We have already looked at the Texas backcourt. Now let's take a look at the Texas frontcourt.
The biggest difference in this year's team, besides the overwhelming youth, is the lack of frontcourt depth. If we consider Kevin Durant a small forward or even a guard, this year's team has only four frontcourt players: three true freshman and one redshirt sophomore. And the one returning frontcourt player would rather shoot threes than bang near the basket. Defending the post and rebounding on both ends are big question marks coming into this season. We do have some interesting characters though.
The most likely starter in this spot is the most unlikely Longhorn. Damion James (6'7" 227) was heavily recruited by Coach Barnes but eventually declared and signed a letter of intent to Oklahoma. Everything changed for James and for two other OU signees when Coach Kelvin Samson bolted for Indiana in front of possible NCAA sanctions. Ironically, the Sooners were caught making hundreds of rule breaking phone calls to potential recruits. Many of which were to James. He was granted a release from his letter of intent and reopened his recruitment. Damion eventually chose Texas over Texas A&M. Snagging James put the icing on the cake of an already outstanding recruiting class.
James was the top ranked player in Texas as a senior and earned second team All American by Parade Magazine. Damion was also ranked in the top 20 nationally and would have considered the NBA if not for the new rule forbidding it. James is a versatile forward. He possesses small forward ball handling skills in a much bigger frame. James has a polished mid range game and can also step back to hit the three. His tremendous athleticism allows him to score or lead the break. On defense, he uses his physical frame well on the low blocks. James should be the top rebounder on the team this year. Forget about freshman combos. James and Durant should make one of the best combos in the country. Period.
Backing up James and also playing some center will be fellow freshman Matt Hill (6'9" 230). Hill is maybe the least touted of the seven newcomers. However, he has been the biggest surprise this fall. Hill earned Mr. Basketball honors as the top player in Nebraska as a senior. He will be an instant fan favorite because of his big hair style.
Matt is an athletic big man who can score with either hand around the basket. He runs the floor well and is a good shot blocker. He exhibits great footwork in the low post while also feeling comfortable facing the basket. His upside is tremendous but he must gain weight and strength. He will fit in nicely if we play more up tempo as expected.
Anyone who saw Connor Atchley (6'9" 225) play last year knows that he is not a true center. He isn't a power forward either. But he is the only returning member of the Texas frontcourt. Atchley played in 29 games last year averaging two points per game in seven minutes per contest. He did show steady improvement throughout the season though. Still, Connor is much more comfortable facing the basket and shooting from the perimeter. To contribute this season, his rebounding and low post presence must improve. I expect Atchley to play about a dozen minutes per contest as breathers for James and Hill.
The last member of the frontcourt is the most intriguing. Freshman Dexter Pittman (6'10" 3__?) showed up in Austin weighing 370 lbs. The early thinking was a definite redshirt. Since June, Big Dex has worked his butt off. He has dropped over 60 lbs in five months with more to come. Coach Barnes said that he can lose as much as five pounds in a single practice.
Predictably, Pittman was a beast on the low blocks in high school. He has great hands and touch around the basket. Dexter uses his size well on both ends to cement good position on the low blocks. Pittman will alter more shots than he blocks. His stamina remains a question but he will be a contributor this season. Did BON already declare "Lunch Pail" as his nickname?
This year's frontcourt will be less physical but more athletic than Aldridge and Buckman. Rebounding will be a challenge as will staying out of foul trouble. Don't be surprised to see James and Durant on the floor together will three other guards. James and Hill are ready to contribute. Atchley's continued development and Pittman's conditioning remain the unknowns.