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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. Read Part 2 here.
By Greg Johnson
DAYTON, Ohio – If anyone ever doubts whether a family atmosphere surrounds the UTSA men’s basketball program, 9-year-old Conner will set them straight.
UTSA associate head coach Dan O’Dowd.
Conner, the stepson of associate head coach Dan O’Dowd, offered proof a few weeks ago when he received an assignment to answer the question, “What is your favorite thing to do?”
O’Dowd thought for sure Conner would say swimming or jumping on a trampoline. But what he read came as a pleasant surprise.
“He wrote a paper about going on the road with the UTSA basketball team,” O’Dowd said. “He mentioned riding the bus, watching movies on the bus with the guys and playing card games with the players. He just wrote about hanging out with them. It was really neat.”
O’Dowd’s wife, Ginger, is scheduled to arrive today to watch the Roadrunners try to win the first NCAA tournament game in the program’s history when they take on Alabama State at 6:40 tonight in the inaugural First Four.
UTSA head coach Brooks Thompson.
The winner advances to the second round, where No. 1 overall seed Ohio State awaits in Cleveland. UTSA is in this position because of a five-game win streak that includes victories over the top three seeds in last weekend’s Southland Conference tournament.
Head coach Brooks Thompson and his wife Michelle are on the trip, along with their three daughters (Ryan Michelle, Addison and Brooke). Assistant coach Robert Guster is joined by his wife Melissa, daughter Alivia and son Shiloh.
“We’re all very close friends on the staff,” said Thompson, who is in his fifth season at UTSA. “The wives and kids are close friends. It is special for us to be able to enjoy times like these. We’ve had to work from the ground floor to build this program. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. Our families have, too.”
His players couldn’t help but feel that type of atmosphere when they came on their recruiting visits. They also believed one day they could win their league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
UTSA freshman Jeromie Hill.
“It’s a school that has struggled for so long, and you could see that with Brooks Thompson, this program was ready to do something special,” said freshman forward Jeromie Hill. “I came here at the perfect time.”
O’Dowd wishes everyone could see how the UTSA players interact with the coaching staff’s kids. He believes the players are the type of role models his children should be around.
“These are good young college guys,” O’Dowd said. “My kids get to see how the players are and how they handle and treat people. We’ve got good guys with good character. It is fun for them to be around smart players who treat them great.”
Thompson said it is all by design. College athletics can be a tough and competitive avocation, but he wants to go to work in a certain environment.
This year’s UTSA team has several newcomers, including seven freshmen.
“We try to recruit to character,” Thompson said. “These guys have come together and gotten close as the year has gone along. We only had three guys returning, so there are a lot of new guys. I want it to be a family atmosphere.
“I want everyone to have common goals, but I want them to be good people. I’m a firm believer in having good people surrounding you. If you do that, success will follow.”
No wonder Conner wrote about hanging out with these guys.