When Chris Beard introduced himself as the Texas Longhorns new head basketball coach, he made it especially clear that his first season on the Forty Acres wasn’t going to be a rebuild. This, despite the fact that he inherited a roster essentially left as a shell of itself in the wake of Shaka Smart’s (mutual) departure to Marquette.
The roster unraveling, headlined by three NBA Draft picks in Kai Jones, Greg Brown and Jericho Sims, and seasoned floor general Matt Coleman, left a daunting rebuild on hand for Beard.
With a complete rebuild and self-set expectations on hand, Beard and his staff aggressively mined the transfer market, and it would be an understatement to say they struck gold. Just days after taking over in Austin, Beard’s rebuild officially began with top-35 freshman Jaylon Tyson following Beard from Lubbock to the Longhorns. Then, the major waves in the transfer market began with the additions of Kentucky guard transfer Devin Askew and Utah forward transfer Timmy Allen. Days later, Creighton forward transfer Christian Bishop joined the mix, followed by the late April addition of former Vanderbilt forward Dylan Disu.
Then, in the middle of the summer, the projection for Beard’s program significantly improved as Texas landed two of the most coveted, all-conference talents in the transfer market in Minnesota point guard Marcus Carr and UMass forward Tre Mitchell.
Now, suddenly, Texas has a roster that, on paper, is deep, experienced, and talented enough to earn a preseason No. 5 ranking with realistic aspirations of significant success in March.
“I think we have a team that can play with anybody in the country,” said Beard. “We have a long ways to go to get there, but just in terms of the roster that we put together, I think gives us a chance to be more than competitive year one.”
But a championship-caliber roster and a championship-caliber team aren’t quite the same thing. Beard rebuilt the roster with resounding success, but now and more importantly, he’ll need to coach his roster into a cohesive team and the name “Texas” will need to mean more than the ones on the back of their jerseys.
Individually, eight current Longhorns were starters last season and six averaged at least 30 minutes per game, which means sacrifice will be especially important for whatever heights Texas hopes to reach this year.
That begins with Carr.
Carr was remarkably productive last season, averaging 19.4 points and 4.9 assists per game, but that came out of necessity — Carr’s 28.5% usage rate would have led Texas last season — and at times the cost of inefficient offense. Now in Austin, his role won’t be quite as demanding, but it will be more important.
“Everybody’s kind of done it their own way and shown how special they can be individually,” Carr said. “But now we recognize what needs to be done as a team and how we have one goal.”
To begin the season, Carr will likely start alongside returning Texas starting guards, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey, and transfers Allen and Mitchell, who collectively averaged 72.8 points last season.
So, that’s one ball for four guys who led their teams in scoring last season — Ramey being the exception — and each of are comfortable with the ball in their hands and creating their own shots, to include Ramey. Establishing and solidifying roles throughout he starting unit, alone, will be key challenge for Beard, and that doesn’t begin to include guys like Disu, who might replace Allen as a starter and will at least command a significant role, Bishop, and further down the bench on into Askew, Jase Febres, Brock Cunningham, and Tyson.
For the sake of simplicity, sometimes less is more, but Beard has more — maybe too much — and that’s his challenge.
Texas doesn’t have one or two primary scorers to build the offense around — there’s a handful and some change. As is from a sheer minutes standpoint, it’s just not possible for everyone on the team sees the minutes they enjoyed last year, and with the wealth of options, most guys will naturally get fewer touches and shot attempts than before. Texas has two true point guards, and the backup — Askew, who started at Kentucky last season — will probably play more of a third-string role with Ramey as a secondary ball handler, along with others like Jones and Allen.
Simply put, on a veteran roster featuring five all-conference talents, Texas has more than enough guards and wings, more than enough forwards, and more than enough starters, which means the roles for nearly everyone will be reduced.
To be sure, this is a great problem for Beard and his staff to have on their hands — too much is absolutely better than not enough. Texas has what’s effectively a roster created in a college basketball video game, which would be ideal if they could subtract egos and any frustrations when playing time comes into play, but that’s a very real possibility.
And again, that’s Beard’s challenge, and it’s one of the many Texas will eventually need to answer.
Who starts? What does the primary rotation look like and how can it be tweaked to ensure the five on the court complement each other? How does Beard and his staff adjust the rotation for particular matchups? Who takes the clutch shots in key moments? How do individuals respond when reduced roles become their realities?
How well can a team of guys who have been the guy adjust to just being the Longhorns?
The depth and talent of Texas doesn’t matter nearly as much if Beard can’t get those questions answered. Texas enters the year as a preseason top-5 team, but to actually become a team that’s a contender in March, they’ll need complement each other as a unit rather than limit each other as a collection of talented individuals.
We won’t truly know what that looks like until the season begins, and realistically, once Texas gets into the thick of its conference schedule. But at the very least, Beard and his team have consistently said the right things thus far.
“Everybody on this team is so special and so talented,” Mitchell said. “Anybody you pick on the roster is capable of leading this team, and that’s something that’s gonna make us special, as well, because everybody is willing to lead and everybody is willing to follow. “
Beard added, “Each of these guys are going to have to pick and choose the times to be a great follower and to pick and choose the times to be a great leader, whether that’s through actions or verbal ... Our depth is a part of our identity, so our leadership has to have depth as well.”
There’s high hopes ahead of Texas’ 2021-22 season, and for pretty good reason. Beard’s built a roster that’s, on paper, as good as any, and that talent and depth alone will be enough to win a few games. But for a team and staff that’s ready to win now, how well Beard can get this team to fit together and become stars in their new, likely reduced roles will be the determining factor in their success this season.