners not only will need to hit some shots tonight, they’ll likely need to hit the defensive glass hard to have success against the North Texas Mean Green. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Starting Conference USA play without one of his top three-point shooters and with his starting center likely hindered by a sprained ankle, Coach Steve Henson and the UTSA Roadrunners will host the North Texas Mean Green tonight at 7.

Henson said his players are ready.

“Our mindset is pretty good right now, excited,” the coach said Wednesday. “It’s kind of another start. You kind of go through different phases in a season. Certainly the start of league play is a big deal. Guys have had some good practices. I think we’re locked in and ready to go.”

In their last game, the Roadrunners (6-5) found an offensive groove in downing the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 90-69. Since that Sunday afternoon game, the team has had to face up to some adversity, with three-point shooting specialist Isaiah Addo-Ankrah ruled out for four weeks with a wrist fracture.

Also, center Jacob Germany twisted his ankle against the Wildcats, so the 6-foot-11 senior might not be full speed for the Mean Green (9-2). It’s not a great time to be at less than full speed, because North Texas has won 20 or more games in four of the last five seasons.

They won 25 last year. In doing so, the Mean Green claimed the regular-season title in the C-USA with a 14-2 record. They went on to play in the NIT, downing Texas State and then falling to Virginia in the second round. This season, the Mean Green look as salty as ever.

They’re holding teams to 51.6 points per game, which ranks second nationally behind only the Houston Cougars. Also, they’re 18th in offensive rebounding and 23rd in field goal percentage defense.

“We’ve got a great deal of respect for North Texas,” Henson said. “It’s a huge test for us right out of the gate.”

Under sixth-year coach Grant McCasland, the Mean Green play a deliberate style designed to wear down and frustrate opponents. They beat UTSA twice last year using that very formula, holding the Roadrunners to fewer than 50 points in games played in Denton and San Antonio.

This year, they’ve held opponents under 50 four times. The Saint Mary’s Gaels solved the Mean Green mystery earlier this season, winnning 63-33 in Moraga, Calif. But the Gaels, incredibly, are the only team to eclipse 60 points on North Texas thus far.

“It’s a whole combination (of things),” Henson said. “It all fits together very well. Pace gets your attention initially. Yesterday, KenPom (advanced metrics) had them as the second-slowest team in the country in number of possessions.

“You know, part of that is that they’re hard to score on. So that affects the number of possessions. It’s not just about them having long possessions offensively, but they also do that. So it’s a bunch of factors. It’s a very unique style of play.”

Players to watch

North Texas — Guard Tylor Perry, a first-team all C-USA pick last year, leads the Mean Green in scoring at 17.7 per game. He’s adept at knocking down jumpers late in the shot clock. Also, newcomer Kai Huntsberry is enjoying a solid season in his first year in Denton. He’s second in scoring at 12.6. Forward Abou Ousmane, who played with UTSA’s John Buggs III in prep school, averages 11.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. Ousmane, Aaron Scott and Jayden Martinez (from Steele HS) are all significant threats on the offensive glass.

UTSA — Point guard Japhet Medor leads UTSA with 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Jacob Germany, who tweaked his ankle in the second half Sunday against Bethune-Cookman, averages 11.7 points and 7.4 rebounds. Without injured Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, John Buggs III and D.J. Richards will need to hit some perimeter shots to keep UTSA in contention tonight. Buggs is averaging 9.8 points and Richards 9.5. Richards leads the team in three-point percentage at 41.4.

UTSA hosts Reggie Theus and Bethune-Cookman today

Former NBA all star Reggie Theus will lead the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats into the UTSA Convocation today for a 3 p.m. tipoff against the Roadrunners.

The Wildcats (4-6) are a work in progress under Theus, a 13-year NBA veteran and 2-time all star, who is in his second season at the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based NCAA Division I program in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Formerly a head coach at New Mexico State and Cal State-Northridge, Theus returned to the sidelines in 2021 to lead the Wildcats, a program that has never reached the NCAA Division I tournament since it elevated to D-I status in 1980.

After finishing last year at 9-21, including a 7-11 record in the SWAC, the Wildcats opened with three victories in their first six games this season, before losing three of their last four.

They’re on a road trip which has seen them fall 88-48 at North Florida and 77-65 in San Antonio at Incarnate Word.

UTSA is also coached by a former NBA player in Steve Henson. In his seventh season with the Roadrunners, Henson’s team is looking to gain traction today against Bethune-Cook before opening Conference USA competition Thursday at home against North Texas.

The Roadrunners (5-5) are 5-2 at home this season. They’re coming off a road trip in which they dropped games to a pair of top 40 programs 50 programs.

They lost 94-76 at New Mexico and 91-70 to the Utah Utes of the Pac-12 conference.

Records

UTSA 5-5
Bethune-Cookman 4-6

Coming up

North Texas at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m. (a Conference USA opener for the Roadrunners)

Notable

Against Division I competition, both Bethune-Cookman and UTSA are under .500, with the Wildcats 2-6 and the Roadrunners 3-5. UTSA is ranked 296th out of 363 Division I programs in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Bethune-Cookman is ranked 337th.

A positive sign for UTSA is the recent play of point guard Japhet Medor, who tweaked an ankle on Nov. 27 at home against Dartmouth. While he appeared limited physically in playing the next night in a victory over Incarnate Word, he scored 11 points at New Mexico and added 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals at Utah.

Playing above the rim: Carlton Linguard electrifies during UTSA basketball practice

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

Will promising center Carlton Linguard Jr. play for the UTSA Roadrunners this season? If he is cleared, it could alter the team’s trajectory in a positive way leading into Conference USA play in a few weeks. — Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Coaches and players within the UTSA men’s basketball program on Tuesday afternoon caught a brief glimpse of the future. The image of 7-foot center Carlton Linguard Jr. leaping off the floor to throw down a resounding dunk was an eye-opening visual, for sure.

Eye opening and memorable. When Linguard elevated, observers at practice could see that his reach extended to the middle of the backboard square.

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

Seven-foot Carlton Linguard Jr. played the past two seasons at Kansas State in the Big 12 conference. – Photo by Joe Alexander

This time, though, the visual also came with audio. As he descended back to the court, the force of his two-handed jam created sound effects. You know, the sound that a collapsing rim makes in an empty gym just before it snaps back into position.

As Linguard completed the play and turned to run to the other end of the floor, some confusion was evident. What in the world just happened? Then, suddenly, his teammates let out a hearty cheer — in unison — for the well-traveled former standout from San Antonio’s Stevens High School.

For a program still languishing in the nether regions of the NCAA Division I NET rankings, it was a thrilling moment. But it was also a happening that arrived with some uncertainty. While Linguard is clearly getting closer to being in game shape, he also faces a few more important questions.

First, will the former Kansas State Wildcats center be allowed by the NCAA to play for the Roadrunners this season? If so, when? In a few more weeks, at the semester break, perhaps? Or, will it be next fall, when UTSA starts play in the American Athletic Conference, after a 10-year run in Conference USA?

Important questions, indeed, for a program that has been down the past few years. In an interview Tuesday afternoon, UTSA coach Steve Henson opened up about Linguard’s situation, acknowledging initially that the big man has looked good in recent practices.

“Yeah, it’s been fun watching him,” the coach said.

Since early in the fall semester, it’s been tough for neutral observers to tell exactly what the team had in Linguard. With his left knee issue, he initially was relegated to individual drills on the side of the court.

As official practices opened in late September, Linguard was doing a little more, and then as weeks passed he began to work out some with teammates in halfcourt drills. Last Friday, he started to run up and down the court in five-on-five, full contact practices. Since then, Linguard has engaged in four full workouts.

“He’s improved a lot in the last week and a half,” Henson said. “You know, a lot of that is conditioning and the confidence that goes with conditioning. Probably having that knee feel good for the first time in a long time adds to the confidence factor. He’s been pretty impressive.”

At times during his comeback, Linguard’s presence on the offensive end has been most noticeable. He can move around in the post area with his back to the basket and he can also spot up and shoot threes pretty comfortably. Asked what he does best, Henson initially mentioned his potential on defense.

“He covers a lot of ground,” Henson said. “He’s got a physicality in certain areas. He’ll bump some cutters. He’ll bump roll guys. He’ll wall up in the post. He covers a lot of ground and blocks more shots than our other big guys do, for sure.

“You notice him when he’s in there. Guys who get penetration and are used to finishing down in there, he’s challenging those shots. He just plays noticeably bigger than our other big guys.”

But, as mentioned, Linguard has other hurdles to clear before coaches can even begin to think about including him in a game plan. Technically, he is academically ineligible, and UTSA will need to get a waiver from the NCAA for him to play this season.

Also, the appeals process is only in the discussion phase right now. So, even though fall semester final exams will conclude at the end of the week, don’t expect Linguard to be on the floor when UTSA (5-3) opens a road trip on Saturday against the undefeated University of New Mexico Lobos (8-0).

Henson seemed reluctant even to speculate on when he expected to learn whether Linguard can play this year. “I don’t know if it’s between semesters, or what,” the coach said. “There’s nothing really we can do about it. We can push and ask and all that, but I don’t have any idea.”

Even though the school’s compliance office has been contacted on the matter recently, nothing has been filed with the NCAA.

“We were talking with compliance the other day on the best way to go about it,” Henson said. “We trust them. They know how it works. We’re kind of monitoring the semester and all that and monitoring his health along the way, as well … Hopefully we can get something submitted (to the NCAA office) very soon.”

Whatever happens, Linguard is expected to play for the Roadrunners at some point. After high school at Stevens, he played one year at Temple Junior College, where he attracted attention from high-major basketball programs, and then the last two at Kansas State.

So, it is UTSA’s thinking that if he is allowed to play after the semester break, then presumably he’d have just one year of eligibility remaining in 2023-24, but if he can’t play this year, then he’d have two years, through 2024-25.

Likely, players on this year’s team would love to have him back as soon as possible.

You can sense that much by the sight of him running up and down the floor in practice, by the look of excitement on players’ faces and by the cheers that echoed through the Convocation Center after one certain play above the rim Tuesday afternoon.

Long arms of the law? Coaches encourage UTSA forwards to bring intensity, defense

Aleu Aleu. The UTSA men's basketball team lost to Louisiana Tech 79-63 on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Aleu Aleu says UTSA is ready “to surprise the outside world” as the new season opens Monday night with a home game against Trinity. — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The video did not lie. About five minutes into an exhibition game at the Convocation Center last Wednesday night, the UTSA Roadrunners imposed their will to create a highlight-reel moment. The play was significant for a few reasons.

First, it started with a drive to the bucket by Japhet Medor, a 6-foot newcomer who has shown on numerous occasions a knack for bringing out the best in his teammates. As Medor drove to the bucket on the right side, he threw up a floater that caromed off glass and rim. From there, 6-9 Josh Farmer made a play on it, tapping it out.

Josh Farmer, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Houston Sharpstown, at the first day of UTSA men's basketball practice. - photo by Joe Alexander

Josh Farmer, a 6-9 sophomore from Houston, is regarded as one of the team’s most improved players. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Lamin Sabally, at 6-8, grabbed the ball and promptly dished under the basket to Aleu Aleu. In the chaotic aftermath, a few Schreiner bodies went down like bowling pins, and the 6-8 Aleu powered up and threw down an emphatic, two-handed dunk. It was an energy play that reverberated for, basically, the rest of the half.

For the next 15 minutes or so, the Roadrunners outscored the outmanned Division III Mountaineers by 28 points. Schreiner was lacking athletically in many ways against UTSA, as expected, but it still was a good sign for the home team to see a play unfold with such dramatic effect.

“You seen the game,” Aleu said. “It was back and forth for a little bit. Then you (saw) me, Josh and Lamin come in, and coach told us to pick it up. So we got a lot of stops and converted on the offensive end. Really glad we could bring the energy. That’s what we’re here for, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

After downing Schreiner 93-60 in the exhibition, UTSA hopes to continue pressing the action, and Monday night, the regular season starts for real. Once again, the opponent is a Division III foe. It’s the cross-town Trinity Tigers, in the house for a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Convo.

Most of the attention in UTSA camp since the players reported for fall semester duties has centered around Medor and John Buggs III, two transfer guards who seem to have solidified the entire program after a 10-22 season a year ago. But in the wake of the Schreiner exhibition, the potential for the long-armed trio of Aleu, Sabally and Farmer has sparked some discussion, as well.

Lamin Sabally. UTSA beat Dallas Christian 101-48 on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Lamin Sabally, a 6-8 sophomore, is bidding to play a bigger role after averaging 12.3 minutes last year. – Photo by Joe Alexander

While the three of them had a limited impact last season, the potential now seems pretty clear. If they can learn to play under control and play without fouling, they could give Henson all sorts of options on personnel groupings moving forward.

Henson and staffers talked to each player individually and to some in groups recently. The discussion centered on roles. With the three fowards, Henson said, “We kind of challenged ‘em collectively. (We asked) what would happen if you three went to the scorer’s table together and walked in, arm and arm, and said, ‘We’re going to make a big impact on this game with our defense and our length.’ ”

Aleu said the players got the message. They’ve been having good practices in that vein for several weeks now, anyway. “We kind of processed it, like, ‘OK, these are three long guys,” he said. “All quick. All can jump. All athletic. Can move. Can play defense. And we just … we get in the game and it’s hard for people to score.

“At practice, looking back on it, every time we’re on the court together, it’s hard for the blue team to get in their offense,’ Aleu added. “We’re blowing everything up. Josh is protecting around the rim. It’s a pretty good lineup, pretty big. With Japhet and Buggs and the three of us, we just shut everything down. We definitely take pride in that.”

For Aleu personally, this is a season in which he’d like to make up for lost time. Last season, he played in only 10 of 32 games, limited by right knee and left quadriceps injuries in the fall and then later, another right knee injury in January that knocked him out for the season.

It was an ordeal that tried his resolve. Aleu acknowledged that it was tough to make it through the days following the injury, which happened in UTSA’s Jan. 15 road game at Charlotte.

“My knee was stuck,” he said. “It was stuck for about three or four days. I couldn’t unlock it because the meniscus had flipped over. They couldn’t unlock it until I got into the surgery. Yeah, that was a lot. A lot.”

In explaining his situation, Aleu said it was a “bucket handle” meniscus injury to his right knee. He said it was his understanding that if the meniscus had been removed, he might have faced a knee replacement in two or three years.

“So the best thing to do is repair it, and just stitch it back together,” he said. “That’s what kept me out for so long. You got to let it heal. It took me about seven months to rehab. We went into the summer and Ji (trainer Jiana Hook) told me we’d just take our time with it.”

Aleu acknowledged that it was difficult to make it through the days following the injury, which happened in UTSA’s Jan. 15 road game at Charlotte. It was also painful to sit and watch the team implode at the end of the season.

“It felt bad just to sit there and watch my teammates go through what we went through,” he said. “So, I’m just happy to be back and (I hope) to do whatever I can to help the team, and not repeat what happened last year.”

Aleu’s return to full speed progressed gradually. He was limmited in late August and September. By the start of official preseason drills, the native of Kenya, who played in high school in Austin and in junior college at Temple, had ramped up to full-speed work.

A few weeks ago, Aleu raised eyebrows when he caught a pass on the fast break and tried to tomahawk dunk over freshman Massal Diouf. The ball didn’t go down, as Diouf hustled back to get a piece of it. But UTSA teammates took notice.

“Aleu, he just got to stay healthy,” guard Isaiah Addo-Ankrah said. “Aleu always could hoop. I call him my African Splash Brother. He just got to stay healthy and keep getting confident. Today, he went up and tried to dunk on somebody. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the Louie I know.’ ”

Henson said he was impressed with how hard Aleu practiced last month after being out for so long in rehabilitation.

“Then he had a stretch where he was shooting the ball so well,” the coach said. “(If) he mixes those two things and carries the shooting over to the games, he could have a huge impact for us. Because, he can play a couple of positions. He can guard multiple positions. Can pass it. Attack. Block a few shots. Rebound it. Defend.

“So, transitioning it from practice to the games, is kind of the key there.”

Aleu said he’s encouraged by the team’s play in general.

“Our confidence is pretty high,” he said. “I think that goes back to the guys around you. Everybody’s pretty supportive of each other. We encourage everybody to play their game and be themselves. That makes everyone feel confident. We’re past last year. But it’s, like, in the rear-view mirror. We also still think about it sometimes. It fuels us to keep getting better.”

If the Roadrunners win this year, it won’t be a surprise to them.

“For sure,” Aleu said. “We know what we can do. We’re ready to surprise the outside world, for sure. I think it’ll be a good season, and we won’t be surprised at all. We all know the work that we put in. We all know the sacrifices we’ve made.”

Picked to finish last? Roadrunners irritated by C-USA poll results

The UTSA Roadrunners carried plenty of motivation into practices this fall. They didn’t have the success they wanted last year, and they wanted to make sure they did everything they could to make amends.

For sure, they didn’t need a preseason poll to get fired up to come to practice.

All that notwithstanding, waking up to news that they had been picked to finish last in the official Conference USA preseason poll gave at least a few of the players an extra something to think about.

“That was the first thing I saw on Twitter today,” Roadrunners forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah said after Thursday’s practice. “I can’t lie to you. It (ticked) me off a little bit. I know it (ticked) some of the guys off because we were talking about it.

“You can’t worry about other people’s opinions. We know what we got. We just got to stay together and prove people wrong and prove ourselves right.”

For the second-straight season, UAB has been voted by the C-USA’s head coaches as the preseason favorite to win the regular-season championship.

Western Kentucky was pegged second and North Texas third. UTSA was picked 11th, or, last, in the poll. Questioned about the news, UTSA coach Steve Henson shrugged it off.

“I just told (players) to be smart at how they handled it,” Henson said. “But I’m sure they didn’t like the way it looked. It is what it is. Some of them will use it as extra motivation. I’m not the kind that’s going to print it out and stick it on the lockers.

“I got enough reasons to be motivated to play good basketball. My concern was to have a good practice today, not where we were picked in the league.”

One certainty is that nobody will remember the preseason poll five years from now.

“No, but some will use it as motivation,” Henson said. “It’s not the right way to get motivated to be a good team. There’s a lot of good reasons to compete and to line up and try to have a good practice and have a good first game.

“I’m (thinking) more about being a better team when we line up to play Schreiner in two weeks. That’s what I’m focused on.”

The Roadrunners play Schreiner in their one and only exhibition on Nov. 2. On Nov. 7, they open the regular season against at home against Trinity.

C-USA preseason poll

1. UAB
2. WKU
3. North Texas
4. Middle Tennessee
5. Florida Atlantic
6. Louisiana Tech
7. Rice
8. UTEP
9. Charlotte
10. FIU
11. UTSA

Preseason player of the Year

Jordan Walker, UAB

All conference

Alijah Martin, Florida Atlantic – sophomore guard
Cobe Williams, Louisiana Tech – junior guard
Teafale Lenard Jr., Middle Tennessee – sophomore guard
Tylor Perry, North Texas – senior guard
Quincy Olivari, Rice – junior guard
Eric Gaines, UAB – sophomore guard
Jordan Walker, UAB – senior guard
Emmanuel Akot, WKU – graduate senior guard
Dayvion McKnight, WKU* – junior guard
Jamarion Sharp, WKU – senior center

UTSA’s Medor bolsters his career through support from a big family

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

On the court, UTSA senior Japhet Medor likes to consider himself as a pass-first point guard, a distributor of the basketball. A team player. First and foremost, he wants to win and to see his teammates, his brothers, have fun.

1 Japhet Medor UTSA basketball at photo day on Sept. 22, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Japhet Medor is preparing to make his NCAA Division I debut with the UTSA Roadrunners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Off the court, he’s a businessman, promoting his own clothing line, the “Top Floor Boyz.”

But perhaps more to the point of his own identity, Medor is a family man. As the youngest of seven siblings, he expresses gratitude for the guidance of his parents and all of his real-life brothers and a sister, who always provided him with a safe haven.

“It was like, for me, being around them, they’ve been in the same situations I’ve been in,” said Medor, 23, from Wellington, Fla. “A lot of them played sports and a lot — well, all of them — own a business for themselves.

“So just being able to pick their brain and know what and what not to do, growing up, was good. It was good for me. When there’s a hurricane day, you get to have fun with your family (and) stay in.”

Medor has always looked up to hoops icons like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry.

But, his career as a ball player all started with his sister, Vanessa, and his brothers, including Chris, Evens, Greg, Fred and Dean, all of them supplying him with the steady encouragement that he needed.

“My older brother (Greg) was definitely my mentor. (He) trains me, coaches me,” Medor said. “He always helps me out. My other brothers, they always pick my game apart. Like, if I’m playing, they’ll tell me what I’m doing wrong. (They’ll say) what I’m not doing right.”

By all accounts, the UTSA newcomer is getting it right on a pretty consistent basis in his first year of NCAA Division I. Chris, Evens, Greg and the others in the Medor clan should really have few worries about the baby of the family.

In fact, Medor is pushing during fall camp practices to become the Roadrunners’ starting point guard when the season opens in a few weeks.

UTSA coach Steve Henson has been happy with his progress since the summer. On Thursday, during a fast-paced practice that included about an hour of five-on-five, the 6-foot playmaker stood out as perhaps the best player on the floor at the Convocation Center.

“Today, I thought Japhet just had a different explosiveness about him,” Henson said. “I thought he had an extra gear today.”

It’s been a long, long journey through the basketball landscape for Medor, who was one of the nation’s top scorers and assist men in junior college last year at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

All told, the 2018 graduate of Lake Worth High School spent one year in prep school and three in community colleges, toiling away to make a name for himself.

Now, with the season set to start Nov. 2 in an exhibition against Schreiner and then a Nov. 7 home opener against Trinity, Medor is on the verge of realizing his dream. He’ll be a Division I point guard. Is he feeling the adrenaline? You better believe it.

But in keeping with his personality, he steers the conversation away from his own feelings and talks instead about his teammates. About the team’s dreams.

“With the feeling we have (on) the team right now … the coaching staff and the players, it’s got us fueled up and excited for the season,” Medor said. “Just seeing what everyone is doing right now (in practice), it’s amazing what we can put together.”

Medor is expected to set the tempo for UTSA’s attack with his speed.

“He sees the game and feels it,” Roadrunners associate head coach Mike Peck said. “He really wants to try to set up his teammates (by) hitting the open guy. He sees things before they happen sometimes. He makes plays for other players. Puts shooters in position to … catch and shoot. Which is huge for us. He’s been great in that regard.

“We knew he was fast. But when you see it up close and in person when you’re on the floor with him, it’s at a different level.”

UTSA coaches have also talked during the fall about the maturity and leadership that transfer guards such as John Buggs III and Medor will bring to the program. Peck said Medor’s maturity likely stems from the player’s close-knit family, but also from traveling a hard road to Division I.

“He spent three years at the junior college level,” Peck said. “So, he’s seen some things and dealt with some things … He’s gone through the junior college route where they don’t get much. And you got to fight for everything.

“Coming here and having the resources, I think he has an appreciation for that, and that just adds to his maturity.”

UTSA assistant coach Scott Thompson made the initial contact with Medor last spring. Peck followed up with a visit and started to push to get him on the team as soon as possible. According to reports, he picked UTSA over Valparaiso, Stetson, Fordham and a few others.

Just as Medor made a careful decision on where to attend school this fall, he’s also wise to the world, Peck said.

“He’s definitely got that free-enterprise mindset,” the coach said. “He likes fashion and what’s trendy. He’s tuned into that, like a lot of kids. But even more so with him.”

Medor said he and a friend started the Top Floor Boyz business through a casual conversation a few years ago.

“Like, when we were around each other, we’d always say (it), Top Floor Boyz,” he said. “About 2018, we started an LLC for it, and we started pushing it. Wherever I go, I’ll wear Top Floor Boyz. I’ll push it. I’ll wear my own brand. Stuff like that.”

Medor is also expected to push the pace for the Roadrunners’ offense. Combined with Christian Tucker, the UTSA attack will have two problems for which opposing defenses will need to contend.

In Medor, the Roadrunners have a player who knew from an early age how he wanted to play the game. He was a teammate in high shool with Trent Frazier, a former star at the University of Illinois.

Watching Frazier helped Medor understand how much impact he could have on a game just by hitting the open man with a sweet pass.

“It’s an exciting feeling,”he said. “Just seeing your team happy and working with you. To get a stop on defense and go down to the other end … It just feels good with everyone playing together. You want everyone playing together and being happy together.”

Referees add spice to a UTSA fall camp basketball practice

For the first time this fall, the UTSA Roadrunners took the court with referees blowing whistles on infractions against the rules.

The Roadrunners, led by senior guard Japhet Medor, seemed to adapt well during a spirited Thursday afternoon workout. Coach Steve Henson said he thought it was a positive experience.

“I thought we’d be fouling a lot more, because we’ve been very aggressive in practice,” Henson said. “I was glad to see they didn’t call a ton of hand-checks on us. They called a couple of moving screens, which was not surprising.

“There (were) a few fouls we need to clean up. But I think players knew we were going to have officials here toda, so they were a little excited. Felt more like a scrimmage day than a practice day.”

Henson said the team overall had good energy.

“I thought the ball really moved,” he said. “We made some good plays, some really good plays, for each other. Got some wide open looks. Three-point shooters knocked down shots today. That was really good to see.”

Noting that the Roadrunners “weren’t always the most athletic” team in Conference USA last year, the coach was pleasantly surprised at some of the aesthetics.

“We had two or three possessions where we had two or three guys above the rim, tapping,” he said. “(We had) some big-time offensive rebounda from different guys. I was pretty encouraged.”

The duel between speedy point guards was entertaining, with Medor and sophomore Christian Tucker taking turns either setting up teammates or making shots.

“We’re obviously talking a lot about Japhet,” Henson said. “We know (Erik) Czumbel can slide over there and help us, as well. But Christian’s had a good stretch of practices. He’s done a heck of a job.

“He did fine this summer, but I think he’s gotten a lot better the last two or three weeks. Now today, I though Japhet just had a different explosiveness about him, early on in practice. I thought he had an extra gear today.”

Medor, a 6-footer, alternately would use his speed either to burst into the paint or to jump a passing lane for a defelection. Tipping one errant pass, Medor took it three quarters of the length of the court, with Jacob Germany following along.

Germany ended up dunking it.

UTSA practice at a glance

Slicing and dicing

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.