There is only one regular season game remaining. The Texas Longhorns host the 24-6 Baylor Bears, who are playing to jockey for better position in college basketball’s multi-tiered postseason. Meanwhile, the Longhorns are mostly playing for the sake of playing; this is basketball after all, and it remains fun to win no matter the circumstances.
In this preview space, I mostly tend to write about the Texas opponent, but I will only do this briefly today. Here we go: Johnathan Motley is really good, Manu Lecomte is banged up and may or may not play, Nuni Omot has gradually emerged as a contributor over the course of the season after I didn’t really mention the last time I wrote about Baylor, and the Bears remain a strong opponent.
Instead, I want to write about the Texas seniors. Saturday will be their final home game as college basketball players, so let’s write about each of them.
It’s kind of a bummer (one of many this year) that Mareik Isom’s single season in Austin was derailed by an infection that required surgery, which mostly wiped him out for the season. He has really only worked his way into the rotation over the past two weeks.
After a redshirt freshman year, Isom played for three years at Arkansas-Little Rock, and in his third year he was a contributor on a team that won 30 games and upset Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
What Texas fans really never got to see is that Isom can really shoot. He has made 37 percent of his career three-point attempts and led the Sun Belt conference in three-point shooting percentage in two different seasons. This sounds like the sort of player that could have helped Texas a little this season, but sometimes things don’t work out the way that you hope.
Shaquille Cleare came to Texas after spending two seasons at Maryland. Shaka Smart should send Rick Barnes and his staff a thank you note for bringing Cleare in because can you imagine this season without him?
After being a part-time player for his first three years, Cleare has started every game this season for Texas. As tough as this season has been, things would have been far tougher without him in the program.
Cleare’s game is simple to describe. He is a strong big man with soft hands, great footwork, and nice touch around the basket. The combined package makes him a solid low post offensive player. And while I don’t know him from Adam, he is by all accounts a really good dude to be around, and the sort of person that you don’t mind having in your program.
In my mind, Kendal Yancy’s career has not taken the trajectory that one might have expected when he first came to Austin four years ago. That things have gone the way they have perhaps says more about the circumstances around Yancy than anything about him as an individual.
Yancy was the most highly rated recruit of a four-man class that started at Texas in the fall of 2013. His classmates Isaiah Taylor, Martez Walker, and Damarcus Croaker all ended up leaving before Yancy, who is the remaining senior from this group.
When we look at Yancy’s career, we see that he had a pretty strong freshman campaign before becoming a significant contributor on a deep squad as a sophomore. That team was a good team that was expected to be a great team, and after the season, Texas got a new coaching staff.
Through Yancy’s junior and senior seasons, his playing time fluctuated, but never really got back to the level of minutes he was playing as a sophomore on a team that was far deeper than the teams of his final two seasons. I think it is safe to say that Yancy’s game didn’t really match with what Smart’s staff was looking for in the same way that it resonated with the Barnes staff that recruited him.
When I think back on Yancy’s Texas career, there are going to be a few things that come to mind. The first is going to be his physical presence. Many college freshman show up on campus as scrawny kids, but that was not the case for Yancy, who was physically mature and tough in a way that we don’t often see from an 18-year-old.
The second thing I will think back on is how as a player he always seemed to be in the right spot, and mostly seemed to make the right play. This isn’t luck. This is talent. Yancy came up with loose balls so often because he worked hard, was physically gifted, and could anticipate where the play was headed.
But the thing I will remember most is very simple. Kendal Yancy is just a solid basketball player. He knows what to do and he does it well.
So let’s wish the Texas senior class well. The game tips off in Austin at 3 PM CST, and airs on ESPN.