The 2021-22 season for the UTRGV Vaqueros men’s basketball team was not good. Head coach Matt Figger was pretty adamant in a recent podcast episode about not revisiting it too much. In fact, Figger basically said he wanted to move on from it. That should tell you how bad it was.
Injuries, rarely having a full squad dressed for a game. In fact, the Vaqueros only had their full team for about 14 days of a four and a half month season. That’s not good. There was an extreme lack of size with Jeff Otchere dealing with a foot injury. Add in big man Donte Houston Jr. missing most of the season with a groin tear.
Senior wing Marek Nelson played out of position all season. As did Mike Adewunmi. Justin Johnson, who led UTRGV in scoring, had the ball in his hands way too much. But, due to the injuries, Matt Figger had to put it in his hands.
On and on it went to the tune of eight wins and a first-round exit from the WAC Tournament.
But, it is a new season. UTRGV now has size, has a full squad, and is healthy. Are people taking the Vaqueros lightly? It remains to be seen.
Matt Figger, 2nd Season
84-74 (76-51 at Austin Peay, 8-23 at UTRGV)
8-23 overall (3-15, 11th in the WAC)
Lost 81-80 to California Baptist in first round of WAC Tournament
Marek Nelson – Graduation
Mike Adewunmi – Graduation
Jeff Otchere – Graduation
Quinton Johnson II – Transferred (East Central University)
Ricky ‘Doc’ Nelson – Graduation
BJ Simmons – Transferred (Unknown)
Xavier Johnson – Graduation
Shavaul Butters – Transferred (Northwestern Oklahoma State)
Isaiah Garcia – Left Team
Donte Houston Jr. – Transferred (Southeastern Louisiana)
Malik Lawrence-Anderson – Transferred (Newman)
RayQuan Taylor – Transferred (Not Signed)
LaQuan Butler Jr. – Transferred (Ouachita Baptist)
Derrius Ward 6-6, So., G (Harcum College)
C.J. Jackson 6-7, Jr., G/F (Georgia Highlands College)
Will Johnston 6-3, So., G (South Georgia Tech)
Adante’ Holiman 6-0, Fr., G (McAlester High School)
Dima Zdor 6-10, Gr., F (Grand Canyon)
Ahren Freeman 6-7, Jr., F (Indian Hills Community College)
Noels Slivackis 6-5, Fr., G (Latvia)
Sherman Brashear 6-5, So., G (Western Kentucky)
Daylen Williams 6-8, Jr., F (College of Southern Idaho)
Louie Yerba 6-5, Fr., G (Nikki Rowe High School)
Alex Horiuk 7-0, Fr., C (Ukraine)
Isaiah Barganier 6-7, Fr., F (Fulshear High School)
John Shanu 6-11, So., F (Florida State College at Jacksonville)
Justin Johnson 6-6, Sr., G
Lee Hatcher 6-0, R-Fr., G
There are so many new faces on the 2022-23 UTRGV men’s basketball team. But, that’s perhaps a good thing. According to head coach Matt Figger, the Vaqueros are healthy. That is something Figger didn’t have in his first season in South Texas. UTRGV also has a lot of size. Grand Canyon transfer Dima Zdor and 6-11 sophomore John Shanu II will give the Vaqueros rim protection they did not have in 2021-22.
If, and this is a sticky point for Figger, freshman center Alex Horiuk’s appeal for eligibility is cleared, watch out. It would give UTRGV three really solid big men as Horiuk is a 7-footer with international experience. Just for reference, Marek Nelson at 6-7 was playing the five spot for the Vaqueros in 2021-22. Adding size was a major emphasis for the Vaqueros in 2022-23.
UTRGV returns one of the best scorers in the WAC in Justin Johnson. After averaging 17.7 points last season and having most plays run for him, Johnson may not have as much pressure on him in 2022-23. With the new additions, Johnson won’t have to score as much. Per Matt Figger, taking care of the basketball a little better in 2022-23 is the emphasis for Johnson.
But, with a bunch of new faces, the 6-6 senior will still be the floor general and have the ball in his hands a lot. And why not? Multiple 30-point games, ability to get to the free throw line, and can finish at the rim with good size and athleticism. It makes Johnson very difficult to guard.
— UTRGV Men’s Basketball (@UTRGVmbb) March 9, 2022
Everyone knows what Justin Johnson can do. Score, attack, get to the free throw line. Johnson had over 200 attempts from the free throw line in 2021-22.
The big question for the Vaqueros is what other guards will step up? Matt Figger mentioned freshman guard Adonte’ Holiman and sophomore guard Will Johnston have been really good in practice. Both are point guards and Figger is really high on both of them.
Holiman is a 4-star recruit to of McAlester, Oklahoma. And his 2,392 points rank among the top-50 in Oklahoma high school history. In fact, prior to his junior season, ESPN named Holiman the No. 1 prospect in the state of Oklahoma in the 2022 recruiting class.
Johnston averaged 17.6 points and had a 2-1 turnover ratio at South Georgia Tech in 2021-22. The 6-3 sophomore hails from Sydney, Australia and we have seen what Australian guards have done in the WAC.
Keep an eye on both of those point guards.
Derrius Ward, C.J. Jackson and Sherman Brashear all have Division I experience. Brashear was recently at Western Kentucky. Ward and Jackson came to UTRGV via the JUCO route after stops at LaSalle and UMass, respectively.
As long as UTRGV stays healthy, they should be just fine.
The Vaqueros open the 2022-23 season at Kansas State on Nov. 7. But, the biggest schedule news is that UTRGV got Texas to come to the Rio Grande Valley. Sure, the Vaqueros won’t play the Longhorns at Bert Ogden Arena. But, the fact that Texas is coming to the Rio Grande Valley is a huge plus for the Vaqueros. Part of it is the fact that Texas has a lot of donors and alumni in the valley. So that made it easy for Chris Beard to say yes.
UTRGV will travel north to Austin on Nov. 26 to take on the Longhorns. There is also the South Texas Showdown against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi twice. And the South Padre Battle on the Beach where UTRGV hosts Houston Christian.
The Vaqueros open up WAC play with a trip to the red cliffs of Southern Utah. UTRGV will face Utah Tech in the conference opener on Dec. 29. And then the Vaqueros will take the 50-minute bus ride north to Cedar City to take on Southern Utah.