RIO GRANDE VALLEY – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matt Figger announced on Thursday the promotion of Nikita Johnson to associate head coach, the promotion of Tyler Guidry to assistant coach, the addition of Brandon Espinosa as assistant coach, the addition of Curtis Kelly as a special assistant to the head coach, and the addition of Ben Schoen as athletics assistant.
Johnson has served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for UTRGV since April 2021. As UTRGV’s recruiting coordinator, Johnson has played a significant role in most signings, including Justin Johnson, who earned All-WAC First Team honors in 2022-23 and All-WAC Second Team and WAC All-Newcomer honors in 2021-22, and Daylen Williams, who was named UTRGV Male Newcomer of the Year in 2023.
Off the court, five of Nikita Johnson’s recruits have earned Academic All-WAC honors. These student-athletes have also contributed greatly to the community, as UTRGV men’s basketball led all NCAA Division I men’s teams across all sports in community service.
“Nikita has earned it. He’s very well trusted and has 42 years of coaching experience including a Final Four run,” Figger said. “He’s responsible for a lot of the recruiting that’s done here, and I thought it was time to give him a promotion.”
During the 2022-23 season, Johnson helped the Vaqueros nearly double their win total, jumping to 15 wins with a handful of tight losses that kept the team just a few possessions away from 20 wins. The Vaqueros had to replace 13 players from the 2021-22 season and Johnson was a main component in building this squad of mostly newcomers.
“Coach Figger and I have worked with each other for the last five years. He trusts and believes in me to find the ideal student-athlete who will succeed on the court, off the court, and in the community,” Johnson said. “I am honored and humbled by the promotion, and I am excited to continue giving 100% for UTRGV.”
Prior to UTRGV, Johnson worked as an assistant coach with Figger at Austin Peay. During that time, Johnson helped Austin Peay to a 35-25 record over two years, including a 21-win season in 2019-20.
Before his time at Austin Peay, Johnson worked as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky for two seasons, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Johnson helped the Hilltoppers to a combined 47-25 record. This includes an NIT Semifinals run in the 2017-18 season.
This upcoming season will be Johnson’s 30th in the NCAA Division I ranks. In these 30 years, Johnson has had stops at Western Kentucky (2017-19), Stetson (2013-17), Louisiana (2010-12), Louisiana Tech (2007-10), LSU (2004-07), New Orleans (1998-2004), Tennessee State (1998), Duquesne (1995-98), and Murray State (1993-95).
Guidry is entering his second season at UTRGV after spending 2022-23 as special assistant to the head coach. Guidry was part of a staff that helped UTRGV play a fast and physical style of basketball that allowed them to rank second in points scored in program history (2,518) while also ranking third in field goal defense (.442) and free throw attempts (802), fourth in 3-point defense (.332), and free throws made (560), and sixth in 3-pointers made (222).
“He was one of the guys who was always doing more than was asked of him. He took the initiative. I’m all about initiative, I’m not about guys that just do what they are told,” Figger said. “I felt that throughout the year he was always one of the first guys at work and one of the last guys to leave. He just wanted to help the team win. He earned the job.”
Prior to his time at UTRGV, Guidry was an assistant coach at Wiley College in 2017-18 and a graduate assistant at St. Thomas from 2015-17.
Guidry assisted with recruiting, film breakdowns, scouting reports, and compliance during his time at Wiley.
In 2016-17, Guidry helped St. Thomas to the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) Tournament for the first time since 2014. Guidry coached the 2016-17 RRAC Freshman of the Year, a pair of 2016-17 second team all-conference selections and a 2015-16 first team all-conference honoree.
“I want to thank Coach Figger for the opportunity. I am excited to continue to grow in my new role and continue to help build and lead this program into the future,” Guidry said. “I am excited to see us continue to win and make the NCAA Tournament.”
Espinosa comes to UTRGV from Paul Quinn College (PQC) after leading the Tigers as head coach for four seasons. In 2022-23, the Tigers went 15-8, including a United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Division I Small College National Championship Quarterfinals appearance. The Tigers had one player receive All-RRAC First Team and one player receive All-RRAC Second Team honors.
“Coach Espinosa brings a lot of experience to this staff. He won a national championship at Paul Quinn College,” Figgersaid. “He is also very involved with grassroots basketball in the DFW Metroplex. Now adding him to the staff, we haveHouston and Dallas covered in recruiting.”
In the 2021-22 season, Espinosa lead a monumental 19-game turnaround, as the Tigers went 26-2 en route to theUSCAA Men’s Division I National Championship. The Tigers also won the RRAC championship. Espinosa earned USCAA National Coach of the Year recognition while leading two players to USCAA First Team All-American and one player to USCAA Second Team All-American honors.
“My family and I are humbled and excited to join UTRGV and Coach Figger’s staff,” Espinosa said. “I’m thankful to coach for trusting me with this opportunity to join his team and I look forward to serving our players, the university, and the community.”
During his first season in 2019-20, Espinosa led the Tigers to their most conference wins since 2012-13. PQC had one player earn All-RRAC First Team and one player earn All-RRAC Second Team honors.
While he was coaching at PQC, Espinosa worked as the Director of the Elite Youth Basketball League and the head coach for Drive Nation 17U, during which time he worked with two McDonald’s All-Americans.
Before his time at PQC, Espinosa was the associate head coach at Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) for two seasons. In the 2017-18 season, BPCC finished with a record of 17-14 and qualified for the Region 14 Championship Tournament. The 17 wins was the most for BPCC in ten years.
In 2016-17, BPCC qualified for the Region 14 Championship Tournament. Before his time at BPCC, Espinosa was an assistant coach at Ranger College. In 2015-16, he helped orchestrate a colossal turnaround as the Rangers went from 2-23 to 35-3. The Rangers reached the NJCAA national tournament and made a Final Four appearance for the first time in program history.
Before his time at Ranger, Espinosa was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks‘ NBA G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
Espinosa played collegiate basketball for Dallas Christian College. In 2010, the Crusaders won the ACCA National Championship. Espinosa earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in 2011.
Kelly comes to UTRGV from Kansas State after serving as a graduate student manager from 2021-23. This past season, the Wildcats went 26-10 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Kelly worked as a video coordinator and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats this past season. In addition, Kelly assisted with player holistic development and mentorship, student-athlete evaluations, travel arrangements, and select administrative duties. Kelly earned his Master’s in Academic Advising from Kansas State this past spring.
“I’m proud of Curt. He played for me at K-State from 2008-11 and helped lead us to an Elite Eight. Curt went on to play professionally and was a graduate assistant at K-State. He understands what it takes to win,” Figger said. “He has played in lots of countries overseas and was a highly recruited player out of high school. I am happy to have him on our staff.”
Previously, Kelly played eight seasons of professional basketball in six countries – Israel, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, France, and The Philippines – before retiring in August 2021. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in 245 games. Kelly earned 2012 Balkan League Defensive Player of the Year honors and was an All-Balkan League Second Team selection after averaging 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for Israeli National League Champion Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“I’m happy to be here and be with the team. Coach Figger coached me and was great in helping me with my future endeavors, helping me graduate, and helping me with my playing career,” Kelly said. “He’s just been like an uncle to me, so I am happy to be part of the family and impact winning as much as I can.”
Kelly played collegiately for three seasons at Kansas State from 2008-11. He ended his time at Kansas State averaging 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He ranks fifth in both career field goal percentage (55.1%) and blocked shots (107) in Kansas State history. In 2009-10, Kelly helped the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight. In his final season at Kansas State, Kelly helped guide the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament round of 32 while averaging 10.5 points on 53.2% shooting with 5.5 rebounds per game. Kelly earned a bachelor’s in social science from Kansas State in 2011.
Schoen comes to UTRGV from University of St. Thomas where he served as an assistant coach from 2019-23. Schoen was primarily tasked to develop offensive game plans and player rotations, run workouts, and scout opponents. Schoen also oversaw team academic performance, compiled film, and led team and individual film sessions.
“Ben is a wiz. He is highly intelligent and is a hustler that works hard and grinds. He has built his own analytical website,” Figger said. “He is eager to learn and very humble. He will be a positive force on this team.”
This past season, the Celts went 23-4 with a 16-0 conference record. The Celts averaged 72.5 and 12.5 assists per game.St. Thomas also went undefeated at home. The Celts had four players named to the All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference teams. The Celts also had four players awarded Student-Athlete Academic Honor Roll. In Schoen’s four seasons, the Celts had a combined 80-15 record with four regular season conference championships.
“I am here to help every player and every coach in any way possible. I am happy to fill any role that is necessary to help this team win,” Schoen said. “More than anything, I am happy to be part of the UTRGV family.”
Schoen is the Founder and CEO of Reel Analytics, a web application that tracks, analyzes, and compiles complete game statistics and film to monitor and improve player, team, and coaching performance. Reel Analytics is currently used by two NCAA basketball programs.
Schoen graduated from the University of Southern California in 2017 with a bachelor’s in computer science.