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.