Courtesy: UTSA Athletics Communications
SAN ANTONIO — Coming off arguably the program’s best season in two decades, excitement surrounding UTSA basketball is at an all-time high. With 12 letterwinners — including four starters — back from a squad that posted the first 20-win campaign in 19 years, won the Southland Conference Tournament Championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Brooks Thompson has plenty of reasons to be excited about the prospects of the 2011-12 season.
The 2010-11 Roadrunners registered a 20-14 record and finished tied for third in the Southland Conference's West Division with a 9-7 mark. UTSA got off to a school-record 4-1 start and finished the campaign by winning six straight elimination games before falling to top-ranked Ohio State in the NCAA Second Round. Included in that stretch run was a historic 70-61 victory against Alabama State at the inaugural NCAA First Four in Dayton, Ohio, which marked the first NCAA postseason win by any sport in school history, and a string of upsets against the top three seeds in the Southland Tournament, which led to the program's first league crown since 2004.
UTSA welcomes back 74 percent of its scoring and 79 percent of its rebounding from last year's squad. A pair of former Southland Freshmen of the Year in junior guard Melvin Johnson III and sophomore forward Jeromie Hill headline the list of returnees.
Johnson emerged as a threat to score from anywhere on the floor in his sophomore campaign, averaging 14.9 points on the strength of a team-high 80 3-pointers and he also shot 85.9 percent (85-for-99) at the free-throw line en route to honorable mention all-conference accolades. The Dallas native topped the 20-point barrier eight times, including a career-high 29 in the historic win against Alabama State, 25 of which was scored in the first half.
Meanwhile, Hill provided an immediate impact in his debut season, posting 13.4 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per contest. The Cairns, Australia, native registered four double-doubles, including a pair in his first two games, and poured in 25 points in two of the three Southland Tournament matchups en route to all-tourney honors.
The other two starters both played pivotal roles in their first seasons with the Roadrunners.
Senior forward Stephen Franklin started all 34 games and averaged 6.5 points and 4.1 boards, while senior center Larry Wilkins contributed 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in his 34 contests (18 starts), including 6.6 and 7.0 during his final eight outings.
Senior guard Sei Paye played in all 34 games with 17 starts — one less than Wilkins — and pitched in with 5.1 points per game on top of being one the team's top perimeter defenders, while senior Alex Vouyoukas appeared in 27 contests, including starting the first 12 tilts of the season, and he posted 49 points, 46 boards and a team-high 16 blocks.
Other returnees include senior forward/center Mike White, junior guard Kalif Bakare, sophomore forwards Igor Nujic and Tyler Wood and sophomore guards Jordan Sims and Ryan Whitehead.
Thompson will have to fill a huge void left by the lone lost starter, Devin Gibson.
The Houston native capped a remarkable career with one of the best seasons ever recorded by a Roadrunner. He led the team in scoring (17.0 ppg), assists (5.4 apg) and steals (2.7 spg) and was second in rebounding (5.2 rpg). He was the only player in the country who averaged at least 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and 2.5 steals per game and was one of only two in the NCAA who posted two triple-doubles during the season. Gibson was named first-team all-conference and NABC all-district, was the Southland Tournament MVP and broke five UTSA career records, including the Southlands' steals mark.
A trio of newcomers will look to help fill the void left by Gibson.
Two-time NJCAA All-America point guard Michael Hale III averaged 17.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and a pair of steals per game at North Idaho College last season.
Fellow JUCO transfer Kannon Burrage, a 6-3 guard, scored a team-high 20.7 points per contest and also posted 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals en route to all-region accolades at Des Moines Area Community College last year.
A.J. Price, a 6-2 freshman guard, was a three-time all-district selection at Class 5A powerhouse The Colony.
The 2011-12 season marks the final for UTSA in the Southland Conference, as the school officially will join the Western Athletic Conference on July 1, 2012.