What Texas has been doing this season hasn’t been working.
The Longhorns have been without sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo for each of their 23 games this year — losing 13 of them — but get Kabongo back Wednesday when they face Iowa State. It’s been nearly 11 months since Kabongo, who was suspended 23 games by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits during the offseason, has stepped on the floor for Texas. But head coach Rick Barnes insists he’ll start against the Cyclones.
“We’re really happy for him that he gets a shot to come back,” Barnes said of Kabongo. “He’s been unbelievable. He’s been our hardest worker every single day and he’s a guy that knows he’s not going to play three quarters of the season. And he doesn’t say a word about it. He comes in every single day and works harder than anybody.”
Kabongo’s return to the Longhorn lineup may not be the only way Barnes shakes things up. Barnes also vowed that freshman guard Demarcus Holland would start Wednesday. Holland scored 13 points in 35 minutes of Texas’ 72-59 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday, both career highs.
“We can speed guys up and take them out of their offense,” Holland said of playing in the same backcourt as Kabongo. “We both know that we don’t really get tired as fast as everyone else. I think we’ll run the floor harder and when we get the rebound in transition, Myck is going to push the ball and get more transition points and more stops on defense.”
Even Jonathan Holmes, who has missed the last three weeks with a broken right hand, could suit up. The team’s leading rebounder, Holmes has missed each of Texas’ last five games but could start Wednesday. The Longhorns have gone 2-3 in Holmes’ recent absence, getting outrebounded four times in five games without him on the floor.
“We’ve got to rebound the ball better,” Barnes said. “It all depends on John. We’ve got to get the effort. That’s what we’ve wanted all year, we just haven’t gotten it consistently. We’ve got to get three guys [on the glass]. We’d like to have more, but we’ve got to have three.”
Freshman forward Ioannis Papapetrou, who is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the floor in his last six contests, could also get more playing time. But clearly the biggest addition to the Texas lineup will be Kabongo, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.2 assists per game last season.
Poor point guard play, especially down the stretch, doomed Texas in several close defeats this year, including a 59-53 overtime loss to USC last November, a 65-63 loss to UCLA last December and their most recent loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday.
“I should have been upfront with UT about everything the first time I had a chance, but I’m glad that I corrected my mistake and I’m glad that I was truthful with the NCAA,” Kabongo said in a statement Monday. “I have learned a lot about myself and what is important to me through this process. I want to thank my teammates and my coaches for sticking by and supporting me all year.”
For the first time all year, freshman point guard Javan Felix will not start Wednesday. Kabongo can’t play the Longhorns into the NCAA Tournament, but a respectable finish is still within reach.