Amid an era in which basketball is becoming an increasingly positionless sport, the value and necessity of a point guard remains. During a season in which multi-capable talents are in abundance in Austin, Shaka Smart’s youthful Longhorns continue to stagger through the 2016-17 slate; devoid of the ever-important floor general.
With four-star Oak Hill Academy point guard Matt Coleman choosing Texas over Duke on Monday following five years of relentlessly recruiting his priority target and countless trips to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia paid off by adding what he deems to be Texas’ missing piece.
According to 247Sports Composite, Coleman isn’t ranked within the top 30 in his class and is just the eighth-ranked point guard, so what makes the Virginia native such a pivotal prospect and potential piece?
For starters, Coleman is a true point guard exemplified and specifically what Smart’s current crop lacks following Isaiah Taylor’s departure — a void largely responsible for Texas’ 7-10 record.
Smart entered the season with intentions of employing a point-guard-by-committee strategy and has done just that — not as if he has much of a choice. Although he joined Smart’s 2016 class as a four-star point guard, Jacob Young has seen few opportunities as a ball-handler and facilitator. Rather, he’s adopted a role as a spot-up perimeter shooter while sophomore Kerwin Roach Jr. and former McDonald’s All-American freshman Andrew Jones — a pair of natural combo guards — have jointly occupied the role Taylor and Javan Felix left behind.
As Burnt Orange Nation’s Jeffrey Haley noted, Smart wasn’t presented too much of a choice in the matter. Attrition has now come to fruition — most heavily impacting the one position a good team can’t do without — and the inability to land a true point guard in any class since Taylor in 2013 is proving to be the 2016-17 Longhorns downfall.
The choice Smart did have came during his first full recruiting cycle, in which he was forced to focus upon the McDonald’s All-American in Jones, or chance having him head elsewhere by electing to place emphasis on other targets.
“It’s tricky because everyone affects everyone else in recruiting,” Smart recently said of why he failed to land a true point guard last cycle. “We made the decision that we would recruit Andrew Jones as a guy that would have an opportunity to play some minutes there; not that he would only pay there because he’s a guy that can play multiple positions.”
Though Jones’ scoring potential, athleticism and ability to aid in ball-handling and distributing duties has bolstered the young Longhorns, his tremendous skill-set isn’t the short-term answer for what Texas lacks in the now.
Consequently, the fruits of two combo guard’s labors are a collective 7.1 turnovers per 40 minutes and 72 total turnovers this season; a noticeable blemish overshadowing Roach and Jones’ combined 92 assists.
Smart decided to put all his energy into securing Jones in the 2016 class and it paid dividends. The same can be said with Coleman in the 2017 cycle, and even more so, which, considering Texas could still enter next season with the same point guard deficiency currently depriving it of success, makes Coleman’s Monday morning commitment of that much more significance.
If Coleman had chosen Duke, Smart didn’t have an established back-up plan in place — and didn’t need it.
Who is Matt Coleman?
An electric, elusive lefty — say that three times quickly.
Whether you dub him as the prized prospect of the Smart’s career or the most important Longhorns target since T.J. Ford, Coleman’s importance given the current landscape of Texas basketball isn’t overstated. Simply put, there’s a reason Smart has prioritized Coleman since he was an eighth-grader.
During the summer, as part of the FIBA Americas Championship in which Smart was the head coach of a Team USA U18 squad that included Coleman, the potential pairing got their first glimpse at what Smart envisions for the flashy floor general in Austin. Despite being far from the headliner of a roster chockfull with the nation’s elite prospects — one that included current Longhorns Jarrett Allen and James Banks — Smart ran with Coleman as the lead point guard. In return, Coleman produced 22 assists, 23 rebounds and connected on 17-of-32 field goal attempts in five games en route to a gold medal.
On film, he’s everything Texas needs and more.
At 6’2, 175 pounds, Coleman’s a surprisingly explosive athlete and utilizes it to control the pace of the game to his pleasing. A tremendously shifty guard, Coleman displays a great sense of when to explode and attack defenders and when to slow things down — in the same possession at times. If he joins the burnt orange nation on Monday, Coleman will likely arrive on campus as Texas’ best and most confident ball-handler, distributor, and mentally, the most capable of putting those around him in a position to succeed.
It’s worth noting that prior to helping lead Team USA to a gold medal last summer, Coleman also helped bring a high school national championship to Oak Hill Academy — a prep school roster also stacked with D-I prospects. As for this season, Coleman’s led an 18-2 Oak Hill team with 93 assists and just 20 turnovers — one more assist than Roach and Jones have combined for Texas.
To say he’s familiar with thriving as the coach on the court for championship-caliber rosters is putting it lightly.
Considering Texas has a talented roster appearing to be just another offseason away from prominence — one that may again include Jarrett Allen and another potential top five recruiting class that can still possibly add five-star power forward Mohamed Bamba — not much would change next season in Austin, and as Smart consistently told Coleman, the keys are his now that he decided to take them.
We now know that’s the case.
If the tale of the tape tells the truth, Roach and Jones are by no means a lost cause as capable point guards, if it’s possible to label them as such. After dishing out just 12 assists and turning the ball over 14 times in his first five games of the season, Roach’s last five games have produced 23 assists and 16 turnovers and it’s clear that he’s beginning to grasp the position and what being a point guard entails. Meanwhile, Jones’ last eight games have resulted in 26 assists and 24 turnovers after a 16-assist, 15-turnover start to the season.
But in any case, neither bring the same substance to the table as Coleman. Surrounding Coleman as the head of the table would be a bevy of capable scorers — which includes Roach and Jones in their more natural roles — who are currently being starved without a high-level distributor to feed them in the right position.
Smart, too, has never been hungrier for a recruit and Coleman is one that could significantly alter the trajectory of the basketball program in Austin. After all, we’re just hours away from the culmination of five years of recruiting work from the ‘Horns second-year head coach.
For better or worse, Coleman will be coming aboard as Texas or Duke’s point guard of the future Monday morning. If he has burnt orange on the brain, the future of basketball in Austin just got much brighter.