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Thoughts and observations from Texas basketball’s open practice

A few tidbits and takeaways from the Longhorns open practice on Tuesday, such as the defense’s elite potential.

Cody Daniel - SB Nation

For the very first time since his arrival in Austin, Shaka Smart opened the doors at Dozier Court to the media on Tuesday afternoon.

Although you never want to make too much of a single practice, there were plenty of takeaways as Texas gears up for the start of its season next week:

  • Texas has the pieces and potential to be really good, if not elite on the defensive end. Everywhere you look on the court, you see athleticism. Aside from Mohamed Bamba, Texas isn’t abundant with great length, but scoring against any combination of Bamba, Andrew Jones, Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Jericho Sims, Matt Coleman and even Royce Hamm won’t come easily. When you have great athletes all over the floor and they’re communicating and simply competing at a high level, it can be impressive, especially when guys can defend multiple positions.
  • On the topic of things Texas can be really good at, transition offense comes to mind. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the abundance of athletes the 2017-18 roster boasts, but when nearly every player — including the big men — can grab a board and go and push the tempo, it speeds things up noticeably and Texas looked comfortable in this setting. And of course, it helps to have a true floor general like Coleman who can display the kind of patience and decision-making that wasn’t always evident last season.
  • When the pace was slowed and Texas worked in half-court settings, the offense isn’t exactly world-beaters when it comes to putting the ball through the basket. I wouldn’t say this is a cause for concern, and the aforementioned defense had plenty to do with that, including several blocked shots. That said, Texas does look to be a much-improved shooting unit with guys like Davis, Roach, Jacob Young, Coleman and Jones all hitting from deep (that I saw), and Jase Febres, Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski can obviously connect from beyond the arc, as well. Coleman and Young were each able to get into the teeth of the defense, which opens things for the shooters. In short, don’t expect to see the Golden State Warriors out there on Nov. 10, but this is definitely a more offensively skilled bunch than last season.
  • If you’ve ever watched a Longhorn Network segment of Smart’s practices at Texas, they’re made out to look loud, intense and enthusiastic. That’s not just for show. There’s seemingly constant communication throughout drills, celebrating and encouragement when goals were reached (such as hitting every shot in a certain rep), and I even saw some barking and trash talking at times, which reveals a level of confidence and toughness that wasn’t always evident last season.
  • Recent upgrades to Cooley Pavilion were worthwhile. As a Kentucky grad, I was quite surprised to walk in and see practice facility far more appealing to the eye than what the Wildcats have at the Joe Craft Center. From memorializing Longhorn greats and team achievements to recognizing current players to highlighting the the basketball program’s values, Dozier Court was a sight to see.

A few notes on individual players ...

  • Bamba didn’t have an overly dominant performance from the portion of the practice the media saw, but there were flashes that show you exactly why he was a five-star recruit and future top-five pick.
  • Sims is just an unreal athlete. His physicality was noticeable on the defensive end and for fans of highlight lob dunks, Sims is your man. He had several throughout the practice.
  • Coleman is exactly what this Texas offense needs. He orchestrated the offense with patience and poise when necessary and pushed the tempo at other times. He also played fairly errorless basketball, which should come as a breath of fresh air after Jones and Roach struggled so mightily with turnovers last season.
  • I left the practice feeling good about what Young can provide off the bench as a sophomore. His shot from the perimeter was pure, he was able to put the ball on the floor and even break the defense down at times and was noticeably engaged during defensive drills. I don’t know if ‘breakout’ is the right word, but I’d expect a more efficient and productive 2017-18 season from Young.
  • Transfer guard Elijah Long came out and ran through drills with Jai Lucas before the practice actually started. Again, you never want to take too much from a practice setting, especially when there’s no defense at times, but Long can shoot the ball really, really well. Of course, he won’t be eligible to play this season per transfer rules, but him joining the rotation next year essentially adds a sharpshooter to Smart’s No. 10-ranked 2018 class.