The instant-impact addition to the Texas Longhorns during the 2018-19 season isn’t listed among the four signees for head coach Shaka Smart in the recruiting rankings.
That’s because combo guard Elijah Long is already in Austin, spending a season on the bench after transferring from Mount St. Mary’s last year.
Like current junior forward Dylan Osetkowski, Long will see the court for the first time in burnt orange and white next fall after spending a season working with the coaching staff. Like Osetkowski, Long was overlooked during the recruiting process before becoming a more valued commodity when after he announced his transfer.
George Mason, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh were other programs that pursued the 6’1, 180-pounder before he opted for Texas.
“We’re very excited to welcome Elijah to our program,” Smart said when Long signed his Athletic Scholarship Agreement last spring. “He brings winning experience, shot-making ability and has a high basketball IQ. Elijah has a tremendous work ethic and is an extreme competitor.
”Jamion Christian (Mount St. Mary’s head coach) and his staff deserve a great deal of credit for their role in Elijah’s development over the last two seasons,” Smart continued. “Elijah was extremely under-recruited coming out of high school and developed into a first-team all-conference player in their league who is a really good all-around guard.”
In fact, 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.
For the Longhorns, the two most important stats are probably his three-point shooting and his free-throw shooting — he made 38.2 percent of his shots from distance and 73.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
As the point guard for Mount St. Mary’s, Long was an excellent ball handler who was at his best when creating for himself off the bounce, so he’ll provide another primary scorer for the Longhorns next season late in the shot clock or late in games. But he also made enough plays for his teammates that he will serve as the back-up point guard to Matt Coleman in addition to playing next to him at times.
Long has a unique ability to use his crossover dribble and hesitation moves to get into the paint, where his agility with the ball helps him finish around the rim. Similar to Steph Curry, Long can euro step and wrong foot shots with twisting baskets that show off his close-range touch.
In the mid range and from beyond the arc, Long had to consistently create off the dribble at Mount St. Mary’s and should benefit from getting more attempts in catch-and-shoot situations at Texas.
The biggest questions with his game are his ability to translate his success to a higher level of competition and avoid turnovers.
Long started his career 7-of-21 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 shooting from three-point range in games against Maryland, Ohio State, Washington, and Gonzaga. In his final game with Mount St. Mary’s against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, Long was 3-of-16 shooting.
However, there were other times when he performed better against high-level competition, especially as he made a big jump during his sophomore season, starting the campaign scoring 14 points against West Virginia, 19 points against Iowa State, and 11 points against Minnesota.
The turnovers were a bigger problem as a sophomore — Long averaged 3.4 turnovers per game with a 1.57-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The hope is that continued maturation and less pressure at Texas will help Long overcome those issues. And the good news is that Long used so many possessions as a sophomore that his turnover rate was almost identical to that of Coleman this season. Meanwhile, his assist rate ranked No. 122 nationally.
Put into proper context, his assist-to-turnover rate is much less concerning and his overall shooting percentage depressed by how much the Mountaineers relied on him to create shots for himself and for others.
After the Longhorns lost six players from Smart’s first team and then struggled to an 11-22 record last season, Texas fans haven’t had much patience for young players to develop. So adding an instant-impact contributor who will be in his fourth year out of high school should be an asset to the guard corps in 2018-19.
With Long out of the spotlight since his addition last season, there’s not a lot of buzz surrounding the Canadian as he watches from the bench. Expect that to change during the fall, and especially once he starts giving the ‘Horns a long-distance threat and additional ball handler.