“I just remember praying that night and I woke up in the morning and it was just Texas!”
An answered prayer for Jase Febres, in turn, became a blessing for Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns basketball program.
The tables were a single night’s rest from turning in a different direction, however.
Just a day earlier, the four-star Houston Westfield shooting guard had his sights set on a Big 12 foe just 100 miles north up Interstate 35 — Febres was nearly a Baylor Bear.
“At that moment, it was just Baylor,” Febres told Burnt Orange Nation of his thoughts after spending the night before his commitment praying about the decision with a close friend. “Everything I was thinking was Baylor, Baylor, Baylor. My mom just told me to pray about it again because in her heart, she wanted Texas.”
On the morning of September 30, after Febres woke up to text messages from Smart and assistant coach Jai Lucas — something Febres said he considered a sign of clarity — Kirsten Febres and the second-year ‘Horns head coach got what they wanted.
“When I told him there was just screams through the phone,” Febres said of Smart’s reaction when he called to inform Smart he’d be playing college basketball in Austin. “I guess he had me on speakerphone,” Febres added, making note of Jai Lucas and Mike Morrell celebrating in the background.
The call to the coach Febres described as a father figure came half a year ago and since then, he’s since only grown closer to Smart, whose guidance Febres will soon be under as he transitions to college basketball.
“It’s growing every day,” Febres said of how his relationship with Smart has developed throughout the six months since his commitment. “There’s really not a day you don’t hear from him. It’s kind of the same with me and Royce [Hamm], so I’m pretty sure all of his players and all of his commits get the same treatment.”
After his National Letter of Intent to Texas was signed, sealed and delivered and with his high school graduation just a handful of weeks away, the relationship between Febres and Smart has now added another dimension — coaching.
“Now that it’s time to start working again, he’s constantly pushing you to go and get a certain mile time, do a certain amount of pushups in a row; so it’s still a father figure type thing and now he’s putting that coaching into it also,” Febres said of the workouts Smart has added to his current schedule.
Along with trying to meet his future head coach’s training demands, Febres has some of his own.
A typical day in the gym consists of 1,000 made shots, ball-handling drills, floaters and layup packages, but even paired with the mile times and pushups Smart has requested, the current regimen for Febres is essentially crawling before he can walk in comparison to what awaits on the Forty Acres.
Ironically, along with the entire team and Smart himself, Febres will soon be crawling, crab walking, running and lifting, among a host of other exercises he’ll endure as part of the Navy SEAL training Smart routinely puts his teams through each offseason.
Gearing up for a Navy SEAL offseason training program at The University of Texas is a complete 180 from where Febres was just nine short months ago, though.
Febres entered his final summer with Texas PRO on the AAU circuit holding just a small handful of offers to his name after an injury prevented him from capitalizing on an opportunity for exposure in the spring.
“That had to grow on me,” Febres said of when he realized he could play basketball at the next level. “I remember my first month and as soon as I got hurt and things like that, I kind of starting thinking ‘Man, I may need to just settle for schools.’”
At the time, only a select few schools were showing interest in the Houston Westfield product — namely, Houston, Rice, and UTSA.
Then along came the Adidas Gauntlet.
Febres didn’t know it yet, but his breakout game would come against another rising talent who ultimately pledged to Smart and the Longhorns exactly one month before he did — four-star power forward Jericho Sims and D1 Minnesota.
“I remember watching him in our warmups and I’m talking about, head at the rim throwing it in like it’s nothing,” Febres said of his first impression of Sims before telling his teammates, “We have to worry about him.”
As it turned out, Febres was the one D1 Minnesota needed to worry about.
“I gave them 30 in front of a bunch of college coaches,” Febres said. “There was just a level of confidence that came into me and after that — I just started stroking the ball.”
As the confidence grew for Febres, so too did his offer list.
Within a few weeks of his breakout display against Sims and the D1 Minnesota squad, Febres had the likes of Texas, Baylor, Stanford, Kansas State, N.C. State, West Virginia, Texas A&M, TCU, and Auburn vying for his services, just to name a few.
But rather than absorbing every bit of attention he’d been deprived of after blossoming from a local mid-major target to a national prospect seemingly overnight, Febres moved swiftly and decisively through the recruiting process.
By mid-August, Febres trimmed his list of 23 offers to five finalists — Texas, Baylor, Houston, Texas A&M, and Stanford.
He then spent September on the road officially visiting his options and just days later, Febres was a Longhorn.
“I was honestly ready for the process to be over with,” Febres said of why he moved through the recruiting process so quickly. “It was stressful and instead of dragging it out and causing more stress on myself, I knew what I wanted and Texas had it.”
To say Texas had what Febres wanted would be putting it lightly, though — the ‘Horns had virtually every aspect of this fast rising talent’s recruitment going in their favor.
Along with Febres’ mother hoping to see her son play college basketball in Austin and a father-figure coach awaiting his sharpshooting touch, Royce Hamm, a four-star forward and one of Febres’ best friends, was already committed to Smart’s 2017 class.
Though they went to separate schools, Febres and Hamm have been playing basketball together — even if simply through pickup games — since their early childhood. As one may expect, the chemistry the two four-star Houston-area Longhorns have developed throughout nearly a decade of hooping together is something that should be evident from the time the two step on campus together in May.
“Our chemistry is really good,” Febres said of how well he and Hamm play together. “We’ve been playing pickup a lot more now and just working out together.”
Now that they’re teammates-to-be, along with playing plenty of pickup, Febres said the two made a habit of watching Texas basketball games together, often through FaceTime, and essentially scouting the team they’ll soon join and the ways in which they’ll fit.
“Me and Royce would either be on FaceTime watching the game together, just talking about things,” Febres said.
While exactly how a pair of position-less prospects will fit into the current rotation remains to be seen, which Febres said Smart will discuss in depth when he and Hamm visit on April 16, Febres envisions the 2017-18 Longhorns becoming a walking mismatch across the board.
“Having the ability to play multiple positions really hurts opponents because it causes match-up problems,” Febres said of how he sees his class fitting into the current rotation. “Me being at the height I am (6’6), being able to be a really tall 2 and Royce working towards that 3 label, and Jericho is going to be that stretch 4 — that creates match-up problems.”
To that end, though his size, shooting stroke and relatively under-discussed slashing ability will allow Febres to occupy either wing position at Texas, the 6’6 scorer will soon be working with Jai Lucas as he looks to add another dimension to his game. One the Longhorns were deprived of last season.
“It’s standard that I can shoot the ball, but if I’m able to handle it and get our guards off pick-and-rolls and make plays for other people, too, that’s another thing I can help with,” Febres said.
The added pick-and-roll and passing prowess is obviously something Texas would have greatly benefited from last season as Smart’s team struggled severely at times without a true point guard on the roster.
Such struggles aren’t expected to be as much of an issue in 2017-18, though, and when Febres’ shot-ready hands are awaiting a perfectly-placed pass, more often than not, it will be heralded incoming point guard Matt Coleman dishing the assist.
“I was watching Matt Coleman highlights before I even knew he committed or anything like that,” Febres said. “Like years before, I already knew who this Matt Coleman kid was.”
The difference between then and now is Febres knows Coleman personally and along with Hamm and Sims, the incoming freshmen keep in constant contact through text messages. Although they’re yet to actually play together, Febres said Coleman’s demeanor through text messages has already upheld his reputation as a distributor.
“Just the way he [Coleman] talks to us, I can just tell he really to distribute the ball and the fact that his jump shot is getting better, he’ll be able to space the floor even more now,” Febres added about how Coleman running the offense can benefit his game. “So when he gets into those lanes and is able to kick and drive and things like that, it’s just going to allow me to do what I do and that’s knock down shots.”
Much like Coleman, Febres provides a service the Longhorns sorely lacked last season — a sharpshooter’s touch.
Once can argue the two deficiencies go hand-in-hand. As Texas slogged through the 2016-17 slate without a tried and true facilitator, a rotation of capable shooters were off the mark for more often than not and the Longhorns finished the season tied for 312th nationally in total three-pointers made with 181.
In Coleman, Smart addressed his point guard conundrum. In Febres, Smart’s hoping for similar resolutions from downtown.
“He [Shaka] just tells me I’m that one dude who’s constantly coming off screens, back screens, flares, everything like that so I can just shoot,” Febres said of how Smart plans to utilize his skill set in a rotation that may feature an abundance of capable guards.
If you’re trying to envision what Febres’ skill set can ideally provide given how Smart plans to utilize him, reflect on what Tevin Mack was becoming last season before his suspension and ultimate transfer when he led the ‘Horns in per game scoring average.
“I think I can come in and just take Tevin’s plays and provide what he left,” Febres said. “He texted me not too long ago and just told me to keep working because he sees things in me and he knows I can step in and that I’m kind of the same player he is.”
Much of what Mack provided came in the form of big games in unfamiliar territory — 18 points against Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum as a freshman, 18 points against Northwestern in the Barclays Center and 20 points against Arkansas in the Toyota Center last season.
Though he played in some tough atmospheres in high school, Febres is well aware that life in the Big 12 when he’s tasked with producing points in Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum and the aforementioned Hilton Coliseum is an entirely different beast. It’s a test he’s confident he’ll pass, though.
“I kind of like big environments,” Febres said. “I think I feed off of things like that. I feed off of big moments and big games. I know conference play is totally different. I just have to mentally prepare myself; I have to be a quick learner,” Febres added, making note of the Longhorns summer trip to Australia as an opportunity to test himself away from home.
As if simply hitting shots on the road in front of 15,000 fans that want to see you fail isn’t enough pressure, drawing similarities to the previous leading scorer for the Longhorns and possessing a skill set that satisfies exactly what the Texas offense craved all too often last season can result in unwarranted expectations.
Courtesy of his late rise to relevance and the term point guard being the most overused when talking Texas basketball these days, though, Febres is still able to enjoy life under the radar.
“I don’t feel as much pressure as someone like Coleman,” Febres said. “I’m kind of the sleeper recruit. I’m not on the ESPN top 100 and when I watch the games, they mention all three other recruits and I’m never really mentioned on there so I think a lot of people don’t know of me yet.”
The fact the most don’t know much of Febres yet isn’t too much of a surprise. Running the show for Oak Hill Academy, Coleman become a mainstay on national television and similar to Sims and Hamm, you’ll find his highlight tapes in abundance with a simple visit to YouTube.
There’s much less visual evidence of what Texas fans will soon see to be true with Febres, though.
Sure, based on what limited film is out there, it’s clear Febres is a special shooter, but just let Febres tell it — he’s much more than just a shooter.
“[I’m] a knockdown shooter, but I feel like I can do a little bit of everything,” Febres said of how he would describe his game to those that may not know the extent of his versatility. “I’m a really good rebounder. I need to work on my passing and things like that. I’m not a bad passer, I just had to shoot so much and do so much on the offensive side like scoring that I didn’t have to pass too much. I’m a good defender and shot blocker also.”
As the offseason progresses and next season nears, much of the talk surrounding Smart’s third effort on the Forty Acres will be centered around Coleman, the pending NBA Draft decisions of Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones, and more immediately, the ongoing recruitment of Mohamed Bamba.
Seldom will fans and analysts mention Febres as a key cog in what’s expected to be a rejuvenated basketball machine in Austin next season.
If Febres gets his way, though, whether its a year from now or four years from now, they’ll definitely remember the impact he had on the Texas basketball program.
“I want to be remembered as the kid that came in that nobody knew about and when he left, everyone knew about him; everyone saying he won us a national championship, he was a part of a national championship team. I want to make sure I leave my mark there and make sure it’s a positive thing. I want to be a part of a winning team, a team who makes deep tournament runs every year. Hopefully after that, they’ll be able to say ‘he’s a kid that went to Texas’ and everyone wants to go to Texas because I did.”