When 6-0 foot (although many doubt that listing), 155-pound Jai Lucas, the son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas II, and brother of former Baylor and Oklahoma State star John Lucas III, committed to Florida out of his Houston high school, Billy Donovan promised him the point guard job. Only problem was, as the story goes, that Donovan also promised the same position to Nick Calathes, member of the same class as Lucas. After sharing time last season, Calathes won the starting job this season and Lucas found himself in a stiff competition for playing time at the two guard, causing him to seek a transfer only one exhibition game into his sophomore season.
Apparently homesick as well, or at least wanting to play close to home, Lucas considered Rice, Baylor, and Texas ($) before choosing the Longhorns. It was something of a turnaround for Lucas, who did not consider a single school in the state of Texas during his initial recruitment, looking at Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Strangely enough, Lucas now calls Texas his "dream school." He will be eligible to compete for the 2009-10 season, but the important question is whether he will be doing it as a sophomore or a junior, pending an appeal to the NCAA, which will determine if he lost a season of eligibility by playing in the exhibition game for Florida this fall.
The obvious comparison to Lucas is his older brother, John. In terms of size, it's a fitting comparison, as the older Lucas is listed at the same height and as 10 pounds heavier than his younger brother. If you want to get a conception of Jai's size, think AJ Abrams. Returning to the comparison of the brothers, both obviously play the point guard position, but Marland Lowe of Houston Hoops considers John the better shooter, with Jai the better defender (better than Abrams, as well), creator, and all-around scorer.
Lucas ranked fourth on the Gator's team last season in made three-pointers, behind Nick Calathes, Walter Hodge, and Dan Werner, but led the team in three-point percentage, hitting 43% of his attempts, suggesting an advanced understanding of shot selection and a good stroke. While Lucas generally shoots well off the dribble, when hurried his shot sometimes flattens out.
With the difficulties most Longhorn players have from the free throw line, as the point guard Lucas will need to hit at a higher percentage than his 71% last season. In terms of speed, Lucas showed the ability ($) to keep up with the blazingly quick Derrick Rose during practices for the McDonald's All-American game, also displaying the type of floater AJ Abrams wishes he had and is so crucial for undersized guards to possess.
Despite the creator tag, the 2.3 assists Lucas averaged last season raise something of a red flag, with his per-minute assist standing at one assist for every 13 minutes played (Calathes averaged one assist for every five minutes on the court by comparison). Three other players for Florida last season (Calathes, Werner, and Hodge) each averaged more assists per game than Lucas (6.1, 2.5, and 2.9, respectively), although that could simply be a function of usage or Lucas primarily playing off the ball. As a McDonald's All-American at Houston Bellaire Academy, Lucas averaged 7.5 assists per game, while scoring 26, lending credence to the idea that he is truly a playmaker for his teammates. Lucas is capable of effectively running the pick-and-roll, at which both Mason and Balbay are limited by their lack of outside shooting.
A tremendous competitor, Lucas will bring the experience gained from already having a season at a major college program and another season of maturation, combined with experience gained from practicing with the Longhorns starting when his paperwork clears with the NCAA. The experience practicing with the team will prepare Lucas to step into the role of point guard as soon as he dons the Longhorn uniform for a game. As such a hard-nosed player, Lucas will compete defensively in a way that his brother did not in college and in a way that Abrams did not either until recently. Lowe describes Lucas as a kid who will not back down from anyone, a necessity considering he is generally the smallest player on the court.
It's well documented that the Longhorns are suffering from the departure of point guard DJ Augustin, lacking an adequate replacement. With the struggles of Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason shooting the basketball, bringing in a point guard capable of stretching the defense, and opening up passing lanes as a result, became of tantamount importance to Rick Barnes and his coaching staff. I speculated some time ago that the Longhorns would target a point guard in one of the next two classes, likely 2010, but Lucas fills that need. Depending on his eligibility status, the Longhorns may recruit a point guard for 2010, but the importance of doing so now decreases considerably.
Lucas will take the considerable pressure off of Balbay and Mason. Balbay will have more time to develop his shot and adjust to the American game. As for Mason, judging by his recent, uncharacteristic defensive lapses, it may be that playing the lead guard role is wearing him down. A return to the off-guard spot will allow Mason more energy to focus on the defensive end, while also freeing him to once again crash the glass with his characteristic reckless abandon, the most significant part of his game almost entirely removed by his point guard duties.
The only negative in the situation is an upcoming scholarship crunch. As AW points out here in the comments, were J'Covan Brown to enroll for next season, even assuming the loss of Damion James to the NBA, Texas would stand at 14 scholarship players next season with the three incoming freshman, one over the limit. The recruitment of Lucas means that either Rick Barnes and company don't think Brown will ever play for the Longhorns or that they expect a player to transfer during the off season, likely a member of the crowded front court, possibly Matt Hill, who has seen limited playing time this season. Little-used Harrison Smith might be another candidate, although that likelihood is limited by the fact that he would only have one season of eligibility remaining.
Overall, however, the addition of Jai Lucas to the Longhorn basketball programs means a slight re-evaluation of the 2009-10 narrative. Much like the Longhorn football team, this season appears to be a prelude to a serious national championship run next season. The major question mark facing next year's team--the point guard position--will now be filled by Lucas, making the Longhorns a much more complete team and setting the stage for a deep NCAA tournament run in the spring of 2010.