For UTSA Basketball fans, Thursday will be the first opportunity to see the men’s team in action.
Opening play against Southeastern Oklahoma State in an exhibition, UTSA will show for the first time how they will respond to the mass exodus of talent from last year’s roster.
With the end of the 2014-2015 season came the departure of three of UTSA’s top players: shooting guard Keon Lewis, forward Jeromie Hill and center Kaj Björn-Sherman. The dynamic trio, who all graduated last year, accounted for 61 percent of the team’s points, 49 percent of the team’s rebounds and 50 percent of the team’s blocks.
Losing that much production could cripple any team in the nation; for a Roadrunner team that finished the 2015 season with a record of 14-16, the losing so much talent at once could make for a catastrophic 2016 season.
“Those three played a pivotal part in our success last year,” said UTSA Head Coach Brooks Thompson last week at UTSA Basketball Media Day.
Lewis, Hill and Björn-Sherman were three of the top four scorers on last year’s team. The fourth is returning senior sharpshooter Ryan Bowie.
Bowie’s role last year was primarily that of a shooter — a role in which he excelled. Averaging 13 points per game, Bowie led the team in three-point shooting attempts and percentage.
With the departure of Lewis, Bowie will be asked to maintain his shooting acumen while also adding the type of playmaking ability that made Lewis so valuable.
“Obviously, I like people who can shoot the basketball,” Thompson — a sharpshooter in his own playing days — said of Bowie. “He’s just getting better every day. We’re proud of what Ryan has done so far and we expect big things out of him this year.”
One of only two seniors on the roster, Bowie will be tasked with leading a crop of talented underclassmen guards.
Sophomore Gino Littles will look to re-secure his role as the starting point guard after a season that saw the walk-on rank second in assists per game. Sophomore Christian Wilson will bring his raw talent into his second year as a Roadrunner.
This year’s collection of guards has the potential to be the deepest the Roadrunners have had in a while. In addition to the talented group of returnees, junior transfers Nick Billingsley and J.R. Harris present UTSA with two new athletic options on the perimeter.
“We’re going to rely heavily on the guys that are coming back,” Thompson began. “But for us to be as successful as we want to be, some of those newcomers are going to have to step up as well.”
The Roadrunners will be tested quickly as they are scheduled to take on perennially talented programs Clemson, Creighton and Texas before December 8.
“We’re getting thrown into the fire playing Creighton, playing Clemson,” Littles said during Media Day. “But I think we’ll be ready.”
Although the Roadrunner backcourt looks saturated with viable options, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the status of UTSA’s forwards and centers.
The absence of Sherman and Lewis in frontcourt rotation leaves a gaping hole in UTSA’s inside presence.
Two returning pieces, sophomore forward James Ringholt and junior center Lucas O’Brien, will be asked to pick up the majority of the slack for the Roadrunners. The two were the only frontcourt reserves to play in more than 16 games last year.
“Coach (Thompson) has really given me a responsibility as a leader,” said O’Brien. “I think that I have pressure on me to perform on and off the court.”
“I 100 percent agree with Lucas,” Littles said, echoing O’Brien’s sentiment. “Coach (Thompson) has put a lot of responsibility on Lucas because he is a leader on this team.”
The Roadrunners begin regular season play on Nov. 13 at Loyola-Chicago.