Former Texas shooting guard Avery Bradley is on the move again after a short stint with the Detroit Pistons, while big man Jarrett Allen has continued to improve with the Brooklyn Nets as his rookie season progresses.
Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Clippers
The Detroit Pistons traded Avery Bradley, as well as his teammates Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic, late Monday afternoon to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. The move came as a surprise since Bradley had recently been sidelined due to a groin injury.
Rumblings that Bradley was on the trading block began earlier in the day, but it did not look like a deal would be finished until the deadline, mainly because of his groin injury. Teams seemed concerned about the injury since it caused Bradley to miss seven games earlier in the season as well. Bradley, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Boston Celtics, is now on his third team in six months.
Bradley averaged 15 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his four-month stint with the Pistons. The averages pale in comparison to those that Bradley had in his career-year with the Celtics last season. Furthermore, Bradley’s defense, which the guard has built a reputation for, has taken a step back. It is possible the groin injury that has troubled Bradley throughout the year has been the culprit behind his average defensive play.
It is not clear whether the injury will continue to hamper Bradley’s ability to return to the court, but he should have an easier time integrating with his new team since Clippers head coach Doc Rivers coached Bradley from 2010–13 in Boston.
Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
As is the case with most players picked after the lottery, Allen has had an up-and-down time midway through his rookie season. He’s struggled to find consistent minutes on the court. His numbers aren’t overly impressive — a mere 6.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game — but Allen has done a good job of shooting a high percentage from the field.
Allen has had a nice three-game stretch with averages of 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game against playoff-caliber competition. While his efforts did come in consecutive losses, Allen has seen his minutes increase as Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has slowly lowered the minutes of veteran center Timofey Mozgov.
Allen has also seen an increase in his usage rate while he’s been on the floor. Atkinson has begun running plays exclusively for Allen. This is a big shift from the trend earlier in the season.
Allen spent most of the early part of the season scoring within five feet of the rim. But recently Allen has scored from mid-range. Adding a consistent mid-range game would allow Allen to align himself with the NBA’s modern big men.
Frehman point guard Isaiah Taylor is averaging 11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this season, marks that compare well to many former Texas PG greats.
After nearly three years, the Longhorns men’s basketball team is ranked again. Texas enters a pivotal week ranked No. 25 in the latest AP poll, a number that will improve if they are able to slay Goliath and defeat No. 6 Kansas on Saturday. With this monstrous matchup looming, the two names every Texas fan needs to know are Cameron Ridley and Isaiah Taylor.
The 6-foot-9-inch, 285-pound Ridley is the first to draw attention. The sophomore center leads the team in rebounding and blocks and is quickly emerging as one of the most dominant centers to ever play for Rick Barnes.
Due to his gargantuan proportions, Ridley often draws comparisons with former Longhorn center Dexter Pittman. But, when it comes to games, there’s no comparison. Ridley averages 11.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while also leading the team with 48 blocks — already surpassing his total from last year, when he led the team with 47 — Pittman never averaged 11 points or six rebounds per game.
Ridley’s numbers are far closer to what Tristan Thompson, the fourth-overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, posted during his freshman year at Texas. Thompson put up 13.1 points, grabbed 7.8 rebounds and rejected 2.4 shots per game. Ridley is averaging 2.4 blocks-per-game this season, which — along with Thompson — is the highest for any Longhorn player in 14 years.
Freshman point guard Taylor has been equally impressive. He has been a revelation, quickly putting himself in the exclusive company of past elite Texas point guards. This list includes T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson, D.J. Augustin, Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph, all of whom played in the NBA.
Taylor has been an offensive spark plug, averaging 11.7 points and 3.7 assists per game. Last Saturday’s win over Baylor was his best performance of the season, in which he had a career-high 27 points. Although he has attempted only 11 three pointers all year, Taylor has had plenty of success attacking the rim — his 6.15 free-throw attempts per game are more than Ford, Gibson, Augustin, Bradley or Joseph ever averaged.
Taylor is averaging more points than Joseph and Ford did their freshman seasons and Taylor has more assists per game than Joseph and Bradley did. He also has a better assist-turnover ratio than Gibson, Joseph and Bradley.
Before Ridley and Taylor burst onto the scene, Texas basketball was at rock bottom. But, with new life and new leadership, this team looks like the real deal. We’ll know for sure if they are after they take on Kansas this weekend.
Many NBA teams played their first regular season game Wednesday night. The results were pretty mixed with all-star-like and poor showings. It’s just the first game of the year, but here are how some former Texas Longhorns opened their seasons.
Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics point guard
He will get a ton of playing time over the next few weeks, as star point guard Rajon Rondo patiently recovers from a torn ACL from last season. So don’t put too much stock into his relatively average offensive display against the Toronto Raptors. In 31 minutes against Toronto, Bradley recorded eight points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals on 4 for 13 shooting.
Bradley has always been a defense-first guard, even at Texas. He can score but anything too much more than his career average of 6.9 points per game is an added bonus. Bradley did a nice job of limiting explosive, all-around-scoring guard Kyle Lowry. Expect his defensive efforts to be a constant for Boston all season long, even when Rondo returns.
D.J. Augustin — Toronto Raptors point guard
The total opposite of Bradley, Augustin won’t be seeing too much court time anytime soon, simply because starter Kyle Lowry is just a better, more proven NBA point guard right now. Augustin wasn’t too efficient with his 13 minutes Wednesday night. He needed seven shots to score five points, and he only added two dimes to his stat sheet. Much more efficient, distributive play is required to be a starting point guard in the NBA.
The best news about Augustin’s performance Wednesday night? His Raptors are 1-0.
Tristan Thompson — Cleveland Cavaliers power forward
Thompson turned in the first stud performance by a Longhorn so far in this infant season. He is the Cavs’ best player by far, and led his team to an impressive win against the newly-powerful Brooklyn Nets. In 35 minutes, Thompson put up 18 points and 9 rebounds on an efficient 8 for 13 shooting performance. He made Kevin Garnett work on the defensive end, and the expended energy took a bit out of Garnett — who was really a non-factor Wednesday — on offense.
If Thompson puts up these numbers consistently, this upstart Cleveland squad just might make a return to the playoffs.
LaMarcus Alrdridge — Portland Trail Blazers power forward
I’m saving the best for last here. After all, it’s indisputable that Aldridge is the best former Longhorn in the league right now. He didn’t really need last night’s all-star performance to prove or even reinforce that status. He played huge minutes, but as the face of the Blazers’ franchise, he is expected to carry this burden. He poured in 28 points on 12 for 22 shooting, along with four rebounds and two assists in 39 minutes.
Aldridge will need to be a more consistent rebounding machine if Portland wants to sneak into the west’s top eight in April. But the scoring will always be there, and he has plenty of mates to help him on that front all season long.
This is the third edition in a series previewing the seasons NBA teams with former Texas Longhorn players.
So far I’ve previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors. Today I’m looking at the Boston Celtics.
Last season: 41-40, Lost in first round to New York Knicks, 4-2
**Note: The Celtics only played 81 games, rather than 82. One of their games was cancelled due to the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
Longhorn player: Avery Bradley, point guard
The Celtics will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season. Over the summer, they made a blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics sent longtime franchise player Paul Pierce, along with streaky guard Jason Terry, forward/center Kevin Garnett and forward DJ White to the Nets. In exchange Boston received swingman Gerald Wallace, forward Kris Humphries, guard/forward Keith Bogans, guard MarShon Brooks, forward Kris Joseph, three future first round draft picks and the option to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Whoa. That was a mouth full. Still with me?
With that massive deal, the Celtics are committed to shedding salary and rebuilding with youth. It was brilliant for Boston. They realized that Garnett and Pierce were aging rapidly and winning just 41 games and losing in the first round with those players was no longer economical. So, they are officially in rebuilding mode this year.
If you take a look at their roster now, you’ll see only two players over the age of 30: Bogans and Wallace, two of the guys the Celtics acquired in that deal. You’ll also no longer see Doc Rivers on bench. The Celtics hired Brad Stevens, former head coach at Butler University. This team is an extremely challenging situation for Stevens to step into. But I think he’s up to it — he more than proved himself by leading the Butler Bulldogs to two national title appearances. At 36, Stevens is now the NBA’s youngest coach.
This is still Rajon Rondo’s team. A glut of unproven players and journeymen will surround him this year. Rondo is Boston’s best offensive player by far, followed by Wallace. MarShon Brooks has potential to be an explosive scorer in the future.
Former Texas Longhorn guard Avery Bradley will be Rondo’s primary backup and figures to get decent minutes behind him. He could even play some two guard. Last year, he averaged 9.2 points and 2.1 assists in 28.7 minutes per game.
Overall, this year won’t be pretty for the Celtics. Expect a lot of pains offensively — this team will struggle to score. Rondo is not a score r— he’s a creator, and it would not be wise for new coach Brad Stevens to attempt to change his style. Defensively, there is a ton of athleticism on this squad. The Celtics will be a fast and long team. They should force quite a few turnovers and get Rondo out on the break.
Bottom line: I’ll say Boston wins 28 games. Tough. After giving up its best player for the last decade, the Celtics will need to endure this rebuilding process for another couple of years. But, by then, Rondo might be long gone. Boston has a lot of decisions to make over that time.
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.
One-third of the way into the lockout-shortened NBA season, a couple of former Longhorns within the league continue to headline for their contending team while others show enduring signs of promising NBA careers.
An established scorer and 2007 college basketball player of the year, Kevin Durant has earned recognition as an early season MVP candidate. His 26.8 points per game are third-highest in the league and are a big reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder have an NBA-best record of 18-5 this early in the season.
Durant and the up-and-coming Thunder are poised to make another legitimate run at the title in what seems to be a wide-open Western Conference race. Their championship hopes ended last season at the hands of the eventual NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.
“Durantula,” as many call him, made an early-season statement against the defending champions after beating Dallas with a buzzer-beating three-pointer and winning two out of the three early season matchups against the Mavs. In order for the Thunder to take the next step in their championship aspirations, the former Longhorn great must execute clutch plays of this sort when the playoffs arrive.
Aldridge and the tough-minded Portland Trail Blazers look to make a deep playoff run in a Western Conference that’s up for grabs. He has solidified himself as one of the top forwards in the league and, much like Durant, has a strong chance of being in this season’s All-Star Game.
“He’s matured, he has been consistent over the last three years. He’s shown growth. Even though we’ve lost a lot of guys to injury, we have continued to win and compete and get to the playoffs,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of Aldridge.
His career high of 23.1 points per game have the Blazers positioned to make a title run as they currently hold the sixth seed in the highly-competitive Western Conference.
After a rookie season with limited opportunities to make an impact for the Boston Celtics, Bradley’s NBA future was looking bleak.
This season, Boston’s aging and banged-up roster has opened the door for the former Longhorn guard to display his talents. He’s averaging 18 minutes and four points per game for the undermanned Celtics.
His offensive numbers aren’t exactly eye-opening, but his biggest contribution has been on the defensive side of the court. His breakout performance came in a historic 87-56 Celtics win over the Magic in January.
“His defense set the whole tone for the entire thing. He took us out; we had a hard time getting the ball down and getting into offense,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said of Bradley.
With the Celtics expected to rebuild and rely on young talent after this season, Bradley’s impressive defensive display may land him a long-term role with the franchise.
The fourth overall pick in last year’s draft has displayed a high skill at the NBA level in limited playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Like Avery Bradley, Thompson’s main contributions have come from the defensive side of the ball.
He is averaging over one block per game and fewer than five rebounds per game. With the emergence of teammate Alonzo Gee, Thompson saw his minutes dwindle. What separates the two forwards at the moment is Thompson’s limited offensive skill set.
The former Longhorn’s athleticism and length alone may keep him in the league for a while, but he must improve his offensive capabilities to fully reach his NBA potential.
Last year, the Longhorns sent three players to the NBA in the 2010 draft.
The first to go last year, Avery Bradley, was selected 19th overall by the Boston Celtics. After spending some time in the developmental league, Bradley was called up to the Celtics in February following Marquis Daniel’s spinal cord injury. Bradley played in 31 games last season for the Celtics and shot 34 percent from the floor.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Damion James with the 24th overall pick last year. His stay with the Hawks was short-lived, however, when James was traded to the New Jersey Nets for more draft picks. James has played in 25 games for the Nets, averaging 44.7 percent from the floor and 64.3 percent from the foul line.
Dexter Pittman was the last Longhorn to go in the draft. He spent his first year in the pros alternating between the bench and the developmental league. In April, Pittman played in two games for the Heat before sustaining an injury. He went in the second round as the number two pick.
Texas’ participation in the draft has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. Since 1957, the Longhorns have sent 37 players to the draft with 22 going in the first two rounds. Over half of those 37 were in the last two decades.
Before 1990, the Longhorns sent one player to the draft every couple of years, but since then, Rick Barnes has sent 13 players to the draft. In the 12 years Barnes has been at Texas, he has sent more players than any other previous Texas coach. In the past few years, Texas has sent more high profile players to the draft, such as T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant.
The road to the NBA Finals got underway Saturday and with five former Longhorns in the postseason, there’s a good chance one of Rick Barnes’ bunch will have some serious hardware come June.
The former college basketball AP Player of the Year leads the Thunder into the postseason looking to avenge an early exit last year at the hands of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and appears poised to make a strong push for the Finals this time around.
Durantula didn’t waste any time making his presence felt in the playoffs, dropping a postseason career-high 41 points on the Denver Nuggets as Oklahoma City took the first game of its first- round series 107-103 Sunday, the franchise’s first win in a playoff opener since 1998 when the organization called Seattle home.
Durant turned in an MVP-caliber season in 2010-11 and took home the scoring title for the second year in a row after averaging 27.7 points per game. The fourth-year pro also averaged 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Combine those figures with his league-best scoring mark and Durant ranks fifth in the NBA with those totals.
Behind Durant, the Thunder (55-27) won five more games than a season ago and secured the fourth seed in the West.
Look for the former Texas great to cause defenders some major headaches this postseason as he tries to bring Oklahoma City to new heights.
Aldridge and the injury-ravaged Trail Blazers came on strong after the All-Star break, and the fifth-year pro looks ready to continue making a name for himself this postseason.
The power forward put on a show Saturday in Dallas in his return to his hometown and scored 27 points while pulling in six rebounds. But it was not enough to stop the Mavericks as sixth-seeded Portland dropped Game 1 89-81.
Aldridge had a career year for the Trail Blazers and led the team in scoring with 21.8 points per contest while putting up career highs in points, rebounds (8.8), free-throw shooting percentage and field-goal shooting percentage. The second overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft only missed one game for the Blazers, who were hit hard by the injury bug once again.
Portland will be hard-pressed to outlast Dallas in a seven-game series, but don’t be surprised if Aldridge becomes a household name before his time is up this season.
The 20-year-old has the best shot of any former Longhorn to kiss the Larry O’Brien trophy as the Celtics try to erase last season’s close call and march towards banner No. 18.
Bradley’s rookie season had its share of ups and downs, but growing pains were expected with little room for playing time on a Boston squad laden with veterans and future Hall of Famers. But the point guard saw action in 31 games and head coach Doc Rivers pegged Bradley as a defensive stopper. In the regular season finale against New York, Bradley showcased the ability that made him the 19th-overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, scoring 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting and coming up with a pair of steals.
But don’t expect Bradley to see much time on the court for Boston this postseason.
The rookie center may be the luckiest Longhorn in the league after being drafted my Miami and taking his talents to South Beach along with two-time NBA MVP LeBron James to win the “King” a ring in year one of the “Heatles.”
Pittman rode the Heat bench in his rookie season while logging just 11 minutes in two games. He also saw time in the D-League with Sioux Falls, averaging 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 22 games.
Barring injuries to almost all of the Miami big men, Pittman will enjoy the Heat’s postseason ride from the pine.
Ivey is one of the Thunder’s elder statesmen and head coach Scott Brooks will lean on the former Longhorn’s experience to get Oklahoma City out of the first round.
The defensive specialist played a limited role this season, appearing in 25 games. But the Thunder is a young bunch and Ivey’s veteran presence in the locker room is the reason he has a roster spot as he continues to groom young guards such as Eric Maynor and Russell Westbrook.
Ivey’s biggest playoff contribution will be his knowledge of opposing Denver point guard Raymond Felton as the two went at it during their time in the Southeast Division.
While Texas’ 2009 season was one marred by inconsistency and extreme highs and lows, one thing remained constant — Rick Barnes sent three more Longhorns to the NBA.
In his 12 years in Austin, Barnes has coached 13 players who have been drafted by NBA clubs including eight in the last five years and seven first-round picks.
It’s a delicate balance between bringing in so called “one-and-done” talent, the term for players who plan to jump to the pros after a year in the college ranks, and building a cohesive team to contend for a national championship.
Avery Bradley, drafted 19th overall by the Boston Celtics in June, was Barnes’ latest one-and-done player — the first being NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant. Damion James and Dexter Pittman were also drafted in June but both were four-year players at Texas. There are 10 former Longhorns who played under Barnes on NBA rosters this season — but only three have spent the full four years in a Texas uniform.
But Barnes maintains that none of his recruits come in expecting to be gone after just one season of his tutelage.
“I don’t think we’ve had any kid that has come here with the agenda that they are one-and-done,” Barnes said. “If the time is right and it lines up for them after a year, if that’s what they feel needs to be done and if that’s what their family needs done, we can only do our part and encourage it.”
Instead, Barnes sees the success of his former players at the next level as an integral part of the Texas program; no matter how many semesters they walked the 40 Acres.
“I love what our former players are doing, how they have continued to stay engaged with our program,” Barnes said. “I love that when those guys in the NBA go to each other’s towns they have dinner together the night before the game and the fact that they’re all willing to give back to our program.”
It’s that sense of connection with Texas and the appreciation of Barnes’ talents. He’s one of the best in the business, in terms of getting players to the next level, that keeps the NBA stars coming back year after year to pass along their knowledge to the next crop of Longhorns.
“They came back a couple of times over the summer. It’s good to see the lifestyle change—now they’re coming with cars,” Redshirt freshman Shawn Williams said. “It’s good also to have somebody that you can talk to and see what they did to get to that level. It’s a good reference point.”
Senior Gary Johnson said the Texas greats who have made it in the NBA have paved the way for today’s Longhorns and Barnes knows what it takes to prepare his players for the jump.
“You take pride in trying to use this program as a stepping stone,” Johnson said. “Coach Barnes goes out to every camp he can before the season to take things from the NBA level and try to put it in our game to make us successful at that level.”
Johnson doesn’t see the prospect of recruits sticking around for one year as a deterrent to Texas’ success.
“It’s good knowing that you may only have a guy for one year or two years. That says a lot about a coach that he’s not just recruiting, he’s recruiting the best players with the notion that they might not be here three or four years.”
Johnson will play with perhaps another one-and-done talent this year in freshman forward Tristan Thompson, a top-10 recruit, who is following in Bradley’s footsteps — Barnes brought both to Texas from Findlay Prep in Nevada.
“Knowing that Coach Barnes is doing the right thing helping players get to the NBA shows the type of coach he is in developing players,”Thompson said. “Personally, I felt that I had a lot of room to improve under my game, I trusted that Coach Barnes is the type of coach that can help me do that.”
The relief was palpable in Cooley Pavilion on Monday afternoon as the burden of great expectations was lifted.
For the first time in a decade, Texas did not make The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, which was released last week. Media members ranked the Longhorns 27th.
“We love it now, we have everything to work for,” senior Gary Johnson said. “Nothing was given to us. It just makes us more hungry.”
The Longhorns reached No. 1 in the AP poll last season but finished on a losing skid and out of the rankings.
“Being rated that high brings a sense of identity that we weren’t.
Guys were feeling good about it, kinda’ cocky,” Johnson said. “And it didn’t last for very long.”
Texas started the 2000-01 season out of the rankings after losing Gabe Muoneke and All-American Chris Mihm, the No. 4 career rebounder in program history.
“We’re not ever going to ever apologize for where we’ve raised the bar. Ever,” said head coach Rick Barnes. “We’re happy with where we are right now.”
The team is No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.
“It’s like a sigh of relief,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to live up to a certain expectation every game and now we can just work for the ranking instead of having it being handed off to us.”
Jump higher, move faster
To cope with losing Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley to the NBA, some Texas players focused on improving their conditioning over the summer as they prepare for increased minutes. Johnson, a 6-foot-6 power forward who mostly saw time as a role player last year, is one of them.
Johnson started only four games in the 2009-10 season but got a large amount of playing time in Big 12 competition, finishing with the third-most minutes on the team.
Johnson became a low-post scoring threat as he improved his jump shot and scored a career-high 25 points in March versus Baylor.
Without James or Pittman, Johnson will often be the Longhorns’ go-to man in the paint. He’s still listed at 238 pounds but looked noticeably thinner in the team’s new burnt orange Nike uniforms.
“I’ve been eating better,” Johnson said. “Better eating habits. Lost a little weight. Jump higher, move faster.”
Johnson is Texas’ top returning rebounder but is also the forward with the most offensive experience and will use his increased endurance to cover both ends of the court.
“I’d like to think I’m a better defender because I’m moving quicker,” he said.
J’Covan Brown, the squad’s eccentric guard, didn’t lost any weight but improved his stamina with early morning workouts and more cardio. He’ll split time in the backcourt with the ever fleet-footed Dogus Balbay and speedy freshman Cory Joseph.
“I’m in way better shape,” Brown said. “The team moves faster. We’ll be an up-tempo type team this year.”
Starting lineup remains uncertain
No matter who head coach Rick Barnes decides to start in next Monday’s season opener against Navy, some things are sure to be different from last year’s record-setting season. With a smaller lineup, both in number and average height, Texas may choose to go small against slower teams. Additionally, sophomore J’Covan Brown is likely to play at the two and has been getting increased minutes in that scoring role.
“The offense fits me,” Brown said. “There’s not too much pressure to bring the ball up like last year so I’m happy with that.”
With the addition of freshman Cory Joseph, the Longhorns have a point guard who demands the attention of opposing defenses for the first time since D.J. Augustin.
“We’re putting guys at their strengths,” said senior Gary Johnson.
Johnson added that this team has a higher basketball IQ than the last one, which should play nicely into Barnes’ emphasis on assists.
Two early birds
Like last year, the incoming freshmen are nationally regarded recruits expected to play immediately and have a large impact. Unlike last year, these two enrolled at the University during the first session of summer school and began practicing with the team in May.
“It’s a tremendous advantage,” Barnes said. “It’s the difference in night and day.”
In 2009, Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley enrolled in the second summer session, and then-freshman Brown did not arrive until the fall semester. Because of their early arrival, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson have adapted much quicker, Barnes said.