I had to take a hiatus before I could pen the final post of our series reviewing Rick Barnes, but the focus was going to be on the well-documented rut Barnes has been in recently with respect to recruiting the top talent in the state. That Barnes has been in a rut in that regard wasn't conjecture or exaggeration, either: the lack of interest in the Longhorns among the top Texas kids in the 2013-15 recruiting classes has been consistent, widespread, and easy to observe/confirm.
On Monday, my co-author Curry Shoff spotlighted a column by CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish, which essentially restates what Jeff C. wrote 18 months ago: the state of Texas is producing more elite talent than it ever has before, but Rick Barnes is struggling to gain traction with the state's premier players. My post on the topic would have been redundant, as well, and by now it's a point on which everyone agrees: the lack of interest in Texas among the state's top talent was very real, and very much a problem -- for Rick Barnes and Texas. Uncorrected, it almost certainly will prove a fatal defect that ends Barnes' tenure in Austin.
Alas, Curry and Gary Parrish may have arrived a little late to the dog pile. I'm happy to report that, contrary to Curry's headline, there is some good news where Texas basketball recruiting is concerned.
As you know, Rick Barnes hired Jai Lucas as an assistant coach two weeks ago. Back in mid-July, a source in Houston told me that Barnes had offered Lucas the job, and there wasn't any secret as to why: "Five Mickey D's AA's last year and five more this year."
After the hire was announced, another source in Houston put it this way, "Texas is absolutely exploding right now in basketball. It's ridiculous. And don't kid yourself: John is in many ways the king of the empire."
The emperor he was referring to was John Lucas, of course -- Jai's father. Barnes' motivations for hiring Jai may have been transparent, but that only mattered to the extent it influenced Jai's decision. With Jai on board, there's no two ways about it: Barnes made a very important hire.
I say important for two reasons. The first is the connection to the Texas high school basketball scene, which we'll get back to in a moment, but the second reason I thought the move important was as a positive sign that Barnes (a) wasn't blind to the problem, and (b) attempted to address it in a very direct and likely-to-be-productive way. In other words: whatever else Barnes is suffering from, he's not oblivious and he's not checked out. That's not enough on its own, but it at least tells us that Barnes is engaged in turning this thing around, and is willing/able to be self-critical in trying to do so.
Turning back to Lucas' connection to the Houston hoops scene, it's only been a couple weeks, but the impact of the hire is already evident from what I'm hearing. I haven't seen this reported anywhere, but I heard from two sources that 6'9" PF Khadeem Lattin, a Top 50 player in the Class of 2014 from Houston, suddenly has an interest in the Longhorns and is taking an unofficial visit to Austin over the Labor Day weekend for the alumni basketball game. This, after expressing exactly no real interest in Texas over the past two years, focused mostly on Louisville, Georgetown, and SMU.
Texas is suddenly on his radar, and the alumni game weekend is literally the best possible weekend for a recruit to visit, with Kevin Durant, TJ Ford, and the like on hand to welcome the kid and urge him to don the burnt orange. All things considered, it's quite the coup just to have him coming for an unofficial visit at all, let alone on this weekend -- Lattin is a hell of a prospect who is being hotly pursued by the likes of Rick Pitino and Larry Brown for a reason.
If we emerge serious contenders for Lattin's commitment, I'll write up a full profile, but he's an interesting kid with a fascinating and impressive pedigree: his grandfather David Lattin was a member of the famous Texas Western team that upset Kentucky for the 1966 national title, and his mother, Monica Lamb, is a 6'5 former professional basketball player overseas and in the US, where she won three WNBA titles.
As for his game, Lattin plays like his grandfather, whose nickname was "Big Daddy D" -- physical, athletic, and with a motor that doesn't quit. Think Tristan Thompson. Watch him play, and it's easy to see why he's a favorite of Andy Enfield -- the new USC head coach hired away from Florida Gulf Coast following their spectacular run through this year's NCAA Tournament.
The Lucas hire and news of Lattin's sudden interest is the first indication that things may begin to turn around. And perhaps more quickly than any of us would have thought possible. We'll see how things develop, but at long last: good news!
I'll take it. Hook 'em