Tenacious Islanders roll to 77-58 victory over the Roadrunners

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi players and coach Steve Lutz (right) celebrate after their victory over UTSA on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi players and coach Steve Lutz (right) celebrate after their victory over UTSA on Sunday at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Any day that San Antonio native Steve Lutz can spend with his family, he counts it as a very good day.

With his mother, Pat, and others on hand in the stands at the UTSA Convocation Center, he knew Sunday would be one of those days, no matter how his Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders played.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. A&M-Corpus Christi beat UTSA 77-58 on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 21 points for his second 20-plus performance of the season. – Photo by Joe Alexander

It was made all the more special for the Islanders’ first-year head coach when his players produced an impressive road victory, downing the UTSA Roadrunners, 77-58.

Despite starting guard Jalen Jackson playing only 11 minutes because of foul trouble, the Islanders broke out to a 40-29 lead at halftime and were never seriously threatened in what clearly was their best overall effort of the young season.

UTSA pulled to within seven twice early in the second half, but the game belonged to the visiting team, which held advantages in shooting percentage (50 to 31.9), rebounding (52-34) and points in the paint (50-26).

Jackson, a junior transfer from North Texas, scored 19 points in A&M-Corpus Christi’s two-point victory over Denver last week.

Islanders coach Steve Lutz once played for San Antonio Sports Hall of Famer Stan Bonewitz, Sr., at East Central High School.- Photo by Joe Alexander

Islanders coach Steve Lutz once played for San Antonio Sports Hall of Famer Stan Bonewitz, Sr., at East Central High School. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Saddled with the foul problems on Sunday, the former Wagner High School standout finished with only three against the Roadrunners.

Not to worry. A&M-Corpus Christi had more than enough firepower to storm past UTSA, sweeping all three games in a multi-team event hosted by the Roadrunners that started last week.

Forward Isaac Mushila dominated the day with 21 points and 17 rebounds. With Jackson on the bench much of the afternoon, Terrion Murdix stepped up to play 27 minutes. He hit 4 of 9 shots from the field, scored 8 points and passed for 5 assists.

“The guys are both starters,” said Lutz, a 1991 East Central High School graduate. “I believe we have six, seven, maybe even eight starters on this team, depending on the day and the situation.”

Freshman Lamin Sabally, a 6-foot-7 freshman, played 10 minutes and hit both shot attempts. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Lamin Sabally, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward, played 10 minutes and hit both shot attempts. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Islanders started fast, putting two fouls on Roadrunners’ center Jacob Germany, and surged into 8-0 lead. Pretty soon, it was 14-4 and 16-6. UTSA sliced A&M-Corpus Christi’s advantage to three 10 minutes into the game.

But that is as close as the Roadrunners would get, as the Islanders kept attacking the basket and pounding the glass. After it was all over, A&M-Corpus Christi left the building having never trailed.

“We lost pretty much every facet tonight,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Shooting, it’s easy to look at that. You can also look at a couple of other areas, it’s just as frustrating.

“We haven’t been real, real sharp yet on the offensive end. We got to figure out what our identity is going to be down there.”

Guard Jordan Ivy-Curry emerged as the lone bright spot for the Roadrunners with 21 points. The sophomore from La Marque hit 7 of 16 shots from the field, but he had precious little help from his teammates. Everyone else combined to shoot 15 of 53.

Records

UTSA 3-3
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 4-1

Coming up

Wednesday, 2 p.m. — Lamar at UTSA.

‘Unified’ UTSA prepares for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

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

Coach Steve Henson and the Roadrunners carry a 3-2 record leading into Sunday’s home game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. – Photo by Joe Alexander

One game over .500 after five games, the UTSA Roadrunners are a long way away from becoming the type of team that can win three games in three days, or four in four days, in March at the Conference USA tournament.

Right now, the commitment to defense is a good thing, but it can only carry a team so far when the offense is completely muzzled, as it was in a 52-point loss on Nov. 12 at Oklahoma.

If anything was learned from the trip to OU, it was that the Roadrunners will need to develop another reliable offensive threat, or two, in order to make a serious run at a C-USA tournament title in the spring.

The loss to Division II Texas A&M-Commerce on Monday also exposed some flaws. It showed, again, a lack of firepower on the offensive end. And, also, that the Roadrunners aren’t invincible on their homecourt even against less-heralded programs.

So, when the Roadrunners (3-2) host the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (3-1) on Sunday afternoon at the Convocation Center, they’ll need to take another step forward after completing a three games-in three days experience last week with victories over the Denver Pioneers and the IUPUI Jaguars.

“I think it’s a pretty unified group,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said after the IUPUI game. “It’s a group that wants to have success.”

The victory over the Jaguars was encouraging, given that the Roadrunners were down by 10 points with less than seven minutes remaining and still managed to pull it out, winning 60-57.

On their third game in three days, they dug down at the end and outscored the Jaguars 16-3 in the final 6:45.

“It tells me we’re close to who I hoped we would be (at this point in the season),” Henson said. “We’re nowhere near where we want to be or where we think we can get to. But we’re making progress.

“There were some things that I showed ’em from yesterday’s game ago. Darius (McNeill) made some great defensive plays (against Denver) that he didn’t make a week ago. So, we’re making baby steps.

“The Commerce game, (you see) how many silly turnovers there were. The casual shots. Yesterday (against Denver) there were fewer. Today, maybe even fewer. Turnover numbers (were down). We got to keep getting quality shots.

“I think we’re making progress.”

Coming up

Sunday, 3 p.m. — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (3-1) at UTSA (3-2)
Wednesday, 2 p.m. — Lamar at UTSA.

Notable

Keaton Wallace, the No. 2 scorer in UTSA history, is a first-year pro playing in the NBA G League for the Ontario, Calif.-based Agua Caliente Clippers.

Jhivvan Jackson, No. 1 on the all-time list, isn’t signed with a pro team yet as he works his way back into shape following shoulder surgery after last season.

Jackson attended UTSA games last week around a visit to a surgeon who performed the operation. He has been training and rehabilitating in his native Puerto Rico, while his agent monitors potential offers, Henson said.

Over the past four years, Jackson scored 2,551 points for the Roadrunners. Wallace had 2,080. Jackson’s total was 52nd in NCAA history and No. 1 among NCAA players born in Latin America. He averaged 22.2 points per game for his career.

Quotable

“(Jhivvan) said he’s still getting some pain in his shoulder,” Henson said Wednesday evening. “That’s quite a ways removed from his surgery, so he came in the office and we talked. He was headed to see the doctor who did the surgery …

“He’s being smart about it. Not going to rush into anything. (He wants to) make sure he’s 100 percent (before he commits to play with a franchise).”

UTSA on Tuesday posted a photo on social media of Jackson talking to Jordan Ivy-Curry outside the locker room. Ivy-Curry had just scored 27 points against the Pioneers.

“Jhivvan was a good teammate,” Henson said. “Guys liked him. They really did. We’ve talked about this before, but Juice had the perfect amount of respect for Jhivvan and Keaton (Wallace).

“Juice is a confident guy. A tough guy. He came in and battled those guys all the time. But he also watched how they worked. He saw them, staying after practice, shooting for an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Records

Oklahoma 2-0
UTSA 1-1

Coming up

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

UTSA-OU notebook

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking down the ABC’s of Josh Farmer’s potential

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-foot-9 freshman, has had a solid training camp leading into tonight’s season opener against Trinity University. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As UTSA preseason basketball practices played out over the past month, I had to make sure that I talked to freshman Josh Farmer before it was all over.

The lanky forward caught my eye early with:

A) A resolve to mix it up in the paint with more physical players;

B) An advanced ability to create both his own shot and shots for others, and;

C) A certain confidence that he belongs in the playing rotation even as a young man who is only a few months out of high school.

Standing 6-feet-9 and weighing 197 pounds, it seems that all he needs is a few years to get stronger, and the Roadrunners could really have something special.

Farmer said recently that he has already started on a rigorous weight-training regimen.

“I’ve been in the weight room,” he said in an interview last Friday. “I (was) in the weight room four times this week. Four times last week. And I’ve been eating, and drinking water. That’s it. My metabolism is fast. I might not think I’m eating a lot, but I am.”

With UTSA opening tonight against Division III Trinity and playing again Friday on the road at Division I power Oklahoma, the former standout from Houston Sharpstown is expected to play off the bench for the Roadrunners.

Just how much, is not certain. What is certain is that he has caught the attention of the UTSA coaching staff.

“It’s going to be fun watching him,” sixth-year coach Steve Henson said. “There’s not a question of if (he can play). I mean, he’s so talented, and he’s very coachable. Got a great basketball IQ.

“You tell him something once and he’s got it. Great attitude. He’s going to be a big contributor.”

Henson said last week that coaches are working to accelerate his development.

“We need to speed up that process,” Henson said. “We’ve talked about that with our coaches, with some of our players, as well. They know it. They can see it. Anybody walks in the gym, whether you know anything about basketball or not, you can see his talent.

“We just got to speed that process up and see how he can impact games. You know, right now, he’s behind some other guys. But he’s also got a ton of upside.”

Farmer’s practice battles with burly senior Cedric Alley Jr. have been entertaining. On one end of the floor, Alley will go into his bump-and-grind routine, and then forcefully will spin inside.

On the other end, Farmer isn’t shy about using his dribble handle to get around traffic in the paint. Then, with his length, he creates just enough space to pass. Or, at times, enough space to shoot a bank shot.

A brazen move, for a freshman. Like Keaton Wallace or Jhivvan Jackson four years ago, Farmer is not shy about anything that happens between the lines on a basketball court.

Almost matter of factly, he said he expected to play as a freshman when he arrived on campus. He said he had a feeling he would based on his conversations with the coaches and with the trust he had in his ability to rebound and run the floor.

Nevertheless, he still had to prove himself, and he did.

“Yes sir,” he said.

So, how does Josh Farmer grade himself on his performance in camp?

“It kind of took me time to get used to the pace of the game,” he said. “When I got used to it, it kind of converted to me attacking (on offense) and on defense being able to see everybody … It just takes time to adapt to everything.

“But I feel good about it, overall.”

UTSA’s Henson predicts that Germany will play the opener

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat UTEP 86-79 in a Conference USA game on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

After twisting his foot earlier this week, UTSA center Jacob Germany has continued to practice on a limited basis, aiming to play in the season opener Tuesday night at home against Trinity. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Fighting through discomfort in his right foot for the second straight day, UTSA center Jacob Germany should be able to play in next week’s season-opener for the men’s basketball team, Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said Friday afternoon.

“Based on what he did today, I’d be shocked if we didn’t play him some,” Henson said after a workout on campus.

UTSA will open on Tuesday night in its 41st season of basketball with a doubleheader at the Convocation Center.

The women’s team will host Stephen F. Austin at 5, followed by Henson’s men’s squad against the Trinity University Tigers at 7:30.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Germany’s status for the opener was clouded when he went down and with an injured foot or ankle.

“Twisted it badly,” was how Henson described the mishap.

On Thursday, Germany was limited to shooting the ball in his on-court work. By Friday, though, the 6-foot-11 junior participated in most of the practice, even in some of the half-court drills.

The only time he sat out was in the five-on-five, full-contact work.

“On one hand, you feel like that game (against Trinity) is right around the corner,” Henson said. “On the other, with the amount of treatment he’ll be able to get between now and then, that game’s a long way off.

“(Trainer) Josh (Modica) will take good care of him tomorrow,” Henson said. “We’re doing nothing together on Sunday as a team, so that’ll be a great recovery day, a great treatment day. Just guessing, just like you are, but I think he’ll be close to normal on Tuesday.”

Germany has enjoyed a highly productive preseason, showing off an expanded offensive repertoire.

Last year, as a sophomore, he averaged 10 points per game with most of the production coming on dunks, short hooks and mid-range jumpers.

This fall, he looks much more versatile. He regularly knocks down shots from the 3-point line. Germany, a natural lefthander, was even seen recently making a right-handed hook.

Obviously, he is expected to be a lynchpin for the Roadrunners.

Henson hasn’t named his starting lineup or the players he plans to play regularly leading into the month of November. But he said he might have a nine-player rotation.

If Germany is ready physically, he is expected to start at center. Senior Cedric Alley Jr. likely is the power forward. On the wings, the Roadrunners appear to be leaning toward a backcourt of Darius McNeill and Jordan Ivy-Curry, with Dhieu Deing at small forward.

Others who appear to be in the plans for the rotation, based on what has transpired in recent practices, are highly-touted freshman Josh Farmer, and also Lachlan Bofinger and Lamin Sabally, all of them forwards. Erik Czumbel is expected to back up at both guard spots, with Phoenix Ford coming in to spell Germany.

Farmer played last season at Houston Sharpstown High School, where he was regarded as one of the top forwards in the state. Sabally, another freshman, played at a prep school in Arizona last season after moving from his native Germany.

“Lamin’s been stringing together a lot of good practices,” Henson said. “I mean, he’s been really, really good.”

UTSA’s Deing draws inspiration from his African heritage

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

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

By Jerry Briggs
Special report, for The JB Replay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both committed on the same day last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is she like?

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

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

Eleventh in the C-USA? UTSA shrugs off preseason poll

UTSA coach Steve Henson acknowledged recently that his players may have been caught off guard with the release of a Conference USA preseason poll that pegs them for a second-division finish next spring.

Entering 2021-22 without departed four-year standouts Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, the Roadrunners aren’t getting much love from the C-USA coaches, who have ranked them 11th out of 14 teams in the conference.

“Some of (our players) might have been surprised by that,” Henson said, “even though we’ve been telling them, that, ‘Hey, this is what people think,’ that Jhivvan and Keaton carried us, and they were terrific for us.

“But we’ve got some good, quality (players) coming back and some terrific talent coming in to add to it.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Henson said. “Looking at what we lost … I wasn’t too surprised at that. I’m more (focused) with what we have coming back, and I’m excited with that.”

Jackson and Wallace led UTSA to winning records in the conference in three out of four years.

Together, they formed one of the highest-scoring tandems out of the same recruiting class in NCAA history. Jackson scored 2,551 points in his career to rank 52nd in NCAA history, while Wallace added 2,080. On the C-USA scoring list, they finished No. 2 and No. 6 all-time, respectively.

Both left in the offseason to embark on pro careers. Without the two, UTSA must step up to answer questions about whether the team has enough talent to contend in their absence.

What they’re saying

Asked about the poll, sophomore guard Jordan Ivy-Curry took exception to the results, acknowledging that he was upset about it.

“A little bit,” Ivy-Curry said. “Even though we don’t have Keaton and Jhivvan, we shouldn’t be that low. At all.”

Ivy-Curry seemed to accept — to an extent — that some voters in the poll may just be unaware of UTSA’s personnel at this point.

“We’re going to work on that,” he said. “We’re going to focus on getting better and proving ourselves and showing these people that we shouldn’t be ranked 11th.”

Junior center Jacob Germany said the players discussed it in a group chat.

“It’s just more fuel to the fire,” he said. “Me personally, I’m OK with being the underdog. We’re used to that. It’s exciting, really.”

No team has ever won the conference title in October, right?

“Nobody’s really worried about the preseason,” Germany said. “We’re just trying to get better.”

C-USA preseason poll
Men’s basketball

1.UAB (8) 190 points
2. Louisiana Tech (6) – 184 points
3. WKU – 162 points
4. Marshall – 147 points
5. Old Dominion – 130 points
6. North Texas – 124 points
7. Charlotte – 110 points
8. Rice – 104 points
9. Florida Atlantic – 84 points
10. UTEP – 82 points
11. UTSA – 48 points
12. Southern Miss – 42 points
13. FIU – 36 points
14. Middle Tennessee – 28 points

Eighmy says UTSA is planning a new basketball arena

From time to time, it gets pretty wild at the UTSA Convocation Center.

If you need evidence, check out a video taken at the end of a comeback victory for the Roadrunners over the Old Dominion Monarchs (see above) from the 2018-19 season.

UTSA president Dr. Taylor Eighmy addresses the media Thursday, explaining the school’s move to the American Athletic Conference. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

Alas, the nights of passion in the ‘Bird Cage’ may be numbered.

UTSA president Dr. Taylor Eighmy on Thursday acknowledged the school’s long-range plans to build a new, 10,000-seat competition arena on campus for basketball and volleyball.

“That is a downstream project that we want to develop, using a public-private partnership,” Eighmy said.

The president made his comments after a campus news conference, during which he announced that UTSA would move all of its 17 NCAA Division I athletics programs to the American Athletic Conference.

The school’s move from Conference USA to the AAC is expected to be made after the next two or three years.

The arena is part of a bold facilities push for UTSA, which first fielded intercollegiate athletics teams in 1981-82.

Since then, both men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball have played their games at the Convocation Center on campus.

Over the years, officials in past UTSA administrations have talked about the need for a new arena to replace the aging ‘Bird Cage,’ but nothing of substance has been discussed until now.

The arena report came nestled in a Thursday morning AAC news release that announced UTSA as one of its six new members.

A paragraph in the release started off by saying that the school in August opened the Roadrunner Center of Excellence, a 95,000-square foot facility that houses offices and training areas and is considered as the home for the school’s 24th-ranked football program.

In addition, the AAC release said, UTSA “is embarking on an expansive” capital campaign to develop several other projects, including:

*A new 10,000-seat arena for basketball and volleyball;
*New baseball and softball stadiums;
*A dedicated basketball/volleyball training facility;
*Also, a “standalone” facility for track and field and soccer.

Estimated cost for all of the above could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The administrative wheels are already moving on one of the projects.

Eighmy said UTSA has submitted a request to the City of San Antonio in an effort to gain assistance in funding the basketball/volleyball training facility.

The request is tied to the next city’s next bond project. Eighmy said it would be built adjacent to the RACE building.

“So,’ he added, “we’re already starting on systematic approaches to find resources, or mechanisms, to proceed with adding additional facilities.”

Eighmy declined to estimate what it would cost to build the basketball/volleyball competition arena or when he would like to see the teams move in.

“It’s obviously on our plans to get going,” the president said. “We have a bunch of things we have to tackle. We have to finish Park West (where the track and soccer teams compete).

“We really want to get this practice facility built, for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, but (the arena) is on our horizon. In my lifetime. How about that?”

UTSA men’s basketball coach Steve Henson said he’s excited about the pending move to the new conference and also about the talk of a new arena.

In regard to the challenge of playing in the revamped AAC, and competing against the likes of Memphis, Wichita State and SMU, he admitted that UTSA would be embarking on a league filled with teams that play “high level” basketball.

“The challenge will be great, but the excitement behind it will be great, as well,” he said.

Memphis, under coach Penny Hardaway, has been ranked 12th nationally in the preseason Associated Press poll. Moreover, teams in the AAC play in high-caliber arenas.

Memphis plays in the FedEx Forum. Wichita State plays in the sparkling Charles Koch Arena.

Told after practice that the AAC had sent out information on UTSA’s proposed 10,000-seat arena, Henson smiled and said, “Awesome. I look forward to seeing those plans.”

Henson said he knew about the proposed training facility but acknowledged that he had not heard specifics on UTSA’s arena project.

“I know our people are working like crazy to put us in this position (to change conferences),” he said. “I assumed we had to have some other things in the works to make it happen.

“But, no, I had not heard (about the arena).”

Henson admitted that an arena for his program would supply a boost for a program that has posted winning records in three of the last four seasons but has yet to break through with an NCAA tournament appearance.

An arena, he said, “would do wonders.”

UTSA athletic director Lisa Campos said a combined cost for the basketball/volleyball training center and the baseball and softball stadiums could range from $70 million to $80 million.

Campos added that the arena could cost “a couple of hundred million” dollars to complete.

Clearly, it will be a tall order for UTSA to raise that kind of money.

It could take years to do it, considering the magnitude of the investment and the current economic climate locally coming out of the pandemic.

“We’re going to be strategic about how we could find revenue sources,” she said. “Of course, we’re going to capitalize on the momentum for our philanthropic endeavors, and, winning breeds winning, and folks want to be involved in that.

“Someone had asked me earlier about fundraising, and really, our fan-base, our donor-base has continued to give to UTSA athletics.”

A UTSA master plan published in 2019 pinpoints the location of the proposed arena on the west end of campus. Eighmy said he wants it to be used for “multiple” purposes.

Asked if such a building of that scope could host NCAA tournament games, Eighmy didn’t rule it out.

“Those are the things we have to consider as we develop this public-private partnership,” he said. “We’re advocating all the time why our athletics programs benefit the entire city.”

Eighmy said he wants to invest in programs led by the likes of Henson, Karen Aston (women’s basketball) and Laura Neugebauer-Groff (volleyball) who work in the Convocation Center on a daily basis.

“Our Convocation Center is not a suitable facility for either practice or intercollegiate competition,” Eighmy said. “I mean, it served its purpose in its day, but we need to move on.”

Cedrick Alley talks of high hopes and dreams as a UTSA senior

Cedrick Alley Jr., Jacob Germany. UAB beat UTSA 64-57 on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Conference USA action at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Cedrick Alley Jr. (left) teams with center Jacob Germany to hound a UAB shooter last year. Alley, once regarded as the top player in Texas Class 6A at Klein Forest High School, is acknowledged as the defensive leader for the Roadrunners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

After experiencing the sweetness of team success in college basketball at the University of Houston, Cedrick Alley Jr. never quite felt completely fulfilled on an individual level.

He hopes to taste both sensations this season as a senior with the UTSA Roadrunners.

In a candid interview, Alley, a former “Mr. Basketball” in Texas at Klein Forest High School, spelled out his hoop dreams in detail recently.

He laid them out there for all to analyze, as fans are known to do.

Alley wants to play in the NCAA tournament again, as he did a few years ago with the Cougars. Moreover, in his second year with the Roadrunners, he also hopes to make a run at Defensive Player of the Year honors in Conference USA.

All of it, he said, makes up a grand plan to help re-establish UTSA basketball tradition. Alley wants that, more than anything, as he prepares for his last ride as a college player.

“It is crazy to think about that, seeing (former teammates) go off and be able to hold up their picture (on Senior Day), and have everyone scream for them,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s going to be a great feeling (for me).

“But I’m not so much focused on that as I am on … winning the Conference USA Tournament, and getting us where we want to go — to the NCAA Tournament. UTSA basketball. I feel like we can get there.”

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

Coach Steve Henson says he thinks Cedric Alley, Jr., is playing with a renewed passion for the game – Photo by Joe Alexander

What makes him so confident?

“Our coaches have been real, real serious about defense this year,” Alley said. “We’ve hardly even worked on offense. So I feel one of our main goals this year is to be one of the best defensive teams in this league.

“I feel like our defense is going to take us as far as we want to go. We lock in on defense, and we can be in any game we play.”

At Houston, Alley redshirted his first year out of Klein Forest and then played 60 games over two years through 2019-20 with the nationally-ranked Cougars. At that juncture, he transferred, seeking a fresh start at UTSA.

With the Roadrunners last season, he battled through a series of minor injuries to average a modest 6.3 points, but he came on strong down the stretch as the team went 8-2 in the last 10 games of the C-USA regular season.

This year? Alley, at 6-6, 230 pounds, is sort of like the team’s defensive coordinator in the locker room. He takes the leadership role seriously, and he thinks that if he does his job, the team will win.

Also, his individual success will follow.

“I want to average 10 rebounds,” he said. “Points, it don’t matter to me. Everyone on this team can score. I want to average 10 rebounds and be a defensive player. I want to be the Defensive Player (of the Year) in Conference USA.

“That’s my expectation, and to hold the team accountable, if we’re not doing the job our coaches want us to.”

With a little more than three weeks remaining before the start of the new season, UTSA coach Steve Henson said he is more than happy with Alley’s work ethic and mindset.

“I don’t know if he alluded to it or not, but we kind of feel like he’s got a little of his passion back,” Henson said. “Sometimes when you go from being a superstar — you know, he was an elite high school player — it wasn’t easy (for him) at Houston.

“His role was diminished a little bit, and he didn’t have as much impact on the results … as he wanted to have.”

“He didn’t get off to a great start (for us) last year. Second half, he was pretty good. But he’s got a different approach right now. His offseason was much better this year. He’s much better conditioned.”

Last season, his conditioning failed him at times because of circumstances beyond his control.

Physical setbacks kept him from attaining peak conditioning at the outset of the season, Henson said, and then a groin injury in January in the C-USA opener at Rice added to his problems.

Additionally, with C-USA games scheduled for back-to-back days because of Covid-19 mitigation, Alley was hamstrung. He’d play one day but couldn’t get moving on the second day.

It wasn’t until Jan. 23 that he played as many as 19 minutes on Day Two of a back-to-back.

By the time Alley started feeling it physically, the monster snowstorm hit and the power went out in his apartment, forcing him to relocate to a teammate’s on-campus dwelling to stay warm.

“Crazy,” he said, thinking back to last season. “But, we’re here now, and we’re thinking about having a big year. A big year.”

From the outside, Alley’s talk of a title run for the Roadrunners is likely to be met with skepticism.

Ten seasons have passed since the Roadrunners last made it to an NCAA tournament. On top of that, as a C-USA member for the past eight seasons, they haven’t even made it past the tournament quarterfinals.

Alley, however, is confident.

Cedrick Alley Jr. UTSA wanted to emphasize defense on Friday in a 91-62 victory over Sul Ross State at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Cedrick Alley, Jr. says he wants to be the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and to lead the Roadrunners to the NCAA tournament. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Even without departed standouts Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, he believes the Roadrunners’ players are up to the task. Taller at most positions. With longer arms to shut down passing lanes. And with enough offensive firepower to win.

Some of the offense may come from some of the youngest players, he said.

“Josh (Farmer), he’s like 6 (feet) 9 and he plays hard. Goes to the boards hard. He can go get a bucket any time. He’s looking very good on the court, very comfortable.

“Then we got Lamin (Sabally) from Germany. He’s very long. Defensive stopper. He steps up at big moments. And then we got AZ (Azavier Johnson) from Las Vegas. A big body.

“We’re looking for them to come in and give us everything they got.”

Leading the way is Alley, a guy with a charismatic personality who doesn’t mind taking on the challenge of elevating the program from good, to better than good — all the way back to the Big Dance.

“I want to get UTSA on the map, (to let people know) that we’re here for basketball, and that we can compete at the highest level,” he said.

Sabally’s return to practice boosts Roadrunners

Lamin Sabally is a 6-foot-7 freshman guard who comes to the UTSA men's basketball team from Germany. - photo by Joe Alexander

Lamin Sabally is a 6-foot-7 freshman guard/forward from Germany. – photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman forward Lamin Sabally has returned to drills with the UTSA Roadrunners after sitting out four or five practices with a concussion early in the preseason camp.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said Tuesday that Sabally has been working his way back into form since re-joining the team on the floor last Saturday.

“He’s been fine (physically),” Henson said. “He didn’t lose much in that short of time. No effects of that whatsoever. He just jumped right back into it.”

UTSA has been in practices for nearly two weeks in preparation for a Nov. 9 season opener against Trinity.

Sabally, at 6-7 and 195 pounds, plays a fluid style that should complement the Roadrunners’ other rotation pieces in the frontcourt.

“We’ve never had a roster with that many long forwards, guys that could play multiple positions, (with) that much length, and pretty skilled at that position as well,” the coach said.

Henson said he has liked the looks of his team’s defense to this point but acknowledges that “we’re searching a little bit right now” in terms of identifying an offensive style.

“We’ve got different guys with the ability to create, and move the ball,” he said. “We can trust virtually everybody to make plays, which is a good sign.”

Henson said the Roadrunners are hopeful of being multi-dimensional on offense, with several scoring threats.

“Everybody can handle it well enough on the perimeter that we can play with five guys on the perimeter quite a bit,” the coach said. “If we can get four guys around (center) Jacob (Germany), that looks pretty good, as well.

“Still searching for a little more attack, seeking fouls, driving it down into the paint. We’re going to continue to look for that.

“There are times in practice when we make a lot of threes, we’re shooting off the pass, and shooting it pretty well,” he said. “It’s kind of across the board. A guy will make one. Another guy will make one.

“It’s not like one or two guys are carrying the load in that regard.”

Notable

Sabally, from Berlin, in Germany, is from a basketball family. Satou Sabally, his sister, has played two seasons in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings. She was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft out of Oregon. Nyara Sabally, another sister, is a junior at Oregon.

Lamin Sabally played internationally for the ALBA Berlin U18 team in 2018-19 in the Munich League before coming to the United States. He also played for the club team Tusli Lichterfeld in Berlin. Sabally moved from Germany in 2019 to play prep basketball in Arizona.

UTSA forward Aleu Aleu, a 6-8 junior transfer, has sat out most of the team’s camp with an unspecified injury. He was out again Tuesday after making it through about half of Monday’s workout …

Henson said walk-on point guard Christian Tucker, from Chandler, Ariz., has played well. “He’s been terrific,” Henson said. “He’s been really, really good.”