UTSA basketball to show off ‘depth across the board’

Steve Henson will lead his team into an exhibition game tonight at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson – File photo by Joe Alexander

Tonight, the popcorn will pop and the soft drinks will flow, and the UTSA Roadrunners will offer their fans the usual fare of concession food and drink in the foyer of the Convocation Center.

But unlike so many other exhibition openers in the nearly 40-year history of men’s basketball at the school, they’ll have more to offer than free admission, plus chips and sticky nachos.

This year, the Roadrunners also will unveil a team that might actually have the talent to be considered as an NCAA tournament contender.

As UTSA prepares for a 7 p.m. tipoff against Texas A&M International, fourth-year coach Steve Henson says it’s the best team he’s had on the Loop 1604 campus.

“It’s the most talented team since I’ve been here,” he said. “Biggest front line since I’ve been here, (with the) most three-point shooters.”

When Henson arrived at UTSA a little more than three years ago, the talent was not good.

The Roadrunners were coming off four straight losing records, including an abysmal 5-27 in 2015-16.

Since then, UTSA has completely revamped the program, posting a combined 37 wins in the past two years.

The back-to-back winning records of 20-15 two years ago, and 17-15 last year, are a first since 2010-11 and ’11-12, the program’s last two teams in the Southland Conference.

Last year, the Roadrunners challenged for the Conference USA regular-season title until the last few weeks behind the dynamic tandem of guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.

Ultimately, they finished tied for second at 11-7 and earned a bye to the C-USA tournament quarterfinals in Frisco, where their road came to an end with a loss to the UAB Blazers.

In the season finale, the Roadrunners fell hard, giving up 50 points to the Blazers in the second half.

Leading by seven at intermission with senior power forward Nick Allen playing on a broken toe, they lost 85-76.

“People don’t give (senior) Giovanni (De Nicolao) and Nick enough credit for what they did defensively,” Henson said. “Those were the guys who, when things got tough, they would rally the troops … They were the talk the talk guys, and then walk the talk, and all that.

“I mean, they backed it up, and they were all about team, team, team.”

Henson will lean on Jackson and Wallace to assume the leadership responsibilities this year, in the program’s 39th season.

“We’ve got a pretty introverted team, a quiet team,” the coach said. “But those guys have provided the type of leadership that we need right now. (I’m) very pleased with that.”

UTSA at a glance

Program debut: UTSA started playing men’s basketball in 1981-82. NCAA tournament appearances: 1988, 1999, 2004, 2011. Last season: 17-15, 11-7 in Conference USA; lost in C-USA tournament quarterfinals.

Coach Steve Henson

Taking over a team that won only five games in 2015-16, Henson has coached UTSA to records of 14-19, 20-15 and 17-15. He’s finished 11-7 in conference each of the past two seasons.

Returning starters

G Jhivvan Jackson (22.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), G Keaton Wallace (20.2, 5.0), F Byron Frohnen (6.4, 6.8)

Newcomers to watch

C Jacob Germany, F Luka Barisic, G Knox Hellums, F Phoenix Ford, G Erik Czumbel, G Makani Whiteside

Notable

After the loss of three-year starter Giovanni De Nicolao, point guard duties are expected to be shared by Wallace, Jackson, Czumbel and Whiteside.

Quotable

“I think what really jumps out is just the competitiveness in practice,” Henson said. “It’s just a deeper (team), certainly bigger and stronger. Way more depth than we’ve ever had along the front line. It’s just very noticeable. You walk in and you see bigger and stronger guys … It creates a little more physicality in the paint. We’ve got good depth across the board. So when we go head to head, the games are pretty competitive.”

Jhivvan Jackson. Old Dominion beat UTSA 65-64 on Thursday night in a Conference USA game at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson

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