The #16 Horns opened their season with a 87-56 exhibition victory over Xavier (La) thanks to strong performances by DJ Augustin and Damion James, suffocating second half defense, and domination on the glass.
It is hard to take too much away from last night’s exhibition considering the opponent and the fact that AJ Abrams (toe), Dexter Pittman (on crutches), and Matt Hill (foot) were all in street clothes, but color me optimistic about this year’s Longhorns.
Last year, Texas was blessed with the best player in the country but never really gelled as a true team. The ‘Horns stood around too often and marveled at the greatness that is Kevin Durant and didn’t force their opponents to defend all five positions. This year, that won’t be a problem. I know it was just an exhibition and the opponent was an NAIA team, but the 2007-2008 Longhorns will be a better team than the 2006-2007 Longhorns.
DJ Augustin showed flashes of brilliance and signs of rust. Augustin was 8-of-17 for a game-high 22 points while also contributing four rebounds, seven assists, and six turnovers in 38 minutes of action. He is even quicker off the dribble than I remember and rarely had difficulty turning the corner with or without a high pic, but was a little sloppy with the ball and, due to the injury to Dogus Balbay, played way too many minutes. Augustin looked thinner and in better shape, although, the new and longer shorts almost swallowed him. DJ is a phenomenal playmaker and will be really fun to watch this season as the ‘Horns get healthy and come together more as a team. I saw nothing tonight to indicate that DJ will not be Big 12 player of the year.
A leaner and stronger Damion James really showed up on both ends of the floor. James looked remarkably comfortable on the wing and confident shooting mid and long range jump shots. I was particularly impressed with the elevation on his jump shot. It was very evident that he spent a ton of time in the gym and the weight room this off-season. James had 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbed eight boards, and blocked two shots in just 26 minutes of action. If that type of shooting continues, there is no way defenses will be able to help on DJ’s drives with James and Abrams on the wings.
The third Longhorn playing with a new frame is Justin Mason. While Mason’s numbers are pretty impressive (10 points, seven rebounds in 30 minutes), I came away even more pleased with his energy and quickness. The Justin Mason from the first half of last year is back. He looked comfortable off the dribble, quicker on the defensive end, and more active on the glass. I am still hesitant to play AJ, DJ, and Justin all the same time because of size issues on defense. However, this three man rotation at the two guard spots will be among the best in the conference, if not the country.
The final ‘Horn to really play solidly was freshman Gary Johnson. Barnes didn’t insert him into the game until about halfway through the first half, but he was an instant contributor: 13 points and six boards in just 19 minutes of action. Johnson lived up to the hype and then some. He is like a pogo stick on the glass, showed an ability to rebound outside of his area, and already had a solid frame. Very few college post players are going to be able to push him around. As long as he is cleared, don’t be surprised to see Gary Johnson become a double-double machine by conference time.
The other two freshman post players, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman also looked promising. Alexis appeared taller than his listed height of 6-7 and showed some serious toughness while securing five rebounds in 15 minutes. He was also 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Chapman has a really high basketball IQ. He showed well on high screens, showed surprising lateral quickness, and crashed the boards well on both ends. He needs to add weight and strength, but I won’t be surprised to see him move ahead of Hill in the frontcourt rotation this season.
Connor Atchley was neither Good Connor, nor Bad Connor. Atchley did knock down his one three-point attempt and had a couple of nice assists to JD Lewis. However, in a mostly up and down game, he was largely invisible.
Fellow seniors Ian Mooney and JD Lewis started the game for the ‘Horns. Not surprisingly, neither was impressive. Lewis converted just 1-of-8 from behind the arc. I have to believe that he only played so many minutes because of the absence of AJ Abrams. Sophomore Harrison Smith also saw some action. I still don’t see how he gets more than a couple of minutes per game this season.
I am really excited about this team. Team being the key word. Once everyone is healthy, the ‘Horns may be as many as ten deep and absolutely loaded on the frontline. I can’t remember a Longhorn team this stacked at the power forward and center positions. Last year, the Horns struggled with size, defense, and rebounding. That won’t be the case this season. As long as Augustin stays healthy and Mason can spell him at point for about ten minutes per game, there is no reason why this team won’t be among the top 15 teams in the country.