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Dylan Osetkowski close to beginning professional basketball journey

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A strong finish to his senior season should afford Osetkowski a shot in the NBA Summer League. After that, who knows?

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There will be more basketball in the future of former Texas Longhorns forward Dylan Osetkowski, the second-leading scorer and leading rebounder for head coach Shaka Smart’s program in 2018-19.

So while Osetkowski isn’t ranked among ESPN’s top 100 prospects entering the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday, he has gone through group workouts with teams like the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings and stands a strong shot of making a roster for the NBA Summer League. After those eight games, Osetkowski will likely have to decide between playing in the G League or going overseas.

When Osetkowski makes his professional debut — wherever it ends up being — it will mark the culmination of a long and winding journey for the former unranked prospect who only had one scholarship offer.

Barely recruited out of high school in California as a member of the 2014 recruiting class, Osetkowski went to the only place that offered him a chance, spending two years at Tulane before becoming one of the top frontcourt transfers in the country and choosing Texas over Arizona after averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds as a sophomore.

Granted significant freedom in Smart’s offense, Osetkowski took on a heavy load as a junior, especially after Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia and freshman sensation Mohammed Bamba injured his foot late in the season.

In playing 84.8 percent of all available minutes that year — and 89.1 percent during Big 12 play — Osetkowski notably wore down as Texas went into overtime eight times, including two double-overtime games, with 6’9 forward going 40 minutes or more in seven of those contests.

Expected to improve as a three-point shooter, Osetkowski instead hit only 28.8 percent on 146 attempts as his overall field-goal percentage dropped to the lowest point in his college career. Despite all the minutes, Osetkowski only blocked seven shots all season.

A lack of ideal physical fitness played a significant role and forced Osetkowski to change his workout routine and diet entering his senior season. Down to 250 pounds, about 30 less than he played at in 2017-18, Osetkowski improved his stamina, benefiting from a smaller role offensively and lower minute load overall.

As a result, Osekowski nearly tripled his block rate and took 52 fewer shots as his efficiency improved inside and outside the arc. His free-throw shooting improved, too — from 72.1 percent to 75 percent — as his turnover rate dropped and his assist rate increased.

In fact, lost in the frustration of the suspension to senior guard Kerwin Roach II and the subsequent 1-4 finish in Big 12 plat was just how well Osetkowski played down the stretch, a run of success that continued on the way to an NIT title.

Only five points against Xavier marked Osetkowski’s worst performance in the NIT, but he averaged 18.3 points per game in the other four contests on 55.5-percent shooting. The highlight came against three-time Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum as the Longhorns defeated the Jackrabbits in no small part because Osetkowski out-played his counterpart with 26 points on only 13 shots.

The career-high performance from Osetkowski showcased his skill set when confident and playing freely, prompting freshman guard Courtney Ramey to compare his teammate to Kevin Love. For Smart, it was all about how Osetkowski approached the game.

“The biggest thing I saw from Dylan was what we call the ‘approach-goal mindset,’ which is going after something as opposed to playing not to make a mistake or to keep something bad from happening,” Smart said.

Failing to play with the “approach-goal mindset” that Smart preaches helps explain the slumps that Osetkowski periodically went through as a shooter at Texas, even as a senior. Between the second conference game against West Virginia and a home loss to Kansas State more than a month later, Osetkowski only made 1-of-24 attempts from beyond the arc, starting with five misses in the road loss to Oklahoma State.

The struggles often resulted in Osetkowski pump faking and attempting to drive instead of taking open looks — hardly the best recipe for producing quality shots within the flow of the offense.

When Osetkowski just “let it fly,” however, as he did against South Dakota State, he was able to produce efficient shooting performances from distance that suggest some professional upside dependent more on maturing mentally than refining or tweaking his shooting stroke.

In a positive sign for his future shooting prospects, Osetkowski made 6-of-13 three-pointers in the Portsmouth Invitational pre-draft event, and earned recognition as one of the prospects to significantly improved their stock there. A small sample size, to be sure, but one that continued his late-season success.

One significant concern is that Osetkowski struggled to finish at the rim as a senior, consistently missing easy layups and ultimately ending his college career with a conversion rate of 61.2 percent in that category. However, Osetkowski did shoot 67.7 percent at the rim as a junior, the best mark of his career and a notable improvement over his freshman and sophomore seasons at Tulane, so his issues in 2018-19 might have been an anomaly.

On two-point jump shots, Osetkowski increased his field-goal percentage by more than 10 points from his junior to senior seasons, showing particular effectiveness with his back-down game to get into the post. Some smaller opponents were bullied so badly by Osetkowski in that regard that teams started double-teaming the Texas forward. As his assist-to-turnover rate indicated, Osetkowski also made a lot of good decisions in those situations as a senior by showing solid vision.

Defensively, quick hands and strong anticipation on and off the ball helped Osetkowski lead Texas in steals, including seven against Georgia, the most for a Longhorns player since Brandon Mouton had seven in 2003.

Against South Dakota State in the NIT opener, both steals by Osetkowski came in key moments with the game on the line — after assisting on a three-point by Ramey to tie the game with 7:47 remaining, Osetkowski drew a foul after ripping talented Jackrabbits point guard David Jenkins. Then, less than a minute later, Osetkowski again victimized Jenkins and finished with a resounding slam in transition to give Texas a three-point lead it never relinquished.

On the glass, Osetkowski’s defensive rebounding rate of 19.4 percent led the team and ranked No. 303 nationally — he’s tough-minded in that area of the game and has enough mass that most power forwards weren’t able to displace him in college.

Other than Osetkowski’s mental approach to the game, the biggest question mark he faces as he transitions to professional basketball somewhere is about his athleticism. Even after dropping so much weight, Osetkowski still had issues with more physically gifted players and possesses average movement abilities in terms of speed, quickness, and explosiveness.

With pace and spacing coming to define the modern game, Osetkowski isn’t likely to ever make an NBA roster, but he does have plenty of intriguing skill and the potential to carve out a long and successful career in a league like Spain’s ACB.