Andrea Velgis, The Paisano

Andrea Velgis, The Paisano

Andrea Velgis, The Paisano

Associate Vice President and Director of UTSA Athletics Lynn Hickey began Head Coach Steve Henson’s introductory press conference on Friday, April 8 by briefly acknowledging UTSA students’ contributions to the athletics department.

“I want to say a special thank you to our students…thank you for being here,” said Hickey. “I hope that one of the things that you remember, as we talk about building a program, is that this is your program…that we’re not doing this for Coach Henson or Lynn Hickey. We’re doing this for our students. So thank you for being here.”

Hickey then credited Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs Brad Parrott for heading up the search, talked about the current state of the program and mentioned some of the qualities that she searched for in a new coach.

“This is not an overnight deal,” Hickey cautioned. “This is going to be building a program, and we want Steve and his staff to do it the right way and to really give our student-athletes a wonderful experience and to build relationships in the city and in this state. We know as an athletic department we have the responsibility to engage our students, our alumni and our community fans. And quite honestly, I don’t think we could have found a better person to do that than Coach Steve Henson.”

Coach Thompson, eager to sit down with his new team as soon as he got into town, held a meeting on the evening of Wednesday, April 6 and a casual practice the following morning.

“I just shared my expectations with them,” said Henson about the players currently on the roster, “and I told them I was hired here to turn this program around. As I looked at each one of them, I said, ‘but you guys are going to determine how quickly we turn it around. You guys determine how drastic the turnaround is.’”

“(I) went to training camp with Don Nelson one year with Golden State,” said Henson, reminiscing on his professional experience. “You watch the way people are playing basketball right now – that’s the way Don Nelson was trying to play in 1992 – smaller big guys, fast, shoot it, run-and-gun, fly around and not worry about mismatches. Just switch everything and pass the ball. Don Nelson probably has a great big smile on his face about watching the way the entire world is playing the game right now.”

Nelson’s unique brand of basketball, commonly referred to as “Nellie Ball,” seems to have a significant influence on the style Henson wants to play at UTSA, judging by his own description:

“We’re going to play fast. We’re going to play up-tempo, push the ball, throw it ahead at every opportunity. Make plays for each other, be unselfish, and shoot threes – the guys that can make threes, they’re going to shoot threes. Those who can’t are going to pass it to the guys who can. But really, we want to get up and down the floor. Our guys will have to be in great shape, great condition in order to play that way. It’s a fun style…the way kids want to play. It’s a style the fans want to watch.”

Since joining Conference USA (C-USA), the Roadrunners have a 27-65 record – a .293 win percentage. They also finished last in C-USA in two of those three seasons.

The Roadrunners’ offense has been lackluster, but their defense has been downright deficient – something Henson plans to address with an aggressive approach to defense.

Last season, UTSA was bottom-five in the nation in field goal percentage against, 3-point field goal percentage against, points against per game and points per one hundred possessions. They ended the season with a negative-16.4 point-per-game differential and negative-20.23 net efficiency rating – essentially a measure of point differential per 100 possessions.

“Defensively, we’ll be mostly man-to-man…aggressive, switching man-to-man. Pick up the ball early, try to take things away, be disruptive. Mix in a lot of run and jumps, a lot of traps around mid-court, stir things up defensively. We don’t want (opponents) to come down and be comfortable.”

“They want to do better, there’s no question,” said Henson. “They don’t like the taste in their mouths after winning five games. They want to step it up, and they want to do something a lot more special.”

“In that first meeting, I was talking to (the players) a lot about my expectations around town, on campus and in the classroom,” said Henson. “I told them we weren’t going to talk a lot about actual basketball in our first meeting, but I hit them on their field goal percentage defense last year. They know we’ve got to step it up and make a huge jump with the effort on the defensive end.”

“Defensively, we’re going to switch a lot. It disrupts people; it’s what I’m most comfortable with,” Henson continued. “We want to take entry passes away, stir up the ball pressure, break up rhythm and tempo and make (opponents) do something different from what they practice every day.”

Similar to UTSA Football Head Coach Frank Wilson, hired just earlier this semester, Henson advocates for a recruitment style that hinges on developing personal relationships and focusing on players who are the right fit for the program rather than just sending offers to all of the best recruits.

As Hickey said, getting UTSA men’s basketball up to the task of competing with programs like Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion and University of Alabama – Birmingham (UAB) will take patience and diligence.

But the program was in desperate need of an overhaul. If struggling programs want to get people back into their facilities, they must either find a way to sell wins or sell hope, and former Head Coach Brooks Thompson was not doing either. With Henson at the helm, hope for success from the UTSA basketball program is back in stock.

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