UTSA coach reflects on portal craziness and efforts to rebuild a basketball roster

Steve Henson. Louisiana Tech beat UTSA 66-55 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson applauded his assistant coaches for their work in a hectic summer of recruiting after losing 10 players in the transfer portal. — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

One thing I’ve always admired about Steve Henson is, when he fields a tough question, he keeps his composure and answers it honestly, without getting defensive.

It’s an admirable trait that I suppose comes from all the time he spent studying at the Lon Kruger school of college basketball.

In addition, it’s clear that Henson respects those in the media and the job that they do.

As for yours truly, I didn’t ask the embattled coach of the UTSA Roadrunners all the tough questions on Wednesday afternoon.

But in the interest of good, honest storytelling, and on the eve of Henson’s eighth season on campus, I couldn’t help asking at least one or two.

I asked about the way last season ended and then about the two or three weeks of transfer portal craziness that followed.

For a refresher, Henson’s Roadrunners were playing the Rice Owls in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament at Frisco.

The Roadrunners appeared to have advanced to the quarterfinals, as point guard Japhet Medor drove for what initially was scored as a buzzer-beating, game-winning basket.

In the moments that followed, elation turned to agony, as officials ruled that Medor didn’t get the shot off in time.

“Just a heart breaker,” Henson said of the 72-71 loss.

While the pain of having a season end on an official’s review was shocking enough, the aftermath was even worse.

Back home in San Antonio, nobody liked the idea of a second consecutive 10-22 record going into the UTSA basketball history books.

But, really, who would have imagined that the Roadrunners would ultimately have 10 scholarship players enter the transfer portal over the next few weeks?

“It was a hectic spring and summer,” Henson said in an interview at his office. “Some of those guys that entered the portal, it was mutual. It was expected in several cases. They wanted bigger roles, better opportunities.

“(We had) a couple of surprises. One or two, we were disappointed and (it) surprised us. But we weren’t shocked.

“One or two just jumped in (to the portal) to see what was happening. There were a couple that went in that didn’t want to go in. A couple that went in and wanted to come back.”

A common thread in roster instability around the nation today is related to Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) payments that are now available to all college athletes.

Combined with a one-time transfer rule that allows athletes to move from school to school without having to sit out a year, it’s not surprising that so many are taking advantage of it.

Surely, it’s one of the factors that contributed to UTSA players looking elsewhere. Who could blame them, really?

If you work hard at your job and you can get better compensation elsewhere, wouldn’t you at least take a look? Of course you would.

Henson, for his part, didn’t want to comment about any of the particulars on any of his former players.

But he did discuss with some emotion the efforts to rebuild his team and the job that his staff did to make it happen.

“It was a hectic recruiting (cycle), gosh, in April and May,” he said. “We had a lot of shorter visits this spring than we had in the past. We’d bring someone in on a Monday and get ’em out on Tuesday. Bring someone else in on Wednesday and get ’em out on Thursday.

“Our coaches really, really stepped up.

“(Mike) Peck and (Adam) Hood were involved in most of that recruiting early on before coach (Kurtis) Darden joined us. I thought they did a heck of a job. You know, we’ll see. We’ll find out with this roster, what it can do when it counts.”

It may count quite a bit, with this being the last year of Henson’s contract.

In analyzing his new roster, the coach emphasized that he will be able to play with three centers in 7-foot Carlton Linguard, Jr., 6-10 Trey Edmonds and 6-9 Massal Diouf in an effort to match up with opponents in the school’s first season in the American Athletic Conference.

“We’re excited with this group,” he said of the roster as a whole. “We’ve got a lot of versatility with this bunch.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had three centers like we have right now, in terms of size and defensive mindset, really, anywhere I’ve been.

“It’s something that’s so noticeable in our workouts right now, to have that type of physicality and presence and size at the center position.”

UTSA roster

Nazar Mahmoud, 6-5 guard, freshman
Jordan Ivy-Curry, 6-3 guard, junior
Carlton Linguard Jr., 7-0 center, redshirt senior
Trey Edmonds, 6-10 center/forward, junior
Dre Fuller Jr., 6-6 guard, graduate student
Adante’ Holiman, 6-0 point guard, sophomore
Chandler Cuthrell, 6-8 forward, junior
Isaiah Wyatt, 6-4 guard/forward, redshirt junior
Massal Diouf, 6-9 forward, sophomore
PJ Carter, 6-5 guard, junior
Christian Tucker, 6-3 guard, junior
Blessing Adesipe, 6-6 forward, junior
Justin Thomas, 6-7 guard, junior
x-Josh Reid, 6-7 forward, junior
x-Juan Reyna, 6-3 point guard, junior

Roster notes

Henson said that Ivy-Curry, who played last year at the University of the Pacific, and Thomas, a multi-skilled guard from Milwaukee, are considered two-time transfers and must get waivers from the NCAA for eligibility to play this season. Ivy-Curry, from La Marque, played in 2020-21 and 2021-22 at UTSA and then transferred to Pacific.

Edmonds (Utah Tech), Fuller (Central Florida), Holiman (UT Rio Grande Valley), Cuthrell (Odessa College), Wyatt (Chadron State, Neb.), Carter (Georgia Highlands) and Adesipe (Miles College, Montana) are eligible immediately, as is Mahmoud, a freshman from Spring Creek Academy in Plano. Fuller is making a comeback after sitting out all of last season.

Reid and Reyna are walk-ons.

Linguard sat out at UTSA last year after transferring in from Kansas State of the Big 12. He played in high school at San Antonio Stevens. Diouf and Tucker are the only two players on the roster to play for the Roadrunners last season.

Where are they?

Guards Japhet Medor, John Buggs III and DJ Richards, along with center Jacob Germany and forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, all played major roles for the Roadrunners last year and then elected to transfer.

This coming season, Buggs and Germany are with UTSA opponents in the American Athletic Conference. Buggs is at North Texas and Germany, a 6-11 forward, will play at Wichita State. Medor is on the roster at Fordham University in New York. Fordham is in the Atlantic 10. Addo-Ankrah is with the University of Denver in the Summit League.

Richards was announced at McNeese State earlier this summer but was not on that squad’s roster as of Wednesday afternoon.

Others from last year’s UTSA squad whose names are on college basketball rosters elsewhere are two who will play in San Antonio, including forwards Lamin Sabally at the University of the Incarnate Word and Lachlan Bofinger at St. Mary’s.

Forward Aleu Aleu is set to play at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Forward Josh Farmer and guard Azavier Johnson also elected to transfer.

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