In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.
Of all the coaches I’ve talked to during my required allotment of the Trippin’ series, Texas-San Antonio’s Brooks Thompson was the most pragmatic. His team went 3-2, but he wasn’t too high or low. He examined, took note of what he saw, but ultimately viewed his team’s trip to Australia as an important life experience far beyond any implications having to do with basketball.
This is a team that made the NCAA tournament last year and won during the first-round festivities in Dayton, overcoming Alabama State before falling to Ohio State. Thompson is confident about his team, but sometimes a trip’s just a trip.
The team chose to go to Australia because Thompson has two Aussies—stud sophomore Jeremy Hill and fellow second-year player Igor Nujic—and fully plans on creating a pipeline there, much like what Randy Bennett’s done at Saint Mary’s, to name one of a few schools already implementing the strategy.
Thompson, a sixth-year coach, said his best memory from the mid-August excursion was taking a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef, where they saw, snorkeled and swam for a few hours.
“Usually young guys don’t understand how fortunate they are to be in a place like that, but our guys soaked it in and really enjoyed being out there,” Thompson said. “As a head coach, that was the best thing to see. … The water changes color four times when you’re out there. When we talked docked it was amazing to see. It was just like … wow.”
What Thompson learned: “That we’re not tough enough, and I say that in a joking way. I watched them learned and bond and grow together. It was a little too casual from a coach’s perspective, because we were out there and weren’t playing real hard. It wasn’t like coaching in the conference tournament or anything.”
What impressed him: “One of our newcomers, Kannon Burrage, just because he hadn’t been in a part of our program until now. He did a great job over there and we got a chance to evaluate him. On the other side of that, Stephen Franklin, who is a senior and came into his leadership role.”
What concerned him: “We didn’t guard the way that I wanted to. And that’s what I’m talking about with the casualness. But nothing bothered me, to be honest with you. ... I think we can really score the ball and have a lot of options offensively. Defensively, we have some weaknesses that we have to correct."
-- Thompson likes his team’s experience. This is a group with five seniors that only struggled in two areas last year: offensive rebounding and blocking shots. It’s a bigger team this season. “I think we have great experience, but we’re obviously going to miss Devin Gibson (point guard).” Gibson had a higher offensive rating (107.8) than anyone on the team. Michael Hale III, a junior, is the new point guard.
-- Liked this quote from Thompson: “All coaches can say what they want, from a paper standpoint I think we’re going to be stronger, and our league will be good.”
-- If he had to put a starting five on the floor tonight, Hale III, Melvin Johnson III, Sei Paye, Franklin and Jeremie Hill would get the start. Hill is a 6-8 sophomore.
-- Had returning starter Larry Wilkins not injured himself recently, he’d get the go. Thompson didn’t go on the record with Wilson’s injury, nor say when he expects him to be back.
Photo via UTSA athletics