It's the start of the fall signing period for college basketball and, as expected, the Longhorns added four players to the mix for 2011. According to ESPN, the group ranks sixth in the country, despite losing combo forward DeAndre Daniels (#35 on ESPNU 100) to a de-commitment during the summer.
The recent re-commitment of Myck Kabongo is huge for the class because of his ability to make plays and lead the team, leaving the only major weakness in the class the lack of a true center or power forward who can play on the block, rebound, and defend the paint. Rick Barnes desperately wanted to sign another big for the class, but was unable to do so, missing out on top talent like Rakeem Christmas, hte 10th-ranked player nationally by ESPNU, and junior college transfer Moussa Gueye. As a result, the commitment of Jonathan Holmes was a major help for the class overall, even though he's probably not going to be a back-to-the-basket guy in college.
It's a group that should stay together for at least two years -- Kabongo's expected stay in Austin -- but the core three players in Lewis, McClellan, and Holmes are all likely four-year players and the collective unselfishness and strong work ethic from all four bodes well for the program's future.
Breakdowns of each individual player after the jump...
Myck Kabongo, 6-2, 170, #9 nationally, Findlay Prep
Scipio Tex called him "the most important recruit signed at Texas since Kevin Durant," and there's little question that Kabongo is the linchpin of the class. Committed to the Longhorns since January of 2009, Kabongo briefly de-committed several weeks ago before again deciding he wanted to be at Texas, as the presence of childhood friends Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph no doubt helped make that decison easier, as well as his close relationship with Rick Barnes.
Kabongo is now the fourth player from high school powerhouse Findlay Prep to sign with Texas (Thompson, Joseph, and Avery Bradley) and the expectation is that he will finally fill the void at the point guard position created by the depature of DJ Augustin and rank with Augustin and TJ Ford as the best point guards in school history. No pressure there, Myck.
A pure point with exceptional speed, Kabongo has a high basketball IQ and has been on the scene long enough to work on turning his weaknesses into strengths. Though he's not a knockdown shooter like Cory Joseph, Kabongo's ability to hit shots from deep has improved tremendously and he has a variety of floaters that make him effective scoring in the paint against taller players.
A kid with extensive experience playing against the best high school competition in the country at St. Benedict's and Findlay Prep and on the world stage representing Canada, Kabongo should make a quick transition to the college game and will in all likelihood be the starting point guard as soon as he steps foot on the 40 Acres, allowing J'Covan Brown and Cory Joseph to spend more time at the two, a more natural position for both players where they can focus on their scoring and benefit from Kabongo's ability to break down defenders off the bounce.
Sheldon McClellan, 6-5, 190, #12 nationally, Houston Bellaire
Hailing from the same high school that produced both of the Lucas brothers, McClellan is a wing with a massive wingspan that allows him to finish effectively in transition. He's the best outside shooter of the group, although he may need time at the collegiate level to get off his shot unless he can raise his low release point on his jumper. Capable in the mid-range, McClellan will be a guy how can work off screens to get his shot or slash to the basket and use his length to finish. The big question mark about him is strength, as he's rail thin at this point and will have trouble against stronger, more physical players until he can spend a year or two in Todd Wright's strength program building some mass.
Jonathan Holmes, 6-7, 220, #67 nationally, SA Antonian
A hard worker who blossomed last summer on the AAU circuit and vaulted up into the top 100, Holmes is a program guy who can run the floor in transition and has a strong face-up game. He'll have favorable match-ups in college against slower opposing fours, against whom he will be able to use the threat of a solid jumpshot with range out to the three-point line to beat defenders off the dribble. In fact, he probably has better handles at this point than Damion James did when he first attempted to make the full-time transition to the three.
Defensively, he has some work to do according to GoHornsGo90, especially with his lateral quickness. The notoriously demanding Rick Barnes will command higher effort on that end of the floor and that should help Holmes, who can already use his length and leaping ability to impact or block shots.
As mentioned earlier, the best news may be that he projects as a program guy who will stay in school for four years and improve along the way. There's little question that he'll be asked to contribute from the moment that he steps onto campus, but he could have an adjustment period because he plays private school basketball in San Antonio and will face a major increase in the level of competition.
Julien Lewis, 6-3, 190, #78 nationally, La Marque
Another kid from the state of Texas, Lewis will bring some serious toughness and defensive ability to the class. Think a combination of Justin Mason and Varez Ward, two guys known for their tenacity and willingness to hound opposiing players. Like both of the former Longhorns, Lewis can guard taller players and will likely draw the assignment of the opponent's best perimeter player thorughout his career. He's also a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor and should excel on the offensive glass in three-guard sets that allow him to crash the boards.
Offensively, Lewis is more Varez Ward than Justin Mason, especially with his ability to finish around the rim through contact. Like Ward, Lewis is still working on his outside shot, which is projectable because of his solid mechanics, including a favorably high release point. Where Lewis is probably better than Ward is in his ability to knock down the mid-range jumpshot, another good sign for the development of his outside shot. In other words, despite the comparisons, Lewis will enter college as a better offensive player than either Ward or Mason. In fact, right now Lewis is a better offensive player than Mason ever was. And that's an extremely good thing.