Texas Is No Longer Just A Football School

AUSTIN, Texas — Only a select handful of schools can claim that both their football and basketball programs are considered among the nation's elite.

Ohio State is one of them. So is Florida. And since the hiring of coach Rick Barnes in 1998, Texas can be included with the other two-sport schools. Of course, the Longhorns always will be known first for football. Texas is a state that has traditionally embraced winning football teams, whether it's the Dallas Cowboys, the Odessa Permian High football team or Texas' championship teams under legendary coach Darrell Royal in the 1960s and ‘70s. But in less than nine seasons, Barnes has turned the Texas basketball program into a perennial power. The Longhorns are just one of nine teams that have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last eight years, making the Final Four in 2003 and the Elite Eight last season. Texas (7-2), which hosts Arkansas (8-2) at 8 tonight in the Frank Erwin Special Events Center, seems poised for a ninth NCAA Tournament appearance. "What (Barnes has) done is he's brought about basketball being a vital part of the university," ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said. "Texas is known in many people's eyes as a football school. "What Rick has done, he's embraced football and used football in a positive way to really, really sell his basketball program. And he's done a phenomenal job. "Now if you talk about some of the great combinations in America as football and basketball places, you've got to talk about Texas." The Longhorns enjoyed some basketball success before Barnes arrived. The school had made 16 trips to the NCAA Tournament, advanced to two Final Fours (1943 and ‘47) and won the NIT in 1978. But Barnes has elevated Texas' basketball program, thanks in large part to facility upgrades, increased TV exposure and an ability to adapt his style to fit his players. The Longhorns amassed a 191-76 record (.715) in Barnes' first eight seasons in Austin, and they're just one of three schools to reach the Sweet 16 in four of the last five seasons. The other two schools? Duke and Connecticut, which are considered among the gold standard when it comes to college basketball. "I think the biggest thing we did was we made a real concerted effort to recruit the state of Texas. We made it our primary (focus), and it hadn't always been that way," said Barnes, the first coach in Texas history to lead the team to eight straight NCAA Tournaments. "We said, ‘We're going to find a way to try to get ourselves in a position to keep the best players in this state home.' And for the most part, we've been able to do that." That started primarily with the addition of one player, point guard T.J. Ford in 2002. The Houston native, who starred at Willowridge High, spurned offers from other big-time programs to sign with the Longhorns. Ford gained plenty of national attention while leading Texas to its first Final Four appearance in 56 years, then left to become the eighth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. "Getting him was a major thing for us because he was a very highly recruited player, and for him to stay home kind of got the ball rolling for us," Barnes said. Of course, with the success he's enjoyed since replacing Tom Penders as Texas' coach, Barnes has been able to attract some of the nation's top recruits to the Lonestar State. Vitale said Barnes assembled "one of the top three freshman classes in America" this year with the additions of guard/forward Kevin Durant (Suitland, Md.) and guard D.J. Augustin (New Orleans). And the exposure that came with having three players selected in last year's NBA Draft — power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2 by the Portland Trailblazers), small forward P.J. Tucker (No. 35 by the Toronto Raptors) and point guard Daniel Gibson (No. 42 by the Cleveland Cavaliers) — only helped recruiting. It was the first time that a Big 12 school had three players drafted in the same year. "I think the visibility and exposure he's gotten nationally on TV have all helped in recruiting," Vitale said. "What (Barnes has) done is realize that recruiting is the vital bloodline of any program, and he's really done a great job of selling the University of Texas."

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