Much of the upside of Texas’ 2016-17 team will be determined by how familiar Shaka Smart and his Texas Longhorns team laden with fresh faces can become and how quickly.
In regards to the collective whole, Smart’s duties as head coach of the Team USA U18 squad became a slight speed bump in that progression, but it also provided a boost to Smart’s relationships with arguably his two most pivotal newcomers — Jarrett Allen and James Banks.
"We got a chance to get to know each other off the court, but also on the court," Smart said of Allen and Banks in a recent press conference. To that end, Smart discussed learning their tendencies, how to coach them and how they react with players and officials.
While his duties with Team USA were exactly that — to coach Team USA, Smart had his fair share of time to dedicate to some of his newest Longhorns. For the most part, Smart knew what he was getting in Allen, the local five-star product and McDonald’s All-American. Although Allen can certainly afford some sculpting to his game before what looks to become an NBA career after a season or two in Austin, Banks is much more of a clump of basketball clay yet to be molded.
This is where Smart’s presence paid some dividends.
Much unlike the majority of those on the Team USA roster, Bank’s hasn’t been playing basketball most of his life. As Smart noted, he doesn’t yet have his “10,000 hours.” Because of that, Smart discussed working individually with Banks during optional workouts. "It was optional for everybody but James, but he would have gone anyway," Smart said. "His attitude and approach was terrific."
That attitude remained, even when Banks played only a collective 39 minutes in four out of the five games. Was sitting a key piece to his 2016-17 roster awkward for Smart? Considering his role, he doesn’t think so.
"If I was just down there as the coach from Texas, I would have played those guys, both, the whole game," Smart said of Allen and Banks.
But in any case, regardless of the minutes Banks spent observing who Smart called future NBA players, he felt the entire experience would be beneficial for Banks going forward.
"I think it's a great development step for him and experience for him," Smart said. “He and I got a lot of individual work in away from the games."
While Banks may not have been the guy NBA scouts were out analyzing every move from, the kind of confidence Smart has become notorious for was once again on display when Smart noted a conversation with other Team USA players.
"Just wait until you see what James becomes, because it's going to be very, very special."
It’s quite likely many already feel that way about Allen, but first, Smart just has to figure out what makes him tick. That process began back in Colorado Springs for the Team USA tryouts and carried over to Houston and Chile.
By now it’s no secret that Allen, who started all five games for Team USA and led the team in rebounding with nine per game, isn’t like your typical high profile prospect. That became quite evident dating back to his not so distant recruitment. But Smart’s working his magic and is making strides towards figuring out a kid he calls very intelligent.
In his presser, Smart discussed breaking things down logically for Allen, saying if you can show his why A, B and C go into D, whether that’s winning or whatever it may be, he’ll pursue it with everything he has.
"He's got a real competitive streak in him that when that becomes the dominant emotion or mode in his mind, he'll go after it," Smart said.
With the tall task of replacing Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert at hand, aiding in Banks’ progression and getting Allen’s eyes focused on the season is something Smart saw begin taking form as soon as the two met on campus. The Team USA experienced only furthered what’s now become a bond headlined by the nickname, “Fro Bros.”
"Those guys getting more and more connected with each other was a really special thing."