By Antonio Castillo
The regular season is quickly approaching for UTSA basketball. The 'Runners are three weeks into practice and working towards the start of the 2016-2017 campaign. Their first competition is an exhibition game with Arkansas Tech on November 7th at the Convo. The games then begin to count for real when they travel to Fresno State on November 11th.
UTSA continues to work on their overall game. This includes: shooting, transition "D", rebounding, offensive sets and more. The new coaching staff has placed heavy emphasis on shooting and defense as they try to improve a team that registered a program-low five wins last season.
At this point, all four freshmen are playing key roles on either the first or second unit. It wouldn’t be surprising to see all of them play at some point this season. Two of them, Giovanni De Nicolao (PG) and George Willborn III (SG), could very well be in the starting rotation:
Here are some more notes from Thursday's practice. Also below you will find a one-on-one interview with Head Coach Steve Henson. The first-year coach gave us his thoughts on where he feels his team is at, personnel, scheduling, facilities and more.
-- There was a lot of energy and effort early on in the "Figure 8" drill, which goes length of the floor. The 'Runners had a goal of making 20 baskets in less than 2 minutes. The first run was with 5 passes, then the drill changed to 4 passes. There were no drops, mishandles or bobbles the entire time.
-- A couple of bigs showed nice touch from outside during their shooting drills. Lucas O'Brien (Sr.), James Ringholt (Jr.), and Nick Allen (So.).
-- In one half-court set, freshman Mitar Stanojevic opened some eyes and drew praise from teammates as he drove on Jeff Beverly from the top of the key, crossed over, went right and finished with the layup off the glass.
-- Low post A.J. Cockrell (So.) did participate in some non-contact drills, but he continues to work with the medical staff a majority of the staff on some rehab.
-- Head Coach Steven Henson really gets after it on defense. He was extremely animated towards the end of practice, specifically on the 3/4 defensive pressure drill.
-- There was some good performances from the five-on-five action at the end of practice from Nick Billinsgley (Sr.), Gino Littles (Jr.), and Giovanni De Nicolao (Fr.). Billingsley was hitting shots, Littles impacted their reps with defense while finishing in transition, and De Nicolao was able to knife to the hoop and finish in the half-court set.
Post-Practice Interview with Head Coach Steven Henson
What are some of the positives you’re seeing with the team?
“The effort and focus has been terrific. Guys are really buying into what we’re talking about defensively. We’ve challenged them to really lock in to the mindset that we’re going to be tougher and more aggressive. The effort on that end has been very, very good.”
Where would you like the team to get better?
“We’ve got to continue to work on the offensive end and improve our skill level. We’re going to have to work on creating some offense with the talent that we do have.”
Is the offense going to be up-tempo?
“We want to get to that point, for sure. It takes great conditioning. If we’re going to run offensively, we’ve got to start is with a good defensive stop. We’ve got to get some rebounds or some steals. Our offense starts with a good defense so yeah, we want to get to that point. Spread the floor out, make drive and kick plays.”
How tough are the first two games vs Fresno St and Oregon St?
“It’s a tough way to start, for sure. It’s okay, we’re going to line up and play a good schedule. But yes, we’re starting out with a very good Fresno team. They do a good job and have assembled some good talent. They’ll be a first tough test. Then just getting to Corvallis, I have memories of it being a tough trip. They’re a terrific team that is very well coached. They’ll run some unique stuff at us. It will be fun too. It’s a great opportunity for our guys to play some west coast teams. It’s exciting for us.”
When do you start to game plan?
“Ideally you put in a system where you have a base that covers everything. We’re a long ways from that at this point. One you get into season, you get two or three days to prepare for an opponent. We’re not at that point yet. It’s all about us right now.”
Forward AJ Cockrell did not practice with the team, what is his status?
“He’s a few weeks away. The day before our first official practice a guy fell into him. He’s doing all of therapy that he can do. He’s a few weeks away but he’s trying to do some shooting.
What’s the status of suspended Guard Christian Wilson?
“No new comment. He’s still suspended indefinitely.”
Any idea on who your first unit or second unit will be?
“We’ve mixed them up a lot. We’re trying to give everybody a shot. We are a pretty deep team. We have a bunch of guys that are similar. We can throw out a bunch of different lineups. We’ve thrown guys back and forth virtually every day. It hasn’t been a set rotation at all. I’m happy with the way everybody is competing.”
Have you been surprised by any of the players so far?
“Jeff (Beverley’s) work ethic was just so apparent when we got here. We knew he was committed and really, really wanted to be a good player. He’s really settled in the last few days. Byron Frohnen is a very unique player. His feel for the game is so good. His passing ability is good, he’s more athletic than people think. He’s a guy that I think is going to allow us to play a little differently. We can put him in a lot of different positions. Giovanni (De Nicolao), our point guard, can see things. He has a good feel. He missed a few days with a sprained ankle but you can see today what he brings us with his maturity and experience.”
What are your thoughts on facility improvements for basketball?
“There’s been a lot of different things thrown around since I got here in April. We’ve had several different conversations and a lot of people working and trying to max out. Right now we’ve got some great things in place for football, we want that as well. We want football to absolutely nail it. We’ve never shied away from that. What Coach Wilson and his staff are doing and the things we can do to help their program and in term help us in the end. In the short term, we’ve already done a few things to the locker room, the team room, we’ve updated it already, it looks great. We’re just trying to max out and do some things for our players. We want to let our players see that we’re committed to doing things for them and helping them out. We’ve already started that process. In the big picture, it’s still down the road a little bit. But I like the fact that people are talking about it and having those conversations and trying to be creative. That shows me there is a commitment to doing it."