If there’s one thing Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns are entering 2016-17, it’s young. Fortunately for the second-year head coach, Smart holds his current crop of freshman — one tasked with replacing five seniors and an All-Big 12 level junior — in high esteem.
“This is the best freshman class that I’ve had the chance to work with as a head coach,” Smart said his Monday media availability.
Such sentiments shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Half of Smart’s four-man 2016 class were McDonald’s All Americans as five-star power forward Jarrett Allen and four-star guard Andrew Jones boasted that honor. Additionally, four-star center James Banks joined Allen on Smart’s Team USA U-18 gold medal squad over the summer, while four-star point guard Jacob Young comes from a pure basketball bloodline — his father was part of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama and his brother Joe currently plays for the Indiana Pacers.
So yeah, Smart’s freshman class came to the 40 Acres with no shortage of talent.
But talent isn’t the same as experience and if there’s one thing Smart’s ‘Horns aren’t entering the season, it’s experienced.
“Whether it’s inexperience or youth or both, it’s just a matter of learning with each opportunity each time out,” Smart said. Prior to its official season opener on Friday, Texas has enjoyed two early opportunities to see its inexperience in action with a Texas Tip-Off stacked with positive takeaways and a 40-point exhibition victory over Angelo State with only seven scholarship players available.
Where Texas’ inexperience and youth is likely to rear its ugly head, though, is ball distributing duties in the absence of Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix. Without the presence of a pure floor general entering the season, Smart said he will instill a point guard by committee system, in which Kerwin Roach Jr. and Andrew Jones will share reps running the show, as should Jacob Young and potentially even Eric Davis Jr.
While a platoon of point guard options may prove to have its share of benefits, a down side will be the lack of a solidified option that can orchestrate the offense at an elite level, as Taylor often did last season. The solution? Simplify things and do a bit less.
“We try to simplify some of the things that we’re doing. We have to teach certain things that you maybe take for granted when you have older guards or guards that have been doing it longer … It means you got to go slower … you got to do a little bit less, but if we can do less better (emphasis on better), I’ll take that.”
As part of his desire to simplify things, Smart said Texas doesn’t have as many plays installed as it did at this point in 2015, along with noting the task of seeking daily growth without running the younger talent down physically. Though Smart’s freshman class consists of gym rats such as Jones and Young, it also consists of Allen, who had never lifted weights before becoming a Longhorn, and Banks, who has only been involved in organized basketball for a handful of years.
Youth and inexperience considered, Smart will still have a rotation chockfull of young, high-level potential. 2016-17 should provide a dramatically different on-court product than his debut season, but with a roster that’s now almost entirely his own — one seemingly ideal for his coaching style — the positives of Texas’ potential may ultimately outweigh the growing pains of its youth.