Even though this year's Longhorn basketball team still has two games left in the regular season (plus the entire post season), it's never too early to look ahead to next year's club.
The Horns have a dozen players on scholarship this season, including former walk-on Ian Mooney, who was given a scholarship for the '06-'07 season. The maximum number of basketball scholarship allowed by the NCAA is 13. So, how many scholarships are available for next season? Well, Craig Winder is a senior, Kevin Durant is almost certain to turn pro, and Mooney's scholarship was awarded for just a single year. Those three, plus the one currently unused scholarship means Rick Barnes can conceivably sign a class of four players. Three future Longhorns signed their letters of intent during the early signing period last September and a fourth player will also be part of this class if he can meet the NCAA's and the university's eligibility requirements. Let's meet the new guys.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 210 pound power forward with a motor that won't quit, is the jewel of this year's class. While he likely just missed out on nabbing a McDonald's All American selection, Johnson will play in the Jordan Brand All-American game on April 21st at Madison Square Garden. This is the same game that Kevin Durant won the co-MVP award at last year.
Johnson is rated by Rivals.com as the 13th best power forward and 48th best player overall in the country. Gary wanted to play college ball close to home and chose the Longhorns over Duke, Kentucky, and Arizona among others.
Johnson has been a dominant low post player throughout his high school career at Aldine High School in Houston. He is exceptional at attacking the rim and drawing fouls, and is known as an extremely tough player and tenacious rebounder who plays bigger than his listed height. Some reports indicate Johnson may still be growing; if true, and with some added muscle, Gary Johnson could be exactly the type of physical post player the Horns need. Don't be surprised if Johnson earns a starting spot at either forward position next season.
If you happen to be in the Houston area, by the way, check out Johnson and the Aldine Mustangs take on Houston Madison this week in the third round of the playoffs.
Wangmene is a 6-foot-8 230 pound power forward originally from San Antonio but playing his final year of high school basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey. In recent years, Blair Academy has produced Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva, and Royal Ivey. Wangmene is an outstanding athlete, but one with very raw basketball skills. After dominating his competition in San Antonio during his junior year, Wangmene decided to challenge himself by finishing his high school career against better competition.
He's currently rated by Rivals as the 20th best power forward and the 80th best overall player in the country, and as a four-star prospect. Wangmene chose Texas over Florida, Wake Forest, and Virginia.
His high school coach has praised his dedication to improving his game throughout the season. While Wangmene probably won't make an immediate impact next season, with added strength and a better understanding of the game, he could be a solid contributor in a year or two.
For the second straight year, Coach Barnes and his staff have gone out of state to find a skilled high post big man. Chapman is a 6-foot-10 245 power forward from Canby, Oregon. He has a solid mid-range jumper, is a strong rebounder, and is an efficient pick-and-roll player. While not an explosive or extremely gifted player athletically, Chapman is a smart basketball player who can score in transition, on a put back, or with his back to the basket.
Chapman chose the Horns over Arizona State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Nevada, California, and nearby Oregon.
Chapman is the third four-star player in Texas' class, according to Rivals. He is ranked as the third best player in Oregon, the 16th best power forward, and the 67th best player overall in the country. Chapman has good-but-not-great potential. It will be interesting to see how quickly he adds the strength and develops the quickness to earn minutes at the collegiate level. With Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Matt Hill, and Connor Atchley all returning (and Gary Johnson also in this class), Chapman may not see a ton of playing time early in his career at Texas.
The final Longhorn may or may not ever end up in Austin. Dogus Balbay is originally from Turkey but recently relocated to the United States. He is currently playing high school ball at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Balbay is a 6-foot-1 170 pound shifty point guard with deceptive quickness, good ball handling skills, and a high basketball IQ.
Balbay has said on multiple occasions that he plans to attend Texas, but whether he has actually signed a letter of intent or not remains a question. Regardless of whether he has signed or not, he must first improve his TOEFL score (Test of English as a Foreign Language) to qualify. If he achieves the necessary scores and his deemed eligible by the NCAA, Balbay will be the final piece of the 2007 class. But if he doesn't earn the necessary scores or isn't cleared by the NCAA, there's talk of him playing another season at Brewster and becoming part of Texas' 2008 class. BON will keep you posted as his eligibility is decided.
Overall, this is a solid class with a future star in Johnson, a skilled post man in Chapman, a raw athlete with limitless potential in Wangmene, and, potentially, a much needed backup point guard for DJ Augustin in Balbay. PB and I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Under Rick Barnes, the Texas Longhorn men's basketball team is in good hands. Twenty-plus win seasons, finishes near the top of the Big 12 standings, trips to the Sweet 16 and beyond, and high caliber recruiting classes have become the norm in Austin. With or without Kevin Durant, the future remains bright next season and beyond for the Horns.
(Source: All photos courtesy of Rivals.com)