Don't Mess with Texas >>>


The Red Wig
Nov 2, 2008
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I threw up in my mouth a little reading it, but damn, is the Big 12 going to be stacked this year!

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He’s heard about Kentucky’s vaunted recruiting class and seen Kansas ranked No. 1 in several preseason polls. Most times, though – when folks start talking about the 2009-10 basketball season – forward Dexter Pittman notices they rarely mention Texas.

“People are always sleeping on the Longhorns,” said Pittman, laughing. “It doesn’t bother us. We’re used to it. In some ways, it’s a good thing.”

But not a smart thing.

Especially not this season.

The eyes of the college basketball world that aren’t focused upon Texas certainly should be. Other than the Jayhawks and Wildcats, no team in college basketball will boast the depth of the Longhorns.

And only a few will be able to match them in talent.

That’s assuming, of course, that incoming freshmen Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton live up to their lofty billing. But as the No. 4 and No. 6-ranked recruits in’s Class of 2009, there’s no reason to think the twosome won’t meet expectations.

Still, excited as they are about the opportunities that await, the Longhorns know it’d be a mistake to get overly optimistic.

“A lot of things look good on paper,” point guard Jai Lucas said. “But once it comes time to get on that court and mold together as a team … that’s when the hard work comes into play.

“Once all the recruits get into town and we start working together, that’s when I’ll have a better feel for how good we can truly be.”

A transfer from Florida, Lucas will be charged with shoring up one of the weakest aspects of a squad that lost to Duke in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament. As hard as they tried to man the point guard position effectively, players such as Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay were usually met with mediocre results.

The addition of Lucas and Bradley, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, should change Texas’ backcourt immensely. Add Hamilton, a 6-7 wing, to the mix, and Texas suddenly has the length on the perimeter that has been lacking in Austin for years.

Even if they lose their starting position, guards such as Balbay and Mason and Varez Ward will provide a level of experience off the bench that is rare for a reserve.

Kansas coach Bill Self said the Longhorns are “a Top Five team, without question.”

“On the perimeter, if they had a weakness last year, it was how well they shot,” Self said. “They’ll be dramatically improved in that area. They’ve got six legitimate perimeter players that can get the ball in the basket.”

The Longhorns are just as loaded in the frontcourt, where Pittman returns along with forward Gary Johnson. The duo combined to average 20.1 points and 10.7 rebounds last season, and those numbers should increase significantly if teammate Damion James remains in the NBA draft as expected.

Barnes said the well-chiseled Johnson and the 298-pound Pittman have made tremendous strides during the offseason along with reserves such as Matt Hill, Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene. Again, not just guys who add depth, but experienced depth.

“Dexter is more skilled than people probably know,” Barnes said. “He can shoot the ball and he passes well. He’ll be double teamed a lot next year, so he’ll have to learn to pass out of double-teams.

“Gary has worked harder than anyone since the end of the season, and it’s probably not even close. He’s improved his shooting from the perimeter. I still want to see him rebound better.”

Pittman dabbled with the idea of leaving for the NBA draft before deciding to return for his senior season. He said he had a sour taste in his mouth after a somewhat-disappointing 23-12 finish – including a 9-7 (fourth) mark in the Big 12 – last season.

“Some games we took nights off,” he said. “We had to learn the hard way, and we did. I’m not going to let that happen again my last year here. I’m going to play hard every night when the lights come on.

“I’m trying to change my body up and get more toned. I want to push myself to play through fatigue. I don’t want to come out of the game when it’s time for winning. It’s going to be big for me this year to be in the game during the last two minutes.”

Pittman and his teammates are getting ample opportunities to enhance their skills and stay in shape this summer. Former Longhorns and current NBA standouts such as Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson and Royal Ivey are back in Austin for workouts at the Frank Erwin Center.

“They’re very protective of this program,” Barnes said. “They want to see it succeed.”

Lucas said he admires the former players for going to such lengths to ensure the continued success of the program.

“We look up to guys like that, because they’re where we want to be,” he said. “When you see them working right next to you and doing the same things you’re doing, it gives you that extra motivation. It’s truly a family here.”

Not just in the gym but outside of it, too.

“Everywhere we go, [fans] are wishing us good luck,” Lucas said. “They’re all behind us.

“Texas not having a national championship in basketball is the main thing that keeps us grounded and focused. It’s the one thing that’s missing from our basketball program, the one thing we need to take it to that elite level.”

That's the way I feel about OU as well.

I think not having James is going to hurt them more they think. He would get so many key rebounds and blocks, and could really defend when he set his mind to it. Still, they have a chance to go really far this year.
It's going to be interesting to see how their guard play turns out. I think Avery Bradley will obviously be a fixture in the starting lineup, but other than that they have Ward, Mason, Balbay and Lucas. None of those guys, while decent, excite me. I guess they might have J'Covan Brown, but there's apparently some concern about him not showing up for summer school or something like that.

They'll probably go with Johnson and Pittman inside. This is the kid (Jordan Hamilton) who I bet starts at SF for them (see video below). But, yeah, a frontline of Hamilton, James and Pittman would've been even nastier.