One of the biggest gets for head coach Shaka Smart’s impressive 2017 recruiting class didn’t even show up on paper. But finally, junior transfer guard Elijah Long will make his Texas Longhorns debut this season, and he should be a welcomed shot of instant offense and athletic playmaking in the arm of a Texas team desperate for creative scorers.
The 6’1 guard from Ontario, Canada began his college career at NCAA Tournament 16-seed regular Mount St. Mary’s. Long led Mount St. Mary’s in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes during his sophomore season, during which the Mountaineers won a First Four contest before falling in the NCAA Tournament’s First Round. Overall, Long averaged 15.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
This performance led to some expected interest from other high profile schools, such as George Mason, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh.
Ultimately, though, Long chose to sign with Texas, bringing him to the Forty Acres with two more years of eligibility following his transfer season.
“We’re very excited to welcome Elijah to our program,” Smart said of Long upon signing his ASA. “He brings winning experience, shot-making ability and has a high basketball IQ. Elijah has a tremendous work ethic and is an extreme competitor.”
That sentiment from Smart has carried over into this past off season, where Long garnered similar praises from the head coach.
“Eli had a terrific summer, he was in the gym as much as anyone on our team,” Shaka said, addressing Long’s hard-working mentality. “He’s a real gym rat. He has that mentality of someone that never wants to be outworked.”
On top of displaying a strong work ethic, Long has been a positive influence in the locker room with an infectious personality. Having sat the last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Long had plenty of time to get to know his teammates and develop chemistry and rapport with his new team.
“He’s also a guy who’s got great relationships with a variety of guys on our team, so he’s a true connector,” Smart added. “I’m really excited about him being eligible to play this year.”
For the Longhorns, Long should provide an immediate spark — most likely off the bench — in creating offense for a team desperate for playmakers on that end of the court. Two of Long’s greatest strengths lie in his shooting ability and his ball handling and distribution skills.
In his last season in the NCAA, Long made 38.2 percent of his shots from distance and 73.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, and manned the point guard position for a Mount St. Mary’s team that was otherwise stagnant without him on the floor. The Mountaineers averaged just 11.1 assists per game, but Long accounted for an NEC best 4.4 assists per game.
A piece currently on Burnt Orange Nation highlights Long’s strengths and weaknesses, and what he can potentially bring to the table this winter. You can find it here, and many points from the article still ring true today.
Long was at his best when creating for himself off the bounce, and should provide another primary scorer for the Longhorns next season. But with a capable point guard ahead of him in Matt Coleman, Long will more likely serve as the backup point guard, as well as playing next to him throughout the season.
Another reason to believe Long would be better suited in a bench role is due to a lack of track record against higher competition. No disrespect to the Northeast Conference, but the Big 12 and opponents Texas will face this year are a clear step up from most of the teams Long has faced thus far in his collegiate career. So arguably the biggest key for Long will be making the transition to the higher level of play.
However, he does have a few noteworthy moments in games against higher competition, including a 14-point game against West Virginia, 19 points against Iowa State, and 11 points against Minnesota.
But the biggest issue with Long is perhaps his propensity to turning the ball over. As the main creator on a team desperate for offensive creativity, Long averaged 3.4 turnovers per game with a 1.57-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while playing 85.7 of the available minutes and using 28.1 percentage of the possessions and taking 25.8 percent of the shots.
Viewing this issue with burnt-orange tinted glasses, you can write this off as an unfortunate side effect to Long’s heavy utilization in the Mountaineer offense. At Texas, Long won’t have as much pressure to create so much offense for himself and others, and instead should play more off the ball or against backups.
Simply put — less involvement should bring more efficiency to Long’s performance.
With Long out of the spotlight for an entire season, he’s flying well under the ever-active Texas hype radar. After spending a season practicing with the team, growing chemistry with players and coaches, and improving on his game, we should expect that to change during the upcoming season.
The Horns could use a long-distance threat and additional ball handler — and Long may be just the guy, especially since Smart said that Long has been shooting the ball extremely well in practice.