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Ed. Note: This guest article was written by long-time podcast listener Mongo Watson. If you have an opinion you’d like to share with the community please submit your pitch at this link.
I watched Derrick Gervin play in the Convo. Not many UTSA grads can say that. So yes, I’m old. I’ve been watching UTSA men’s basketball for a long time – 40 years. And over that time, I’ve come to a disturbing realization. The UTSA men’s basketball program is cursed.
Now, I don’t mean a 100-year Chicago Cubs, goat at Wrigley Field curse, or a Boston Red Sox, trading Babe Ruth away, curse. Nothing that dramatic or long-lived. It’s sort of a mid-level curse, one that has infected fans of UTSA men’s basketball with a resigned fatalism that often manifests itself in constant under the breath muttering punctuated from time-to-time by loud bursts of uncontrollable swearing.
But I think the curse can be reversed.
So, what is the curse? What does it look like? How does it work? Let me describe it. Although, I’m sure many of you know it by heart.
A new basketball coach arrives on campus with the task of resuscitating the barely breathing program. He brings in a new culture, his own players, and a new sense of dedication to disciplined play and effort. And the results are almost immediate.
The team shows improvement, and within a year or two they win the conference tournament and go dancing. And the fan base perks up. Hey, maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time we will turn the corner as a program and be competitive, not just for one or two years, but over the long haul – maybe UTSA might eventually be considered, dare we say…a basketball school.
But it is at this exact moment of fan elation, this time of unbridled and completely irrational optimism, that the curse rears its ugly head. Because the next year – the year the program brings back some of its most promising and talented players – the year upon which we put so many of our hopes – the team underperforms. Just an anomaly we think. Next year the program will get back on track. But next year the results are worse. Then recruiting dries up. Discipline lacks. Effort fades. And once again the program lies comatose on the Convo floor, and the fan base goes back to muttering and swearing. And right now, we’re in one of those horrid, inevitable, soul-searing cycles.
So, where does the curse come from, and more importantly, how do we placate the basketball gods enough so that they will grant us a little peace and prosperity?
Well, the popular opinion among fans is that the head coach is solely responsible for the curse, and that only by sacrificing said head coach will the curse be lifted. It’s possible that this opinion is correct, but I don’t believe it. Or, maybe more accurately, I don’t believe all of it.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t know what goes on internally within UTSA athletics. Believe it or not, Dr. Campos does not have me on speed dial. But I don’t buy the idea that the coach is the problem. Why? Because UTSA has been playing men’s basketball for 40 years, and no coach in its history has had sustained success. None. So, if coaches are really the problem, then it seems reasonable that UTSA would have, even accidently, hired at least one good coach in 40 years; thus, breaking the curse.
But the curse is still with us, and I think the school has hired some good coaches. I think Henson is a good coach. What he did in his first year is still one of the best coaching jobs I’ve ever seen. He took a roster that had very little D1 talent and just come off an absolutely awful year and turned them into a gritty rebounding and defensive-minded team. Scoring was a mystery, but somehow he led them to 14 wins, I believe, which was about 10 more wins than they should have gotten.
No, I think the curse has more to do with the resources the school allocates to recruiting and developing players. Yes, of course, recruiting and developing is mostly the responsibility of the coaching staff. But keep in mind, San Antonio is not known as a hotbed of boy’s high school basketball talent, and UTSA’s men’s program does not have great reputation.
So, to break the curse, the program needs the kind of jump-start that a significant influx of additional resources will give.
And while we’re on it, let me just say for the record that the Convo is not part of this conversation. No, I don’t buy the crap that Convo is a great place to watch a basketball game. It isn’t. It’s a terrible place to watch a game. But I also don’t buy the crap that the Convo is the reason for the curse. It isn’t. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m sure the Convo doesn’t help in
recruiting, but it isn’t the reason we can’t win.
I think the template for removing the curse once and for all may just come from the women’s program. Karen Aston is turning the program around. The wins aren’t there yet but I believe the program will be a player in AAC in a few years, and I think most fans agree with that.
Almost immediately she significantly increased the talent level in the program and the team is much more competitive on the court. But make no mistake, those recruits and transfers didn’t come to UTSA because of the stellar reputation of the women’s basketball program. They came because of Karen Aston. She is a name. Recruits want to compete and develop their talent, and playing for Coach Aston, will help them do that.
Coach Henson doesn’t have the same kind of personal brand to sell, and he certainly doesn’t get much, if any, help from the school’s brand. To be clear, I don’t think Coach Henson is to blame for the curse, but I also don’t believe he is the right coach to get us out of it.
Many of the obstacles to building the men’s program are systemic in nature and were beyond his ability to address, because he didn’t have access to increased resources and because he couldn’t transcend the program’s lack of resources and bad reputation.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe he can press the reset button now. He and his staff just haven’t shown an ability to create a sense of excitement and expectation around the program, and culture matters, just ask Jeff Traylor.
Sometimes a change is needed, even if the coaching staff isn’t responsible for the program’s failures.
UTSA needs to hire a name, someone who can bring positive attention and momentum to the men’s basketball program. And the school needs to spill a little money and allow the coach to hire the recruiting and coaching staffs needed to bring in better talent and help that talent reach its potential.
I don’t believe Dr. Campos will bring back Henson next year, but if she doesn’t hire a coach with a recognizable name along with some bankable recruiting and developing chops, the curse will remain. Sure, success for a year or two, but not to last.
I don’t think fans of UTSA basketball expect national championships, but I believe they absolutely
deserve a program that competes for conference championships consistently. 40 years of
suffering is enough. Kill the curse.
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