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The UTSA athletics department and men’s basketball program have granted the NCAA communications staff access to student-athletes and coaches to chronicle their experiences of competing in the inaugural First Four. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
By Greg Johnson
DAYTON, Ohio – Do you want to take the plane or the bus?
When UTSA and Alabama State tip off tonight at 6:40 Eastern in the third game of the First Four, the winner will jump on a bus headed for Cleveland to face No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Friday.
The loser of tonight’s game will head to the airport for a chartered flight home marking the end to the season. Both the plane and bus will be gassed up and ready for immediate departure after the teams finish their postgame interviews.
Like the rest of America, UTSA tuned into the Selection Show on CBS to find out who, when and where they would be playing in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
When the matchup was revealed, it was up the Roadrunners’ coaching staff to start the preparation for today’s game. UTSA assistant coach Jeff Renegar drew the job as lead scout for tonight’s game.
The Southland Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champions don’t know much about each other, so finding game footage was a must.
No problem, according to Renegar.
“With the technology today, you can see teams off the Internet or live,” said Renegar, who is in his third year on head coach’s Brooks Thompson’s UTSA staff. “After we won our conference tournament, we had about a three-hour bus ride back to San Antonio. Our bus had Directv, and we watched Alabama State play in their conference tournament championship game.”
UTSA assistant coach Jeff Renegar.
Of course, UTSA had no idea they would be facing the SWAC champions, but it turned out to be a first glimpse of their first-round opponent.
Other services online help teams obtain game footage of opponents, as well. After the bracket was revealed, Renegar had UTSA’s video coordinator download a few of Alabama State’s games.
“I broke down the tape on Sunday night,” Renegar said. “Then I came into the office to break it down more on Monday morning.”
The coaching staff showed the footage to their players on Monday afternoon, held a workout and caught a chartered flight to Dayton, where it landed around 8 p.m.
In the meantime, Renegar reached out to assistant coaching colleagues around the country to get a better feel for Alabama State’s personnel.
“That’s the most difficult part, because we haven’t seen them,” Renegar said. “But at this point in the year you’ve seen just about every kind of offense and defense. Everything they run we’ve seen at one time or another this year. Personnel-wise, the guys won’t know what their guys do exactly, but we’ll go over the scouting report. Hopefully, our guys will be ready to play.”
UTSA associate head coach Dan O’Dowd.
The timing off all this seems hectic, but again, the UTSA coaching staff doesn’t think it is a big factor.
In the regular season, the Southland Conference conducts its games in a Wednesday-Saturday format. The Roadrunners won the conference tournament title over McNeese State on Saturday, and the next game is tonight.
“We do this all year long,” said UTSA associate head coach Dan O’Dowd. “One coach has the Wednesday scout and the other has the Saturday scout.”
Since this is tournament play, one of the coaches has to look ahead in case the Roadrunners advance to play Ohio State.
“The team’s focus is on Alabama State, but late at night when everyone is sleeping, that’s when you have to get the other scouting done,” said O’Dowd, who has been on the USTA staff since Thompson was hired to lead the program five years ago.
If the Roadrunners lose, the players will never know what the plan was for Ohio State, but that is part of a coaching staff’s reality.
UTSA head coach Brooks Thompson.
But if they win, “It will be a late night, but you look forward to it,” O’Dowd said. “You do it, and you think of anything you can do that might help your team have success. You are willing to put in that time. You find ways to help your guys.”
The Roadrunners held their open practice in Dayton Arena around noon Tuesday. The UTSA band and the cheerleaders were there to cheer the team as it ran through shooting drills for just under an hour.
At 4 p.m., UTSA held its’ “real” practice at a local high school gymnasium where the game plan was installed. They had a walk-through practice Wednesday morning and were scheduled to have a pregame meal about four hours before tipoff.
Since the Roadrunners are a young team – they have seven freshmen and two sophomores on their roster – Thompson stressed the importance of not resting on their laurels of capturing the Southland Conference’s automatic bid into the tournament.
The team’s practice gear had the word “Uncommon” written on the shorts.
UTSA senior Devin Gibson.
“It is part of a quote from Herb Brooks in the movie ‘Miracle,’ ” said Thompson, whose team is 19-13. “I tell our guys you have to be uncommon to do great things.”
This is UTSA’s fourth trip to the NCAA tournament, where the Roadrunners are 0-3. This is a chance to take the program to a higher standard.
“I know we are a part of something big,” said point guard Devin Gibson, the lone senior on the team. “This is the first time the First Four will be played. At the end of the day, it is about winning. I want to accomplish something that no one at the school has ever accomplished.”
Gibson admits he’s not a big fan of flying. So, taking a bus to Cleveland is extra motivation for him.