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Surging Dylan Disu living lifelong dream at Texas

The Pflugerville native grew up a Longhorns fan, but wasn’t recruited by Shaka Smart. Now Disu is making the most of his long-awaited opportunity with a magical postseason run.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Penn State vs Texas Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After a lengthy journey from Pflugerville to Nashville to Austin, Texas Longhorns forward Dylan Disu is living a lifelong dream starring for the Longhorns with an incredible postseason run that culminated on Saturday with a season-high 28 points in the win over the Penn State Nittany Lions.

But it hasn’t been an easy journey for Disu, who has faced plenty of adversity along the way.

Growing up in Pflugerville, Disu was a fan of all things burnt orange and white, attending football and basketball games and hanging a picture of quarterback Colt McCoy in his home. Disu even went to Texas football camps, posing for pictures with Mack Brown and idolizing Vince Young.

Even though Disu was a consensus four-star prospect after starring at Hendrickson and averaging 23.4 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior, he never got the phone call from Texas head coach Shaka Smart to offer him a scholarship. With forward Jaxson Hayes viewed as a long-term development prospect in the 2018 class, Smart looked elsewhere in the Austin area for help in the frontcourt, landing what was considered a big pledge from Westlake center Will Baker, and then going national to sign high-upside forward Kai Jones.

So Disu choose Vanderbilt over Illinois, SMU, Stanford, and Texas A&M. A late growth spurt in high school hadn’t helped Disu with the hometown team and he was still gangly and awkward enough when he arrived in Nashville that the Commodores coaches called him “Bambi.”

“It was tough,” Disu said last week. “I was kind of upset about it.”

Academically, though, Vanderbilt was a strong fit for the cerebral Disu, who was still talented enough as a true freshman to average 27 minutes per game with 31 starts. The efficiency wasn’t there for the 6’9 forward and he only averaged 7.4 points per game after suffering from a meniscus injury before the season, but he broke through as a sophomore, winning SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year while scoring 15.0 points per game and leading the conference in rebounding at 9.2 per game before suffering a bone fracture in his left knee that ended his season after 17 games.

With Smart departing Austin for Marquette after the disastrous first-round loss to Abilene Christian in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Texas hired Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard, who pursued Disu in the NCAA Transfer Portal after he departed Vanderbilt. Disu didn’t just return to Austin to play for his hometown team, though — he wanted a program with the opportunity to win championships.

Disu finally had the chance to play for his hometown team, but his start with the Longhorns wasn’t without adversity because he was still rehabilitating his knee injury when he arrived on the Forty Acres, eventually missing the first eight games of the 2021-22 season.

At first, it looked like Disu was acclimating quickly to the Texas program, scoring in double digits in four of his first six games, but after playing 25 minutes against Oklahoma State in early January, his playing time diminished and he never received more than 15 minutes or scored more than seven points for the remainder of the season, even after forward Tre Mitchell departed the program for personal reasons.

After a full, healthy offseason, the expectation was that Disu would return to his sophomore form. Over first four games of this season it looked that way as the Texas forward turned in four efficient performances. But then Disu banged up his left knee in a game against UTRGV and played only 16 games against Creighton and nine ineffective minutes against Illinois over the next two games. Later in December, Disu left the Louisiana game after he aggravated the knee sprain, limiting his playing time for the next several weeks, though the comeback win over TCU did show flashes of the Disu Texas thought it was getting in a 7-of-7 performance.

Then Disu went scoreless against Texas Tech in the next game before following up three straight games in double figures by scoring two points in 28 minutes in the loss to Tennessee.

But something important happened in a 1-of-6 performance against Iowa State in February — in an organic moment, Disu took a push shot with 10:56 remaining in the first half. Over the proceeding weeks, the shot became a staple for Disu, who has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games after breaking through with a 24-point performance in a late February loss to Baylor.

“As far as the floater, it’s something that I just think I’m naturally good at,” Disu said after the NCAA Tournament win over Colgate. “I just have solid touch, so I tried it a couple times in the Iowa State game and ever since then I’ve just kept shooting it because the middle of the lane is a pretty open spot.”

With opponents opting to trap ball screens for Texas guard Marcus Carr late in the season, the middle of the lane has opened up for Disu on the short roll and he’s made opponents pay with the addition of his push shot, which flummoxed guard Sir’Jabari Rice when Disu made three over him in practice.

“I tested him, I was like, ‘Lemme see if this is real,’” Rice said on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Alright, it’s real. I really don’t know what else to do about it.”

Defenders have felt the same way about it during Disu’s magical postseason run, during which the Texas forward is averaging 17.8 points on 39-of-54 shooting (72.2 percent) and nine rebounds in the five games while adding seven steals, earning Most Outstanding Player in the Big 12 Tournament during that stretch. In the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, Disu has been the most efficient player with 1.45 points per possession, averaging 22.2 points per game on 15.5 possessions.

And much of that success is due to the floater, which has even earned a nickname from teammates.

“We call it the flotation station,” Texas forward Timmy Allen said of Disu’s push shot. “It’s crazy — the flotation station. It’s from anywhere, that’s why it’s station; it’s portable, it can move. Flotation station.”

The floater helped fuel the 28-point performance against Penn State that featured 14-of-20 shooting as Disu broke the school’s single-game NCAA Tournament record for most made field goals, previously held by Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s great company to have — those guys are legends,” Disu said on the court after the game. “They came down and spent some time with us this year and I just hope we can make them proud this tournament run.

It was a performance that certainly caught Durant’s attention.

It wasn’t just a huge performance in scoring quantity, though — when the game was on the line after Penn State used a 10-0 run to take a three-point lead to force a timeout by interim head coach Rodney Terry with 4:48 remaining, it was the type of situation that over most of the last two seasons called for giving the ball to Carr. But Carr knew that Disu was hot, asking the coaches to draw up a play for Disu, who wanted to get the ball inside, where Texas ended the game with a 40-24 advantage in the paint.

Out of the timeout, Carr found Disu, who finished with a layup to spark a 10-0 run during which he scored eight points, including the first six. All three lead guards for Texas helped get Disu the ball during that stretch with Rice hitting him for a fadeaway to beat the shot clock and Tyrese Hunter feeding him for a face-up opportunity.

With 55 seconds left, Carr again hit Disu on a pick and roll and Disu held his follow through after hitting the flotation station basket to put the Longhorns up by seven points and take control of the game, sending the Texas bench and the burnt orange-clad fans in Des Moines into an ecstatic frenzy.

Twenty-one seconds later, Disu put an exclamation point on his performance by making a layup in transition on an assist by Allen.

“We’ve never played against a big man with that type of touch,” Penn State forward Seth Lundy said. “I don’t remember him missing not one floater. He would do it from 10 feet, 15 feet, five feet. He made it every single time.”

Making the standout effort all the more sweet was that it came in front of his grandmother, uncle, and his cousins who live in Iowa, where Disu spent his summers growing up.

“Dylan had a special night,” Allen said in an understatement.

How does it all feel for Disu?

“It’s kind of a dream come true,” he said.