JJ’s Journal 3.14.16

InsideRunnerSports’ JJ Perez offers his thoughts on several UTSA-related topics.

JJ’s Journal entry for March 14, 2016:

UTSA fired long-time men’s basketball coach Brooks Thompson on Thursday. His dismissal came on the heels of a 5-27 season, which was the worst season in his 10-year tenure at the school. It’s hard to defend the firing of Thompson as this was the school’s fourth straight losing season. But just a few years ago Thompson was given a contract extension. So why now and not then? UTSA didn’t hold a press conference to field questions on Thompson’s departure so we’ll likely never really know the answer. But certainly one can point to the transition from the Southland Conference to the WAC to Conference USA as the biggest factor. Simply put, UTSA basketball struggled to keep up through each of those transitions, which occurred in consecutive seasons. Perhaps UTSA wanted to give Thompson and his staff the chance to play catch up to the competition in CUSA. Unfortunately, they never did. Certainly factors like facilities, budgets, and other issues played a role. But in the end it came down to winning and losing. I met Thompson in his second season at UTSA when we first began our online presence. There is no discounting that the struggles of recent seasons have been significant. But things haven’t always been that way. So before we turn the page, let’s take a moment to reflect on the Brooks Thompson Basketball Era at UTSA. A former NBA player, Thompson came to San Antonio and was considered a rising star in college coaching. He inherited a program that had issues with their Academic Progress Rating. In fact, UTSA faced scholarship reductions due to a poor APR. Thompson quickly turned that around. In his third season (2008-09) UTSA recorded their first winning season under his watch, a 19-13 campaign that saw the Roadrunners make it all the way to the Southland Conference Championship game. That began a four season strech that saw UTSA win at least 18 games each season (‘09-‘10: 19 wins; ‘10-‘11: 20 wins; ‘11-‘12: 18 wins). The most successful season came during 2010-11. UTSA would beat seeds #3, #2, #1 to win the SLC Championship that year. The Roadrunners would go on to beat Alabama State in the “First Four” (first round) of the NCAA Tournament. That win was the first NCAA post-season victory of any UTSA sport. It was the apex of Thompson’s tenure as coach. Along the way, the fiery coach made a name for himself by having a no-nonsense demeanor. Anyone who’s watched a game at the Convocation Center could attest to that. Off the floor, Thompson is as nice of person as you’ll likely meet. I think what I’ll remember most about the Brooks Thompson Era in UTSA Basketball is that March 2011 afternoon in Katy when the Roadrunners won the Southland Conference Tournament. Here’s a photo from that afternoon that I took with my cellphone. So long Brooks Thompson.

UTSA will now conduct a national search for their next head basketball coach. It’s unclear on whether or not UTSA will be hiring a search firm. Regardless, the wheels quickly got into motion late last week. We’ve been able to confirm a handful of assistants from major schools as candidates for the job as well as a few others. You can keep track of the latest by visiting the UTSAInsiders Forum (LINK). On the surface the UTSA job seems attractive. A potential mid-major in a large city with a large area to recruit from. But once you really start get into what UTSA has to offer, some of that attractiveness may dull slightly. The Convocation Center isn’t the darling of basketball arenas in the conference. In fact, there are probably better high school gyms in the area. There is no practice gym, the locker room is small, and state-of-the-art player lounge/meeting areas that exist at similar-sized programs do not exist at UTSA. Fan support is mild. Additionally, budget constraints forced the previous staff to schedule very tough non-conference competition in recent years. The new head coach can’t be expected to fix all of those issues, at least not immediately. All of the assistant coaches were released as well, so whoever comes in will bring in all new assistants. That could also mean that players on the current roster may not return. Who and how many? That will be the decision of the new staff when they arrive. The regular signing period for basketball begins on April 13. The active recruiting period is ongoing. From a recruiting standpoint, the clock is ticking. Currently, UTSA only has one scholarship to fill with the graduation of one senior. But attrition could change that. No one knows for sure until a new coach is hired. So I’d expect that to occur very quickly.

T-minus one week until the start of spring football practices. We haven’t gotten to speak with new Head Coach Frank Wilson since his hiring was announced in January. So right now, they’re more questions than answers surrounding the football program. Workouts begin one week from today so we’ll be able to start finding out some answers. In years, UTSA has used spring practices to workout the kinks in preparation for the season. And while this season shouldn’t be any different in theory, it’s hard to expect the current players to mesh with the new coaches seamlessly. As I wrote last week, I’d expect there to be a learning curve between how players practice and how coaches coach. That shouldn’t be an indicator of anything, honestly. Personally, headed into this spring I’m not expecting to see a ton of fireworks. But it will be interesting to see how things are planned out and operated. Also, it’ll be important to monitor injuries. I’m told there are a few players who may not participate in spring due to injuries. Once we’re able to confirm, we’ll report on them. As always, be sure to keep it on the football section of the UTSAInsiders Forum for the latest (LINK)

Late last week, D'Iberville standout Jacquelle Green was arrested for armed robbery of a pizza delivery driver. Story: LINK. Green, a Scout.com three-star recruit, signed with UTSA as part of the 2016 recruiting class in February. Widely considered Frank Wilson’s top-rated recruit, Green’s status as a future UTSA player is now in jeopardy. In a statement, Wilson said the following: "We are aware of the situation and are in the process of gathering information." It will be interesting to monitor the happenings in Mississippi regarding this case. Clearly, armed robbery is a troubling crime but Green’s involvement in the matter is somewhat unclear. The previous coaching staff had the appearance of zero-tolerance when it came to players who got in trouble with the law. But each individual case and circumstance is different. To be fair it’s hard to generalize what has happened in the past vs what happened in this case vs what will happen in the future. But the makeup of the character of the players on the team is something many people feel is important. Stay tuned on this topic. 

LSU released QB Anthony Jennings from his scholarship last week. Frank Wilson has strong ties to LSU and UTSA is in the market for a graduate transfer at the QB position. So the fit is obvious. At this point, however, we’re unsure where Jennings will land. But he’s likely one of UTSA’s top targets. Jennings will graduate from LSU over the summer and be eligible to play right away. A consensus 4-star recruit out of Marietta High School in Marietta, Georgia, Jennings signed with LSU as part of the 2013 recruiting class. He played in 22 games in his first two seasons with the Tigers, including his sophomore year (2014) where he started in 12 games. Last season he was relegated to the back up role and saw no game time behind starter Brandon Harris. Jennings was the No. 28 QB in the nation and No. 3 QB in Georgia when he came out of high school. Another LSU player to keep an eye on as a potential transfer is CB Dwayne Thomas. Another consensus 4-star recruit, Thomas is out of O. Perry Walker HS in New Orleans. He was heavily recruited by Frank Wilson to LSU and signed as part of the 2012 recruiting class. Thomas has played 4 seasons with the Tigers. In his time he’s suffered two season-ending injuries. Last season, he started in 9 of the 10 games he played in. He’s played every position in the defensive backfield for LSU. Thomas had been rumored to be a transfer candidate since the beginning of last season, although he’s still listed on LSU’s roster. Both players would add depth and experience to positions that sorely need it. Well keep track of both players.

It’s that time of year when college basketball takes the main stage as the annual NCAA Tournament gets going this week. On Sunday, CBS engaged in an over-produced, seemingly never-ending selection show to announce the bracket for the Tournament. It was difficult to watch as Charles Barkley stumbled through selections while having trouble using a touch screen. Midway through the show, someone leaked the entire bracket on Twitter. While there’s something to be said for the live presentation of the pairings in the brackets (especially the reactions of teams that are on the bubble and/or making first-time appearances) I was glad to see the entire bracket before the show released it. I know a lot of work goes into making the pairings, but the revealing of the entire bracket could happen in 30 minutes, or less, and still have the same affect. Selection Sunday is a long-time college basketball tradition. I’m not saying it should be done away with. I’m just saying we don’t need a two-hour television show for something that can be done in a fraction of the time. Thanks for the bracket Twitter.

Mark me down as someone who loves March Madness. We got a glimpse of it last week with all of the conference tournaments. It seemed like there were a lot of close games and buzzer-beaters this past week, at least more than usual. Things get going Tuesday with the “First Four” or play-in games. The Tournament begins in earnest on Thursday. Of all of the games, I think the Thursday/Friday games the first week of the Tournament may be my favorite. There’s just something about having multiple basketball games going on simultaneously literally all day long. There’s nothing like it. Add to it the upsets and close games. For large programs, they’re looking to survive and advance. For the up and comers, they’re looking to make history. Buzzer-beaters, upsets, early-morning games, late-night games, Cinderellas, and more. March means madness. Bring it on. 

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