Texas Longhorns walk-on Ryan McClurg screamed, animated as he actively defended an in-bound pass. The opposing side anxiously called a time-out, and chest bumps and high fives ensued directed at the pumped McClurg.
It was the Texas Tip-Off, and the enthusiasm on the court couldn’t be more contrary the lack of energy in the stands.
San Antonio based journalist Mike Finger summed it up best:
This still isn't a basketball school, but Shaka is trying, man. pic.twitter.com/nw2GDtaLSB— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) October 21, 2016
The turnout for the annual intrasquad scrimmage was significantly less than Shaka’s first season, when a sell-out crowd lined up outside of Gregory Gym more than an hour before the event.
Moreover, the audience was so disengaged it was like they were forced to come. In fact, some were in a way — many students attended to receive spirit group points.
And frankly, it’s pretty hilarious to compare this year’s Texas player introductions with “Big Blue Madness,” Kentucky’s equivalent event.
Smart is one of the best coaches in the game, but no matter what his success in Austin will be, hoops will never reign supreme at Texas.
Football has been king for too long, and there’s too many students engaged in the music scene and nightlife of the city for the entire student body to unify to the degree that Kentucky or Duke or Kansas does.
But should Texas fans be envious of basketball schools where even a casual scrimmage is the most exciting event on campus of the night? Not really.
Yes, Texas isn’t a basketball school, but Smart’s elite recruiting classes aren’t deceived into thinking they are attending one. The Longhorns’ head coach has recruited local products who want to stay close to home, and personalities who thrive better away from the limelight.
Take Jarrett Allen for example. The McDonald’s All-American from Round Rock is a Pokemon-loving, soft-spoken super star whose shyness is apparent even in last night’s scrimmage. Introduced for the first time in a Texas uniform, the 6’9 center meekly waved to the audience, and then put his head down and exited the stage.
Kentucky was one of Allen’s top choices. I know I’m speaking for the guy a little too much here — but judging by his demeanor I’m fairly confident he would prefer the low key atmosphere in Austin to his face being blown up in high definition on a jumbotron in Lexington.
The Texas Tip-Off resembled a high school pep rally more than the introduction of a top-25 college team, but there’s no reason to be embarrassed by it. Smart’s down-to-earth attitude is what draws recruits to play for him, and a flashy introduction to the season would only contrast that approachable, laid-back image.
Basketball athletes here have the opportunity to escape the rabid and judgmental fan base that has plagued the football team, all while still reaping the perks of attending a prominent program with room to grow. The hoops players’ passion may spill over to the stands over time, but for now, the youthful group has time to develop away from the harsh glare of the “eyes of Texas”.