Is destiny calling for UTSA? Jenkins says, ‘It’s our year’

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins understands as well as anyone that hard work sets the table for any type of success that a basketball team might attain.

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA beat Florida Atlantic 77-61 in Conference USA women's basketball on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins has a good feeling about her team’s chances in the AAC tournament. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Same goes for individual success.

For instance, she didn’t just roll out of bed one day and become the 2023 Conference USA Player of the Year.

She didn’t just snap her fingers after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury on her right knee last April and say that, hey, she would be fine physically as her teammates prepared in summer conditioning to transition into the American Athletic Conference.

It took hours and hours in rehabilitation last summer before Jenkins could even get back on the court to practice her shot.

And then there was the strengthening and conditioning, all of which kept her out of games this season until late February.

No, Jenkins is wise to the way that the game works as the fourth-seeded Roadrunners prepare to play the South Florida Bulls today in the AAC quarterfinals.

Then again, she also has a thought or two about intangibles.

Destiny, for instance.

Is it destiny that the Roadrunners might be in line to win some games and perhaps an AAC title this week?

How else to explain events of last week, the second to last day of the regular season for the Roadrunners.

Jammed in a six-way tie for fourth place, UTSA needed a victory at home against the Rice Owls and a lot of help to pull down the No. 4 seed and a double-bye into the tournament.

How much help? Let’s just say that they needed a number of outcomes in games played around the conference to have a shot.

But, just as the Roadrunners built a double-digit lead on the Owls in the second half, the basketball gods started to shine on them.

First, the Charlotte 49ers lost. Then, the UAB Blazers also lost. With officials scrambling to sort out the final equation, the Memphis Tigers were trailing late in a game Denton to the North Texas Mean.

Then it happened. As UTSA players stood at midcourt after defeating Rice, 60-52, they learned that Memphis also had lost at North Texas. And that, from all indications, that they had secured the No. 4 seed.

Even as fans oblivious to the big picture cheered, the sounds of UTSA players shouting about their good fortune could be heard over all the other noise.

A few days later, I asked Jenkins sort of a convoluted question. I asked her about so many dominoes having to fall for them to get the fourth seed and the double-bye, is it possible that something special is in the cards for UTSA this year?

“Honestly, yeah,” Jenkins said. “After we beat Rice and coach told us we might end up being the fourth seed, it was kind of like, it was meant to happen.

“Even though we had a lot of ups and downs this year, I’ve always felt like this was our year. Even when I was out and even now, I feel like it’s ours to win. And, like, we can do it. Getting that fourth place makes me feel like it’s going to happen.”

She said her own road back to playing in games has been a journey. Initially, it was a shock to learn about the injury’s severity.

“I’m just grateful for our staff and everyone who has been helping me, my teammates. Yea, it’s been a lot of long days in rehab and working out,” she said. “But I wanted to be here and I wanted to play, and I love this team. Yeah, it feels good to play with them, finally.”

Anyone who has been around the Roadrunners knows how much Jenkins loves to play in games. So, when the season started and she couldn’t play, she said she had to rely heavily on those around her.

“There were a lot of days of me being around here, long days, just being surrounded by my team,” she said. “My athletic trainer (Tam Nguyen) and my coaches. They put up with me a lot, even though I may sometimes have a bad attitude.

“But they put up with me and they want what’s best for me. I’ve seen a lot of support towards me. And I recognize that people care about me. I want to make people proud. I want to do them proud. It just feels good to try to return the favor, I guess, and just do everything I can for the sport.”

Regardless, when the medical staff cleared her to play, she had a decision to make. Did she want to play only part of a season? Or, would it be best to save the eligibility and try next season?

“It was mainly about me and how I felt,” she said. “I didn’t want to take any chances or any risks. I did what my body felt like was right to do. I came back on limited minutes and everyone was very careful, just (to) make sure my safety was priority. You know, things have been working out.

“And, I’ve always wanted to play. I feel like if I’m able to play, why not?”

Jenkins smiled when she was reminded that, before the season, during her rehabilitation, that she predicted she would play.

“You know, I wanted to, and basketball is my life,” she said. “I want to win and I want to be here for this team, and I think I’m doing just that.”

Jenkins was a dominant force last year, averaging 20.6 points and shooting close to 50 percent from the field. Last year, it wasn’t unusual to see her out-running guards down the floor, catching long passes and shooting uncontested layups.

This year, it’s been a little different, as she has come off the bench averaging only 20 minutes a game. In that reduced time, she’s still been effective, averaging a team-best 14.5 points and also 7.5 rebounds.

UTSA coach Karen Aston said Jenkins is “in great shape” and praised the training staff for its work during rehabilitation.

“They did a great job in getting her in physical condition (to play),” the coach said. “It’s just game mode, getting used to how teams, you know, one team will play her one way. One will play her that way. If you’ve been away from the game that long, it’s something mentally that you have to get used to.”

Asked about the importance of Jenkins staying engaged with team activities during her comeback, from a team standpoint, Aston said it was more important for Jenkins to do that for herself.

“Injured players have a difficult time feeling engaged,” she said. “I think for her, she would tell you, she had a lot of dark times. Injuries are tough, especially if you came off the year she had last year … (but) staying engaged, for her, was important.”

Even though roles for other individuals on the team changed somewhat following her return, Aston said players have adjusted.

“Our team has an understanding that Jordyn has a real passion for the game,” Aston said. “She loves playing basketball. She loves the competition. The camaraderie. So it’s hard not to welcome back someone who loves the game as much as she does.”

With Jenkins, it’s clear that she understands how the game works. How playing the game requires certain sacrifices. How winning requires chemistry and camaraderie. In that regard, it’s also fun to learn that in spite of all the painstaking realities of preparation for a championship run, that she also believes in things like destiny.

Just as we ended our conversation the other day, I had to ask her about it again. She responded with a smiled and a compelling notion. “It’s our year. It’s our year.”

UTSA’s Atwood: ‘We’re aiming for more than just a winning season’

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, at UTSA women's basketball practice on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, has returned to practice on a full-speed basis after a few months rehabilitating an Achilles injury. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Refining her skills and building stamina gradually, UTSA senior guard Hailey Atwood on Monday morning expressed optimism not only for her successful comeback from a sore Achilles, but also for the team’s chances to register a winning season.

Hailey Atwood, a senior guard from Austin, at UTSA women's basketball practice on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Both Atwood (above) and Kyra White were limited by minor injuries early in the fall semester, but both are expected to be ready to play when the Roadrunners open the season Nov. 7 at Stephen F. Austin. . – Photo by Joe Alexander

She said it’s hard to estimate where she is physically after going through her first full-contact practice of the preseason.

“I’ve been battling that Achilles injury and getting that better over the last two months,” she said. “Today was actually my first practice, full go, full court. So I think the main thing for me is getting back into shape.”

The season opener for the UTSA women is Nov. 7 at Stephen F. Austin. The Roadrunners haven’t had a winning season since a 16-15 record in 2014-15. Atwood said she wants the team to think bigger than that.

“I feel like that’s the bare minimum expectation,” she said. “We were ranked No. 9 (in the Conference USA preseason poll.) I think it’s disrespectful. No one sees the hard work that we’ve been putting in, and, yeah, every team in this conference is putting in that work.

“But I think we have high expectations … We’re aiming for more than just a winning season.”

On an individual level, Atwood is working hard to make up for practice time lost to rehabilitation on her Achilles.

“Obviously, it’s October and it’s kind of a hard place to start, to just be thrown into the fire,” she said. “For me I would say I’m at, like, 88 percent. Those 12 percent are like polishing up on the things I missed and getting back in shape.”

UTSA finished 7-23 last season, in Karen Aston’s first year as coach at the school. A core of six players from last year return, including four of them who averaged more than 20 minutes per game — center Elyssa Coleman, plus guards Queen Ulabo, Deborah Nwakamma and Atwood. Two others are Kyleigh McGuire and Kennedy Harrell.

“In the spring, we spent a lot of time doing a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two stuff,” Aston said in an interview last week. “I thought all the players that returned for us improved a lot. I feel bad for Hailey that she’s been out, because she might have been the most improved of all the returners.

“If you look at all of them, their shooting is significantly better. Their ball skills are better, and that’s because of the work that the coaches have put in with them.”

Atwood and newcomer Kyra White were among players limited with minor injuries at the start of the fall semester, and now both are taking part in all team activities. On Monday, one group of players showed off a good-looking flow in 5-on-5, full-court action.

The five consisted of Coleman and Jordyn Jenkins on the front line, with White and Nwakamma on the wings and freshman Sidney Love at the point guard. Jenkins and White are newcomers, transfers from Southern Cal.

A second group consisted of Jenkins and Maya Linton in the frontcourt, with Ulabo and Atwood on the wings and Siena Guttadauro at point guard. Linton and Guttadauro are freshmen.

Last season, Atwood came in from junior college and played in 27 games, starting 12 for the Roadrunners. Pushing through physical problems, she averaged 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 21.9 minutes.

Atwood called last season a “rough experience” for her both “basketball-wise and life-wise.” She wasn’t sound physically, coming in off a knee injury. A former junior college standout at Blinn, she was also trying to figure out the pace of Division I competition.

On top of the usual issues faced by players taking a step up to the next level, Atwood suffered a personal loss when her great grandmother passed away. If that weren’t enough, she also contracted Covid.

“After that, I just never got back in the flow of things,” Atwood said. With the experience behind her, the 5-foot-8 Austin native said she does feel better this season, just in knowing what Aston and the other coaches expect of her.

Mainly, she knows she needs to play her role and to take care of her own job individually. Also, perhaps most importantly, she realizes the importance of giving maximum effort.

“You’re not going to be perfect,” Atwood said. “You’re not going to make every single shot. You’re going to turn the ball over. You’re going to miss a box-out here and there. But, coach doesn’t care about that. It’s about the effort you give.”

Averaging 18.5 points and seven rebounds in 2020-21 at Blinn College, the former Austin Bowie High School standout is a player who could make a significant impact on the Roadrunners’ rebuilding effort this year.

In shooting drills, she shows off a stylish form — unleashing the ball on a high-arc, with perfect backspin. She said it’s something she has developed at UTSA, by getting “down into” her shot and then following through after her release.

“Obviously, I’m going to continue to shoot,” Atwood said. “My mid-range is definitely better than my 3-pointer. A lot of that came from when I was injured. The reps I would get (were) in the mid-range. Being able to extend my range out, it’s going to help me.”

As for the team, Atwood senses that players are meshing well, in spite of all the newcomers and returners just getting to know each other personally and as players.

“I definitely think we’re in a better place than we were last year,” she said. “I think we’re in a much better place. I’m very confident. We’re ready, but we’ll be even more prepared in (two weeks) when we tip off.”

White feels ‘blessed’ to play in front of family and friends again

When the UTSA women’s basketball team tips it off Monday in the first official practice session of the preseason, guard Kyra White will not be at full strength physically.

But, mentally? White will be as focused as anyone, trying to make the best of a fresh start in her career.

The former all-state player at Judson transferred from Southern Cal to UTSA in the offseason to continue her college studies, to play for coach Karen Aston and to play again in the San Antonio area.

“It feels amazing,” she said Thursday. “I’m truly blessed that coach Karen gave me the opportunity to come home and play in front of family and friends and, honestly, people who have seen me grow up and cheered for me, who always wished for my success.

“I’m honestly just ready to play with my team and get this thing started.”

White, nursing a quad strain, might not be able to go full speed right away. She’s working her way back slowly.

“I’m getting there,” she said. “I’m really ready. I believe I’ll be able to do a few things here and there. In no time, I’ll be out there on the court with my team, ready to play 100 percent.”

That should be good news for fans of the Roadrunners, who may remember her individual and team success at Judson.

With the Rockets, she played on teams that reached the state tournament in Class 6A three years in a row. In 2019, her senior year, Judson won state, claiming the crown with a three-point victory over DeSoto at the Alamodome.

White was one of the best players in the city. She was a three-time all-state, first-team honoree. She produced 1,600 points, 580 rebounds and 300 assists in her career.

A memorable moment came a little more than three years ago when the Rockets claimed the gold medal in the Class 6A state tournament.

“I had just turned 18 that year,” she said. “I’d gone to the state tournament the previous two years. So, in my senior year, we were like, all right, we got to do this. No ifs, ands or buts on our last time. So we just made it happen.”

UTSA women’s basketball has been down for several years, but it’s a trend that looks like it’s about to change.

The Roadrunners have eight new players on the roster, including White and all-Pac 12 forward Jordyn Jenkins, who both came from USC.

With both in the transfer portal last spring, UTSA coaches reached out to them. Both were aware of the possibility that they could continue as teammates. But, initially, White didn’t think it would happen.

“Jordy is a phenomenal player,” White said. “She’s one of the top three players I’ve ever played with. So when the conversation came about, I was a bit surprised.

“I didn’t really believe she wanted to come down here and make a difference with me, but all in all, we did plan this decision to come home, to play together and get some wins under our belt, and just put on for the city of San Antonio.”

White said she doesn’t know who talked to Aston first.

“There were never conversations from coach Karen, like, ‘Hey, you two come together,’ ” White said. “She was treating us both as individuals and just trying to win us both over, to play for her, not just as a package deal.”

When decisions were made, UTSA made announcements on the two separately, one day apart last April. White said she felt a surge of emotion when she found out that Jenkins would join her in playing for the Roadrunners.

“A lot of emotions ran through my body,” she said. “We had our journey out in California together, and just to be able to come down here, and put something else together and start a new chapter of our life together, it felt really good. We’re just ready to do it.”

For White, she said she did “a lot of self reflecting” in entering the portal. She figured that since she had earned a degree in psychology, she was ready to seek out new horizons.

“Sometimes you feel (it) when it’s your time to maybe just move on,” she said. “Ultimately, I went to USC, did what I needed to do and I just decided it was my time to get a different opportunity, be in a different environment and play for a different coach.”

Acknowledging that she had some other opportunities to play in the state of Texas, she picked UTSA.

“In talking to my family and doing some self-reflecting, I kind of knew I wanted to move closer to home,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was just in the direction of home or literally back home as I am now. But, just having those tough conversations and speaking it over with coach Karen, the rest of the staff and meeting the team, you kind of just feel where you’re supposed to be.

“When I came on my visit, I just knew I belonged.”

White’s role with the Roadrunners is expected to be multi-faceted. She played 77 games and started 22 at USC, so her experience will be invaluable.

Coaches with the Trojans didn’t ask White to shoot the ball or score. She averaged only 1.3 points. But coaches with the Roadrunners are hoping they can untap some of her offensive potential from the guard and small forward positions.

“We’re trying to get her to get confidence in her shot, really be confident shooting the basketball and attacking the rim,” Aston said. “She’s just got so much IQ and feel for the game. The key for her is getting in a good mental space so she can score the ball. You can post her up. You can do a lot of things with her … ”

When White confirmed that she has two years of eligibility remaining with the Roadrunners, a smile creased her face.

“Yes sir,” she said. “Two years. It’s great. We’re trying to start something this last year in Conference USA. We’re trying to leave the best impression we can. I believe we have the right tools and the right girls who are willing to be coachable and taught and ready to lean on each other when things get tough.

“We just want to win.”

Kyra White at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Kyra White led the Judson Rockets to three straight state tournaments and the 2019 Class 6A title – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA beats UTEP in overtime in C-USA women’s tournament

Trailing by 13 points late in the first quarter, the UTSA Roadrunners kept plugging away and eventually edged the UTEP Miners 58-57 in overtime Tuesday in a Conference USA women’s basketball tournament opener.

With the victory, UTSA advanced to the next round to play Old Dominion on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

UTSA entered the tournament as the seventh seed in the C-USA West. Old Dominion is seeded third in the East.

Redshirt freshman Elyssa Coleman led the Roadrunners with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Graduate student Jadyn Pimentel had 14 points, six rebounds and six steals. Junior Charlene Mass hit the second of two free throws with three seconds left for the victory.

Junior Destiny Thurman scored 23 for the Miners, who were seeded sixth in the East.


UTSA 7-22, 3-14
UTEP 14-15, 6-12

Two UTSA women’s basketball games are postponed

UTSA has announced that its Conference USA women’s basketball games scheduled for Thursday at Southern Miss and Saturday at Louisiana Tech have been postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Roadrunners’ program.

The teams will work with the conference to reschedule the games for later in the season, if it fits in the teams’ schedules, according to a news release.

The Roadrunners will return to action on Jan. 13 against Old Dominion at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

UTSA (4-9, 1-1) split its first two conference games last week, falling to Middle Tennessee, 85-56, and then rebounding to defeat the UAB Blazers, 68-60, in overtime.

SFA women claim 77-50 victory over UTSA in season opener

Karen Aston. The UTSA women's basketball team lost its 2021-22 season opener to Stephen F. Austin 77-50 on Tuesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

First-year UTSA women’s basketball coach Karen Aston says her team needs to learn how to play consistently from play to play. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners pushed the pace and tried to run with the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks. The Roadrunners played with a determined effort in Karen Aston’s first game as coach.

But while they showed up with the will to win, they couldn’t get that done. Not against an SFA team that showed off a talented group of players capable of challenging for a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Ladyjacks bolted to an early lead, forced 33 turnovers and cruised to a 77-50 victory Tuesday night in the season-opener for both teams at the UTSA Convocation Center.

“I thought we started the game off well and then a couple of things didn’t go our way,” Aston said. “So we started to get a little antsy and got passive. And they kind of smelled the blood a little bit in the first half.”

Aston said the Roadrunners need to learn how to play every possession.

“I thought we showed signs of some good things and then we’d turn back around and foul,” she said. “Or … not get back on defense. I think there’s a play-to-play aspect that this team just doesn’t understand right now that we’ll get to.”

LaPraisjah Johnson. The UTSA women's basketball team lost its 2021-22 season opener to Stephen F. Austin 77-50 on Tuesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Lapraisjah Johnson led the Roadrunners in scoring with 13 points. She also had four rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Scoring leaders

UTSA: Lapraisjah Johnson 13.
SFA: Stephanie Visscher 15, Tasharian Robinson 11, Angel Scott 10.

Third quarter

SFA leads 57-36

Despite eight points and three rebounds in the quarter from Lapraisjah Johnson and a determined effort from Queen Ulabo and others, the Roadrunners couldn’t slow down the Ladyjacks. UTSA, trailing by 16 at the half, cut the lead to 13 early in the period but failed to get any closer. Tasharian Robinson nailed a three to ignite a 15-7 run for SFA.

Second quarter

SFA leads 38-22 at halftime.

Playing better at the outset of the quarter, the Roadrunners pulled to within 10 when Jadyn Pimentel knocked down a 3 from the top of the circle. From there, the offense went a little bit haywire. UTSA went 0 for 6 from the field in a lull that stretched to the halftime buzzer. The Roadrunners were called for a shot-clock violation on their final possession, their 20th turnover of the game to that point. Stephanie Visscher had four points and an assist for the Ladyjacks in the period.

First quarter

SFA leads 22-9.

Tasharian Robinson hit two 3-pointers in a furious 13-3 run to close out the first quarter for the Ladyjacks. SFA sank five of six from the field during the streak. UTSA played good defense early, holding SFA to 3 of 11 shooting at one point. But the Roadrunners committed 13 turnovers and couldn’t get much going offensively.


UTSA entered the opener under new leadership in coach Karen Aston, a former coach at Texas.
The Roadrunners are riding a streak of six straight seasons with losing records, including 2-18 last year.

UTSA also came in on a streak of 12 seasons without a trip to the NCAA tournament. In UTSA’s last NCAA appearance, in 2009, the team was 24-9 under coach Rae Rippetoe-Blair.

SFA played its opener coming off a 24-3 season last year and a trip to the NCAAs.

In the tournament, the Ladyjacks played in San Antonio at Greehey Arena and lost a heartbreaker, falling 54-52 in overtime to fifth-seeded Georgia Tech. Most of the players from last year’s team are back to try and make another run.

A longtime member of the Southland Conference, SFA has a new home in the Western Athletic Conference.