There’s a lot to think about on a two-hour drive home from College Station in the dead of night. Making the return trip, I thought a little about the surprisingly good cup of coffee I had bought from Chevron, thought a lot about my falling GPA -- not the Mendoza Line but definitely won’t be confused with Ted Williams’ 1941 batting average -- and I thought too much about how dark, creepy and deserted Highway 21 was and how I hoped I wouldn’t meet the fate Justin Long did in Jeepers Creepers.
But I spent the most time thinking about what I had seen from Taylor Jungmann in Texas’ 4-2 win over the Aggies. His stat line speaks for itself -- nine innings pitched, 12 strikeouts, two earned runs and 121 pitches thrown – but it’s becoming obvious that box scores can no longer tell the whole story when you’re talking about Jungmann.
I think that Jungmann is the best athlete to wear a Longhorn uniform since Vince Young. I think this because of not only the impressive numbers that he puts up, but also because of what he means to his team and the way in which he plays the game. But I mostly think this because of Jungmann’s ability to match and even exceed any expectations we ultimately set for him.
Think about Vince for a second, specifically the 2006 National Championship. Going into it, we knew that Texas’ only chance to win would be to match and eventually outscore USC’s historic offense. And we knew that responsibility would fall to Vince Young. We also knew that Vince would probably be great, because he was all year, but if he wasn’t then there was absolutely no shot. Not only did Vince meet the “greatness” requirement, he surpassed it. There are really no words to describe the 267/200 stat line he posted, and there is no way to overstate the importance of his performance. If Vince doesn’t do exactly what he did, the Longhorns lose. Like, if he throws for 267 yards but rushes for 190, there is most likely no burnt orange celebration. It was a one-man show, a fantastic performance. But it was just enough to ensure a win. We expected “great.” Somehow, Vince gave us better than that.
Taylor Jungmann’s career reminds me of that. The two sports are completely different, and the spotlight isn’t on Jungmann like it was always on Vince. But consider what Jungmann has done in his three years.
He has 33 wins, with six losses. He is 12-0 this year and undefeated at home. Currently, he has the nation’s second-longest win streak. Twice, he has been sent out in postseason do-or-die situations and come through. In his freshman year, 2009, Texas had to win the second game of the CWS Finals against LSU to stay alive. The Longhorns throw the 19-year-old Jungmann out there in the biggest pressure-cooker of his life, and does this: 9 ip, five hits, one run (unearned), nine strikeouts.
Last year, Texas had dropped game one against TCU in the Super Regional. Once again, the Longhorns were in a must-win situation. Jungmann gets the draw, and does this: 8.1 ip, six hits, one earned run, and nine strikeouts.
In those two crucial games, Jungmann allowed one earned run total. He struck out eighteen total, allowed eleven hits, and needed just .2 innings of relief help. This all on a national stage and with a gargantuan weight on his back.
We knew going into Thursday’s game against A&M and its ace John Stilson that Texas was not going to score many runs. With that knowledge, it was pretty much an accepted fact that Jungmann had to be great or else the Aggies would probably win and then take control of a very important Big 12 Conference race. The Longhorns ended up scoring four, though one was unearned and all came in a rather weird fashion, but they didn’t plate a run until seventh inning. It was clear that Stilson didn’t have his best stuff – far from it – but he still got out of any jam he got himself into. In the third inning, the Longhorns left the bases loaded. In the fourth, they left two on. That’s two consecutive innings with the final out being recorded with two runners in scoring position in each situation. And they just kept coming up with nothing to show for it, choking away potential scoring opportunities in the biggest game of the season. As a relatively unbiased spectator, I was frustrated. I’m sure Jungmann, from the dugout, was incredibly frustrated -- though he’d never tell you that. He was doing his best to keep the Aggies quiet, but he would eventually need some offensive support.
The Ags pushed a run across in the third and then another in the fifth. But Jungmann remained calm, trusted that somehow, someway, run support would come, and focused on his job. He blocked out a very loud Olsen Field crowd. He fought through a sticky humidity. He pitched from behind. And, most demoralizing to any Aggie, he got better as the game went on.
A rhythm was developed during the sixth inning, and the junior pitcher never looked back. In the last four innings, Texas A&M didn’t get a legal hit (fielder’s choice). In that span, Jungmann struck out seven batters. For comparison, Stilson struck out three all game.
In the postgame interviews, Jungmann prefers a low word count. If you pitch him a yes or no question, he’ll simply respond “yes” or “no.” He doesn’t concede emotion or any signs of vulnerability. This persona will soon serve him well in the big leagues: the less you know a guy, the less you see him smile or laugh or grimace or frown, the more intimidating he is on the mound. Jungmann knows this.
No, you’ll never get a great sound byte out of him. But an interview with Jungmann is always interesting because there is more to learn from his preferred silence than there is from another player’s exuberance.
I’ve learned two things about him. First, he’s not intimidated by anybody. A few weeks ago against Oklahoma, Jungmann was in a bases-loaded jam. At the plate was Garrett Buechele, who happens to be hitting .339 with 55 RBI and 7 home runs this year. Jungmann got Buechele to fly out. When asked about the clash between the ace pitcher and the accomplished slugger, Jungmann said he didn’t even think about who was standing sixty feet away from him at home. Didn't even notice it. It’s this mentality that makes him the great pitcher he is, because he has the confidence to throw his best stuff regardless of the situation or the batter.
The second thing I’ve learned about Jungmann is that he shrinks the situation. College World Series? Okay. Elimination game? Alright. Biggest game of the year? I guess. He doesn’t make the mistake of getting over-amped for anything. The constant downplaying of every pivotal at-bat and game is Jungmann’s unique way of battling the mass of expectations a greedy fan base puts on him.
Most players aren’t like this. The other day I asked Texas’ best hitter Erich Weiss what it was like to be relied on so heavily. He admitted that there was a lot of pressure with his responsibility. There's nothing at all wrong with that, but I am fairly certain Jungmann would ever admit any sort of pressure or acknowledge any standard set for him. I’m not sure the P word is even in his vocabulary -- and that’s how he manages to deliver no matter the situation or the expectation.
As you may know, the Longhorns have an incredibly inconsistent offense. Yes, it’s an offense that usually finds a way to cobble together just enough runs, but it’s an offense that leaves a lot of runners in scoring position and takes about half a game to heat up. Because of this, Texas has relied on its pitching staff more than ever this year. That starts with Jungmann, the Friday starter. He sets the tone for each and every weekend series. The Longhorns’ best (and sometimes only) chance at a successful weekend rests on his right arm. And each time he takes the mound, he wins.
As his career has grown, Jungmann has been branded as a sure thing. What’s most amazing is that, no matter the circumstance, he keeps meeting -- and exceeding -- that expectation.
Texas has received a number three seed in the NCAA tournament, and will host a regional from May 20-22 at Red and Charline McCombs Field. The field is made up of 64 teams, and splits them into 16 regional pods that play in a double elimination bracket style tournament to advance to the next round.
The other teams in the Austin regional are Texas State (33-23), Houston (40-16), and Louisiana Lafayette (49-9). This is a favorable draw for Texas as they have already beaten Houston and Texas State on the year, and they will be playing in front of their home crowd, a place where they have only lost 3 times on the year.
However Texas should not overlook these teams, as this is the exact round the Longhorns lost in last year, in the same situation as well hosting their own regional in Austin. Though after falling short of the Big 12 title look for the Longhorns to come out hungry and motivated to move into the next round.
Texas wins 9 All Big 12 awards
Texas received nine All-Big 12 selections’ yesterday the most in the Big 12, including seven All-Big 12 team honors, and Big 12 Player of the Year, and Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
Senior Amy Hooks was the recipient of the Big 12 player of the Year award, the first ever Longhorn to win in that category. Hooks was a definition of a team leader on the year hitting .338 with 12 home runs and 35 RBI’s, on top of playing near perfect defense behind the plate.
Taylor Thom was the selection for the freshman of the year award, and is the sixth winner of the award in Texas history, following Blaire Luna from the previous year. Thom hit .356 on the season with 11 home run and 41 RBI’s.
Hooks, Luna, Thom, and sophomore Taylor Hoagland were selected to the All-Big 12 first team. While freshman Brejae Washington, junior Lexy Bennett and junior Nadia Taylor were chosen for second team accolades.
Jordan Hamilton is gone. Tristan Thompson is gone. Cory Joseph is gone.
What, you expected otherwise?
The one-and-done been the norm for Texas the past few years. And that’s not going to change, so long as Rick Barnes is still inking five-star after five-star and the Longhorns bow out early year after year.
Granted, it’s never really a bad thing to be signing prep All-Americans. And it’s a testament to how far the Texas program has come in the past decade and a half that it can get the best players in the nation to come play in Austin. But when multiple top-five recruiting classes don’t translate to final finishes in the top four, or top eight, or top 16…or top 32 (you get the picture), then what’s the point? The supreme talent Barnes brings to Austin every August just ends up leaving in April and May, with nothing to show for it but the skid marks of a once-promising season coming to a screeching halt.
It wasn’t always like this, because Texas didn’t start recruiting and signing “superstars” until a little over ten years ago. T.J. Ford took Texas to the Final Four in 2003, then left with two seasons of eligibility remaining. A few years later, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker all declared for the draft after an Elite Eight appearance. Aldridge has flourished in the league, Gibson has settled into a nice role as a spot-up shooter in Cleveland (though his ceiling seemed to be much higher when he first came to Texas) and Tucker was a complete disappointment professionaly, now coming to an Italian arena game near you. Kevin Durant left after his freshman year (no arguing that), D.J. Augustin left after his sophomore year — a good, not great, point guard now with the Bobcats — and last year, Avery Bradley left after a relatively unremarkable individual year.
Bradley, if you remember, came to Texas billed as the No. 1 high school player in the nation. Ahead of DeMarcus Cousins. Ahead of Derrick Favors. Ahead of, yes, John Wall. So all Bradley did was put up around 12 points a game, wildly underachieving any expectations the Longhorns’ fan base might have set for him. Bradley spurned the opportunity to get better and realize his potential in college, jumped to the draft, missed out on the lottery, was picked up by the Boston Celtics at No. 19, played a large chunk of the season in the Developmental League and, as I sit in front of my TV watching Boston play Miami in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, is nowhere to be found on the court. In fact, Bradley hasn’t played in a game since April 17.
A classmate of Bradley’s in 2009, Jordan Hamilton returned for his sophomore year and greatly improved his game. That Hamilton is now moving on the NBA — where he should be selected in the lottery and should also be a top scorer on any team in the league — should not upset any orange blood.
Neither should the departure of Tristan Thompson. Thompson was a five-star recruit and still managed to exceed expectations this past season for Texas. Sure, his game could benefit from another year or so in college, but he has been guaranteed first-round money. To argue that Thompson is dumb for not returning for another year here at Texas would just be selfish, because Thompson is ready.
But Cory Joseph, sadly, is not. In fact, Joseph declaring for the draft a few days ago is incredibly similar to Bradley’s mishap. Like Bradley, Joseph was a five-star recruit. Like Bradley, Joseph looks to be a bit of a point guard/two-guard tweener. Like Bradley, Joseph can play good defense and has a plus jump shot. But also like Bradley, Joseph didn’t meet freshman expectations (11 points a game), and could greatly benefit from another year in school, working on his skills and his body. ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted last week that he thought Joseph “could be on the D-League All-Rookie team this year.”
As I sit here on my couch, I understand that I would seem not a good judge to offer my insight on any decision dealing with millions of dollars. No, there are no New York Timeses or Boston Globes calling to offer me lucrative contracts. I know what it’s like to be a college student, yes, but I do not know how hard it may be to say “no” to six or seven figures. I also know I often wake up and wish I didn’t have to go to class (about every day.) So there is no blaming, on my part, of any student-athlete who elects to follow their dream, earn some money, ditch the textbooks, and enter the NBA draft. It’s their call, and if they flame out in the league, it will be completely their fault (looking at you, P.J. Tucker.)
With that said, I just don't understand why Barnes keep taking these ready-to-go kids. It’s not like they’re helping bring his program to the Promised Land — four out of five years without even a Sweet 16 appearance. And it accounts to some seriously scary roster turnover, unless you believe that a frontline of Clint Chapman and Alexi Wangmene will in fact be a formidable one.
If Barnes wants to really earn that $200,000 pay raise he just received, he’d be smart to re-evaluate his recruiting practices. He shouldn’t completely stop going after the super recruit, the nearly-inevitable one-and-done, because most national champions usually have one or two great players on their team, and you never know when some of the best players in the country will elect to return to school (Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, Baylor’s Perrry Jones — all highly regarded by NBA minds, all returning for their sophomore season this fall.) Nationally recognized players also bring their schools national attention. Whatever Kevin Durant did for Texas in his time here and whatever his legacy will do for Texas in the hereafter has extraordinary significance.
But Barnes should start placing more value on the high-character role players, guys he knows will stick around for at least a couple of seasons, improve every year, buy into the program, and develop as leaders. Gary Johnson was that player last year. Texas needs more guys like that if it ever hopes to develop as a yearly national championship contender.
So as soon as the one-and-dones stop using Austin as an eight-month long layover on their way to the NBA, the Longhorns will be able to field a consistent, synergized roster. That should equal more success.
Until then? Don’t expect much, other than disappointing finales, fleeting memories, and awkward goodbyes.
Cory Joseph is staying in the NBA Draft, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Joseph, a freshman guard who averaged 10.4 points per game this year for the Longhorns, is not currently projected to be a first-round draft pick.
In fact, earlier this week ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted this:
“Hurts me to say this but Texas’ Corey (sic) Joseph could be on D-League All-Rookie team next year.”
But with a weak draft pool — several marquee players have elected to stay in school — and a strong showing this weekend at a NBA feature camp hosted by the New Jersey Nets, Joseph could move up some draft boards if he continues to impress.
Joseph becomes the most recent Longhorn to officially declare for the NBA draft, following Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton.