Though the Texas Longhorns' towering frontcourt is an area of abundance and surplus entering the 2015-16 campaign – the first under head coach Shaka Smart – the situation down low may be quite different only a year from now. While the 6’11, 290-pound Cameron Ridley, 6’11, 265-pound Prince Ibeh, 6’10, 235-pound Connor Lammert, and the 6’8, 285-pound Shaquille Cleare are all at Smart’s disposal for the upcoming season, all but Cleare are entering their final year of eligibility.
This points towards a potentially colossal void that only a big man can fill for the 2016-17 season: Frontcourt depth.
To that end, Smart and company reeled in four-star center James Banks, a 6’10 low-post presence that looks to be a two-to-three year Longhorn. But with misses on key targets including center Marques Bolden (undecided) and power forward Javin DeLaurier (Duke), Smart could find himself amidst a reserve-less situation in the paint.
But there’s one tremendously crucial recruit remaining on the board, and Smart isn’t required to even wander beyond his own backyard in Austin in hopes of landing such a coveted target.
Jarrett Allen, a 6’9, St. Stephen’s Episcopal and Texas PRO product, stands as the only five-star talent still heavily considering the Longhorns, and earning his commitment is of the utmost importance. As noted, Texas has only two guarantees down low for 2016-17 in Banks and Cleare. But even in an ideal situation, in which Banks comes in and exceeds expectations from day one, while Cleare returns and physically imposes his will, having absolutely zero depth in the daunting Big 12 is essentially a losing recipe.
In that same ideal situation, where the 6’8 small forward Jordan Barnett could likely play some stretch forward – which would fit Smart’s system – a lone commitment from Allen would transform an option-less Texas frontcourt into a formidable one while the skilled backcourt shoulders the scoring load.
Unfortunately for Texas and the "unproven in a Power 5" Shaka Smart, the Horns will be tasked with battling the likes of recruiting extraordinaire John Calipari and powerhouse Kentucky. As of now, 247Sports Crystal Ball heavily favors the Wildcats hopes of luring Allen to Lexington.
Obviously, a battle for an elite recruit against a perennial Final Four program and unfathomable record-setting NBA talent producer like UK isn’t one that’s likely going to end favorably for an unranked Texas program with a first-year head coach. But that isn’t to imply Allen to Kentucky is a foregone conclusion. Although Smart hasn't proven his ability to win at the highest level in a Power 5 conference and sending elite, one-and-done recruits to the NBA, he does have an advantage that’s quite likely unavailable for Allen at UK from day one -- playing time, and lots of it.
If Allen elected to keep his talents at home in Austin, there’s little argument to be made against him as an immediate starter. At Kentucky, the frontcourt’s rotational makeup could look considerably more crowded:
Potential 2016 Returners
- Marcus Lee: PF - SR
- Isaac Humphries: PF/C - SO
- Derek Willis: SF/PF - SR
- Wenyen Gabriel: 5-star PF
- Sacha Killeya-Jones: 4-star PF
- Tai Wynard: 4-star PF
2016 Recruits Considering
- Jarrett Allen: 5-star PF/C
- Bam Adebayo: 5-star PF
Essentially, Allen’s decision will likely come down to weighing the importance of significant playing time right out of the gates, or a nearly guaranteed ticket to the NBA, regardless of whether it takes a year or two.
Unlike Kentucky, Texas desperately needs to retain the in-state product and present him in burnt orange next basketball season, and in doing so, Smart would not only address an area of dire uncertainty for 2016-17, but quickly establish that Texas can, if fact, become a premier destination for the nation’s top talent.
Kansas, Notre Dame, Houston, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas State are also possible landing spots for Allen.