It may take Rick Barnes a few practices next fall to learn all the new names. As many as seven players from last year's team could be gone. And at least six and possibly seven new Horns will join the team this fall. The 2006-2007 Texas Longhorns men's basketball team will have more new faces border town detention center.
The Horns were not a deep or experienced team last season. Next season, we may be even thinner and will certainly be smaller. Let's take a look at last year's contributors by average minutes played.
PJ Tucker 34.5 minutes per game: declared for the NBA draft. Unlikely to return. Lamarcus Aldridge 33.7 mpg: declared for the NBA draft. Will not return.
Daniel Gibson 33.2 mpg: declared for the NBA draft. Return is questionable.
Kenton Paulino 27.6 mpg: senior. No remaining eligibility. Brad Buckman 27.0 mpg: senior. No remaining eligibility.
AJ Abrams 21.2 mpg: will be a sophomore and our top returning player. Will be challenged at point by freshman DJ Augustin.
Dion Dowell 15.3 mpg: played in only three games. Transferred mid-season to University of Houston. Mike Williams 13.6 mpg: would be a junior. Will likely transfer closer to home state of Alabama.
Connor Atchley 7.7 mpg: will be a redshirt sophomore. Unlikely to contribute anything of value without massive increase in strength.
JD Lewis 6.3 mpg: will be a junior. Six minutes seems way too high.
Craig Winder 5.4 mpg: will be a senior. Could be a defensive stopper but that is a stretch at this level.
So, there you have it. We will likely return no starters and only one player (AJ Abrams) among our top seven. There is an outside chance that Gibson rejoins the team too. Gibson has not signed with an agent and is projected to be drafted in the middle of the second round by most mock draft boards. Without a guaranteed contract, Gibson would be wise to return for another year or two at Texas.
If DGib does return, our backcourt will be solid: Abrams and incoming freshman DJ Augustin at the point and Gibson sharing minutes with talented freshman Justin Mason and Harrison Smith at the shooting guard. Super stud Kevin Durant, equipped with guard skills and the height and length of a forward, will play primarily at the small forward or third guard spot. The rest of the lineup is more uncertain. Forwards Matt Hill and Dexter Pittman will be true freshman. If Williams leaves as expected, Hill could easily start. It's too early to project his value, probably somewhere between Carolina stud Tyler Hansbrough and our very own Connor Atchley. Pittman will need to lose countless extra pounds if he expects to stay on the floor long. Texas may also be doing a Villanova impersonation next season by starting four guards with a single rotating big man. Texas still has a shot at landing Damion James. James is ranked among the top twenty high school players in the country. As reported, James will be visiting both Texas and A&M this week. We have plenty of minutes for him. A starting job is waiting.
Next year's team may not quite look like my 6' and under intramural teams in terms of size. We will, however, mirror the North Carolina and Kansas teams of this past season in terms of experience. Both teams struggled much of the first half of the season with inconsistency. Both teams were immensely talented and came together nicely as their seasons progressed. The Jayhawks, or "Baby Jays" as they were affectionately nicknamed, became the second best team in the Big 12 by season's end. The Tar Heels also managed to finish behind only Duke in the ACC.
I won't label next year a rebuilding year. In college basketball, those are infrequent for top programs regardless of returning players, but next year will likely be both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.