While eleven of the twelve Texas Longhorns made their debuts last Friday against Stetson, tonight marks the much anticipated debut of the final Longhorn on this year's squad, Dogus Balbay. Balbay will see live action against the Tulane Green Wave for the first time since arriving in Austin last fall. The one big question entering this season was how Texas would replace DJ Augustin at the point. The chance to finally see Balbay in person will allow Texas hoops fans a much better attempt at answering that question.
Balbay is a 6-0 true point guard who is originally from Turkey but made his way to Austin after playing a year of high school basketball in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He has tons of international basketball experience on his resume and spent much of the summer playing for his home country's Under-20 team in the European Championships.
Dogus was part of the same recruiting class which brought the Longhorns Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangemene, and Gary Johnson last fall. However, he has yet to play a single minute of basketball. After hearing last summer about our potential ability to get Augustin a rest at point guard with the arrival of Balbay, the plans changed as Balbay tore his ACL in his right knee shortly before the season started. Dogus took the setback in stride, committed to his rehabilitation, and was actually cleared to play medically after just four and half months. With just a few games left in the regular season and the Longhorns fighting for a conference championship and a top seed in the NCAA tournament, March was not the time for Dogus's first game. So, Balbay sat out the remaining ten games of the season, which is very important considering the next bad hand he drew.
The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, ruled that Balbay had violated his amateur status while playing on a European team which paid all players for their services except for him. Despite not getting paid a dime, the NCAA served Balbay with an 11-game suspension. Smartly the Texas staff petitioned the NCAA to count the final ten games of last season as part of the suspension. Texas argued that he had been cleared to play medically but did voluntarily sat out. The NCAA granted the Texas request, and Balbay was forced to sit out just a single game this season. Another small point worth mentioning is that in order to count the final ten games as part of his suspension, Balbay had to also give up a full year of eligibility. So, tonight when Dogus takes the floor for the first time, he will be doing so as a sophomore.
I have never seen Dogus Balbay play in person and few this side of the Atlantic who aren't connected to the Texas program have. However, there have been plenty of rumors about his play both before the beginning of last season and this summer as well. And, not surprisingly, they have been both exciting and somewhat troubling. Here are a few-Balbay is as quick with the basketball as TJ Ford; Balbay is an extremely aggressive pass first point guard; Balbay is one of the most athletic players on the team and can dunk the ball in traffic; Balbay has had trouble shutting down the other Texas guards; Balbay is constantly playing overly fast and is having trouble adjusting to what the coaches want; and, finally, while Balbay can get to the rim, he has a jump shot as accurate as Jason Kidd's.
I imagine that each of these is true to some degree, which brings me back to the principle question facing the 2008-09 Longhorns-how do we replace DJ Augustin? I was extremely excited for the opening game but maybe more so for this one.
In addition to the performance of Balbay, here are a couple of other areas to keep your eyes on:
- At the power forward spot, will Gary Johnson look to pass and will Clint Chapman rebound more effectively?
- When AJ Abrams plays point guard, will he looks to make plays for the other four players on the floor before looking to shoot?
- After an impressive team defensive performance in the first game, can Texas follow it up with a second straight as they work in a new player?
- Can Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene show enough to keep pace with the four other Texas bigs currently ahead of them?
Tip time is 7 pm at the Erwin Center. For those of you not able to make it, the game will be televised in the Austin area on Time Warner cable channel 77, in Houston on Fox Sports Houston, in Louisiana, San Antonio, and areas west of Austin on Fox Sports Southwest, and outside the state of Texas on ESPN Game Plan.