Approximately two and a half years ago to date, Texas fans thought they had gotten the guy to bring Texas basketball back to, well, Texas basketball.
Fast forward through those first two seasons and we can see a few patterns forming: pressure is building throughout the Texas basketball program, ticket sales are declining, and finally, winning games is becoming a goal instead of an expectation. Texas basketball as a whole is not where it should be and our man, Shaka Smart, has a golden ticket to change that and become our superhero.
But, if Coach Smart is going to turn this mess around, he’s going to have to produce wins right away and get the Longhorns “dancing” pretty soon or he’ll likely be searching for a job elsewhere.
During Smart’s first year in Austin, he was working with a squad whom he hadn’t recruited with a limited period of time to get ready for a tough year of Big 12 play ahead. So, he did what he could and brought the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament in March, which is absolutely impressive in itself and likely enough to consider that season a success. But, losing in the first round to a lower-tier D1 program on a buzzer-beater that could’ve easily been prevented made that season tough to swallow and left Texas fans with a sour aftertaste lingering in their mouths.
However, looking back on the season and taking the circumstances into consideration, Smart received the benefit of the doubt with hopes that he’d bring the ‘Horns back even stronger than before.
During the summer of 2016, Smart likely endured many sleepless nights thinking about that shot bouncing out along with what could’ve been.
He had recruited his own squad to Austin this time around, along with the highest-rated center in the country. Adding to Jarrett Allen’s freakish length and remarkable athleticism came another McDonald’s All American in Andrew Jones — a capable combo guard who can shoot the ball, find open teammates, and work well in the open floor.
There was plenty of hype around the high-flying top five class that Smart had coming in, and ultimately, this team was a disappointment. The ‘Horns finished with an 11-22 record, including losses to UT Arlington and Kent State.
The 2016-2017 season was tough, to say the least, but the future looks bright for the ‘Horns.
Smart recruited his tail off, yet again, to lure another top five class coming into Austin for the 2017-2018 season. Losing Allen to the NBA definitely stings, but there is plenty of excitement around incoming freshman and the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit, Mohamed Bamba. The Harlem native stands at 7’0 and boasts freakish length and athleticism. If Bamba were to be hypothetically inserted onto an NBA roster today, he’d already have the longest wingspan in the league — and he’s only a freshman!
Bamba’s interior presence will be complemented by another incoming freshman, Matt Coleman, who comes to UT from Oak Hill Academy (one of the nation’s premier basketball institutions). A lot will be asked of Coleman from day one, but he’s proven that he is both motivated and ready to lead the Longhorns as their “floor general” in the point guard role. In addition to those two key recruits, Smart another pair of freshmen who will be expected to contribute immediately. Explosive athletes Jericho Sims and Royce Hamm Jr. will both need to find their roles quickly — Sims appears to be well on his way to transforming every game into a dunk contest, while Hamm should fill a hybrid forward role off the bench.
The Longhorns roster returns several important pieces including Jones, who withdrew his name from the 2017 NBA Draft and returning for his sophomore season. Jones is a dangerous athlete with solid range and above average court-vision. He’ll have a lot of weight on his shoulders this season as he’s expected to be the starting shooting guard, and lead much of the team’s offensive production. Also, Tulane transfer Dylan Osetkowski is set to officially make his Longhorn debut. Osetkowski practiced alongside the team through all of last season and is one of the team’s most vocal leaders. Through the small sample of what we’ve seen from Osetkowski on the court—he dominated the Orange/White scrimmage last year and led the team in scoring throughout their Australian tour — along with what Smart has said about him, a lot will be expected out of him next to Bamba in the paint. The team will also need solid production out of its experienced role players, such as Eric Davis Jr., Kerwin Roach Jr., James Banks, and Jacob Young.
If the incoming freshmen play up to their highly touted abilities and the returning upperclassmen improve from last season, then the Texas basketball program will definitely be trending in the right direction.
But, if this team, comprised of two successive top five recruiting classes, has another tough season, Smart may find himself on the hot seat.
He has all of the tools in place to produce plenty of quality wins and bring Texas back to the tourney. Longhorn nation is certainly excited to see this year’s team hit the floor and we’re all hoping that Smart is here to stay. But, we must return to true Texas basketball form sooner rather than later to keep the “Smart” era of Texas basketball alive.