The wait is finally over for Dylan Osetkowski.
After transferring from Tulane and landing in Austin in April of 2016, the 6’9, 245-pounder made his Texas Longhorns debut on Friday, scoring 13 points and securing 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes. It was a long time coming.
“It was just something that I wasn’t ready for mentally,” Osetkowski said last week of his transfer season. “But Coach Smart, all the coaches, managers were all there last year to get me through that and everything that I did last year has led to this point, so I’m eager to get out there and do what I wanted to do last year.”
During that year spent practicing with the ‘Horns, Osetkowski emerged as a tough-minded leader.
As Smart has preached about the domino effect of players showing toughness and leadership on the court, Osetkowski has taken that role upon himself. In the exhibition game against Texas A&M to benefit Hurricane Harvey relief, one notable confrontation resulted in Osetkowski drawing half of a double technical, demonstrating that the junior transfer is willing to stand up for himself and his teammates in a game against a physical group.
“The more I can be locked in, the more I can be at a high level mentally, I think it will be great for the team,” Osetkowski said.
The mental aspect of the game hasn’t stopped with Osetkowski improving his focus and physicality — he’s also been one of the players that Smart turns to during media timeouts to lead the team for the first minute or so, even last season. The Longhorns head coach believes that the players often have more credibility with each other than the coaches have with them, so Osetkowski was one the staff targeted for that role because he earned the respect of his teammates so quickly.
As a basketball player, the California native has also gotten better as he worked to improve his left hand as a result of a wrist injury he dealt with over the summer.
Working with assistant coach Darrin Horn has helped, too. Osetkowski practiced different moves since arriving at Texas, ranging from his back-to-the-basket game to facing up opponents. “Especially last year, Coach Horn was a huge part of my growth as a player. My mind set, my game, just always having a dominant mind set and not conflicting myself.”
Some of that confidence comes from Smart himself, who has empowered Osetkowski to use every bit of his versatile skill set on the court, including handling the ball in transition after securing rebounds. Against Northwestern State, that freedom paid off when the junior hit star freshman Mohamad Bamba with a long pass for a dunk.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to do that and I’ve had a wide-ranging skill set, but Coach Smart has instilled a lot of confidence in me, too, to push the ball on the break,” Osetkowski said. “You know, bring it up, get into the offense, so he’s put a lot of confidence in me. I’m glad he’s doing that and I’m going to show him that he’s doing the right thing by allowing me to do that.”
And though the transfer season was difficult for Osetkowski, it allowed him to play freely in practice and expand elements of his game like his ball handling without having to worry about committing turnovers that could cost the team a game.
Osetkowski also got to play against current Brooklyn Nets big man Jarrett Allen in practice, leaving him somewhat relieved when Allen departed. And then Bamba showed up, who is seven feet tall with a 7’9 wingspan and an even better shot blocker than Allen. The junior might express some further relief when Bamba departs for the NBA after this season, but until then, Osetkowski looks at Bamba’s presence as an opportunity.
“Whether I’m going against him or with him, every day we’re making each other better, feeding off each other,” Osetkowski said of Bamba.
As with so many other elements of his game, Osetkowski also benefited from the freedom to shoot the ball from deep despite hitting on only 26.7 percent of his three-point attempts during his sophomore season at Tulane. After working extensively on his shot, Osetkowski hit a mid-range jump shot on Friday and added one three-point make on three attempts — he’s expected to be an integral part of Texas improvement in that category.
"Biggest thing with Dylan is we don’t want him to play with hesitation,” Smart said on Monday. “When you saw him shoot the threes he shot, that’s hopefully a function of him letting go and playing and attacking. Sometimes when a player has hesitancy they tend to not be able to make those plays as well. We like him to be aggressive — he’s our best offensive engine by far on our team not just for him scoring but for creating opportunities for other guys."
After a long layoff, the engine is up and running again. Before the season started, Smart noted that Osetkowski’s name isn’t a familiar one around the college basketball landscape.
If everything goes to plan this season, that will change quickly.