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Longhorns talent shines in the Texas Tip-Off

A variety of creative and high-flying slams in the dunk contest highlighted the preview event for the men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Royce Hamm during the dunk contest
Courtesy of Texas

On Wednesday at Gregory Gym, the fourth edition of the Texas Tip-Off was a showcase for scrimmages by the Texas Longhorns men’s and women’s basketball programs, with the dunk contest by the men and a three-point shooting contest featuring members of the men’s and women’s teams providing the most notable moments.

Judging the best assist on the day makes for an intriguing argument, for instance.

On one hand, sophomore guard Matt Coleman gave head coach Shaka Smart and his staff a little bit of a recruiting boost by unveiling a “We Want Will Baker” sign targeting the consensus five-star center from Westlake, who was in attendance with his parents.

On the other, the father of senior guard Kerwin Roach II came off the bench to provide some assistance to student rapper Areia Bastami, who tried and failed to provide Roach with the proper bounced feed for a dunk. With time running out, the senior Roach delivered the perfect pass for his son to slam home a reverse.

Then the biggest drama of the evening happened. Freshman forward Jaxson Hayes threw down two impressive dunks, including one over his mother and younger brother, one-upping the winning effort by Roach last year when he dunked over his mother.

However, thanks to some low scores by the mascot judge, Hook ‘em, Hayes didn’t advance.

In response, senior forward Dylan Osetkowski eventually grabbed the microphone, publicly called out Hook ‘em, and made the executive decision to allow Hayes a third dunk, an impressive windmill from the free-throw line.

Come on, Hook ‘em. Be better.

The contest-winning dunk came from sophomore forward Royce Hamm, who was the most surprising entrant. A 360-dunk after catching a pass from Coleman off the side of the backboard was extremely impressive, but not as remarkable as his winning effort jumping over three people.

The three-point shooting contest also provided some drama. Graduate transfer guard Danni Williams was able to defeat senior guard Lashann Higgs to represent the women’s team in the finals, while Coleman beat out freshman forward Kamaka Hepa to represent the men’s team.

In a close contest throughout, Williams and Coleman eventually tied, setting up a sudden-death overtime won by Coleman. Not bad for a guy who struggled last season from distance and had to defeat an accomplished long-range shooter in Williams, who set a school record at Texas A&M last season for made three-pointers.

During the women’s scrimmage, the graduate transfer was impressive, hitting 3-of-5 shots from beyond the arc to combine with sophomore guard Chasity Patterson for seven of the 11 made three-pointers by head coach Karen Aston’s team. Considering that the Horns lost Brooke McCarthy and Ariel Atkins from last year’s squad that didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from distance, the performances by Williams and Patterson were encouraging.

The most heartwarming moments of the evening? The public return of junior guard Andrew Jones, who received loud ovations when he was introduced along with the other Longhorns and acknowledged by Smart when the head coach addressed the crowd.

“It’s moving. In seven months his life was changed. He was in the hospital. He’s not out there with us,” Coleman said. “There’s times like, dang it feels like we’re missing somebody. And we were. It hurt him because who knows how things would have been different if he was out there? He was fighting his own battle and wanted to be out there playing with us. Now to see him back with a smile on his face, him bringing joy, him maturing, it’s moving. It’s moving.”

Jones wasn’t able to participate in the 12-minute scrimmage for the men, but he was not wearing a boot and took some shots while his teammates warmed up. The takeaway? Jones hasn’t lost his touch.

Assessing the scrimmage was a little bit more difficult. It wasn’t as long as Smart might have preferred in the past. Sophomore forward Jericho Sims skewed the teams when he picked Roach and Coleman to play with him. Both Roach and Coleman said afterwards that that the freshmen were pretty nervous.

Hayes missed his first attempt badly enough it looked more like a lob to Osetkowski, who slammed it home, than it did a shot attempt. Guard Courtney Ramey wasn’t able to score. Forward Gerald Liddell lost a ball badly in transition. Hepa threw up an airball on a three-point attempt. Forward Brock Cunningham banked one in.

The good news is that those players were able to work through the nerves of playing in front of a crowd weeks before the season begins. There will be at least one closed scrimmage in the coming weeks before the opener against Eastern Illinois. They will all be fine.

Roach was truly the biggest bright spot. His stroke looked good from deep, he had a dunk in transition, finished a layup with his left hand, and had two blocks, including one of Hayes. After the event, Roach said that his knee still isn’t quite 100 percent after offseason surgery to correct a torn meniscus, but he certainly looked close to full health.

So look for Roach to have a tremendous season as the leader for the most talented Longhorns team of Smart’s tenure in Austin.