The Texas Longhorns basketball program isn’t back yet, but head coach Shaka Smart will be for the 2020-21 season, his sixth with the program, athletics director Chris Del Conte told the Austin American-Statesman on Friday.
“Shaka’s our coach,” Del Conte told the American-Statesman on Friday. “Nothing’s changed. We won five of the last six down the stretch, finished third in the conference. We have a good team coming back. Nothing’s changed on my end.”
Despite the fact that eight of the team’s 12 losses last season were by 10 or more points, Texas performed in line with the preseason Big 12 expectations — as Del Conte noted, the Horns finished tied for third in the conference standings after Smart’s team was picked to finish fourth.
Smart is now 90-78 in his five seasons on the Forty Acres. However, he’s only 40-50 in Big 12 play and has missed the NCAA tournament twice, not including this year’s canceled event — the Longhorns were squarely on the bubble following the 5-1 finish to the regular season.
When Texas has made the tournament under Smart, he’s yet to win a game, losing on a last-second buzzer beater by Northern Iowa in 2016 and succumbing in overtime to Nevada following a late comeback by the Wolf Pack. The high point of Smart’s tenure so far was winning the NIT in 2019.
So it’s fair to say that Smart has underachieved in Austin, forcing Del Conte to note the “angst” surrounding the program, which has seen attendance decline in the last several years amid fan
Still, Del Conte said that he likes the direction of the program after the 19-12 finish, largely because Texas didn’t have any seniors on last year’s team and, for the first time in years, the Longhorns didn’t have any highly-considered draft picks — there may not be any early entrants into the NBA Draft for the first time since Rick Barnes was the head coach for the 2013-14 season.
That means that Smart is likely to coach a senior point guard for the first time in his career at Texas in Matt Coleman, who will receive scoring assistance in the backcourt from Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, and Jase Febres. In the froncourt, Jericho Sims may well return for his senior season after sitting out since mid-February with a back injury.
Sims could end up playing next to Austin-area star Greg Brown III, arguably one of the best basketball prospects in Central Texas history. In the last eight days, five 247Sports Crystal Ball picks have Brown, a Longhorn legacy, staying home to play his anticipated one season of college basketball under Smart at Texas.
“We have an opportunity in front of us to take a big step, and there’s a ton of urgency inside of our program to do that,” Smart told the Statesman. “It’s easy if you allow yourself to get caught up in things that our said on the outside, but our focus is to help our guys through this challenging period we have now.”
The first two key steps are landing Brown and securing an assistant coach to replace defensive guru Luke Yaklich, who became the next UIC head coach this week after one season at Texas.
If Smart can accomplish the former task and make a strong assistant coaching hire, there is significant cause for optimism next season.