What's The Point? No, <I>Who's</I> The Point?

On just his second day on the job as Texas&#146; new basketball coach, <B>Rick Barnes </B>drove to Houston to scout a standout prospect who, though only a high school freshman, had already raised eyebrows on the national level. Obviously, Barnes liked what he saw in young <B>T.J. Ford</B>. So, who is Barnes looking at to run the floor now that college basketball&#146;s premiere point guard is taking his show on the road?

Junior G Royal Ivey was the name Barnes initially drew from the hat following Ford’s announcement Thursday that he was declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. Arguably the Big 12’s best stopper, Ivey was named to the league’s All-Defensive team by sports media and ran the point as a freshman. Freshman G Kenton Paulino, a combo guard who played 17 games last season, will also be given an opportunity.

"Every year, what that (Ford’s departure) does is open up opportunity for someone else," Barnes said. "That’s how you have to look at it We look at our team right now, and what that will do is give someone else an opportunity to play."

Barnes may also look to transfer Edgar Moreno (6-3, 200), a combo guard from Lon Morris Junior College who will have two years or eligibility remaining. And if Texas can somehow survive next season with just four returning starters from its Final Four team, help is on the way when heralded G Daniel Gibson (a USA Today top five selection) reports in 2004.

Ford forecasts a scenario where the point is played (almost) by committee as well as a bright future for his former teammates.

"Everybody on the team will play a part in bringing the ball down the court," Ford said. "This team is still gonna be good next year. I have a lot of belief in my teammates. These guys have been with me all along and are still capable of being a top five team, maybe even the No. 1 team in the country."

Barnes sought to reassure Longhorn fans that that there is life after T.J. when he said "the most important four or four minutes we played in NCAA tourney, we played without him against Connecticut" as Texas held on for a 82-78 win to advance to the Elite Eight. For the record, Texas saw its 7-point lead evaporate into a 3-point deficit with Ford on the bench with his fourth foul.

The point: you don’t replace Ford. (When asked if he was looking for the next T.J. Ford, Barnes said, "I looked for T.J. Ford for 25 years.") Signature players like Ford come along once in a Burnt Orange moon. You just deal with it, knowing that most members of the most successful hoops team in school history return and should be a Top 15, maybe a Top 10 team, when the season opens in November.

But the fact that Ford was at the Forty Acres for even two years opened a door that had once been closed to superlative talent.

"When he signed on the dotted line, he became a Longhorn forever," Barnes said of Ford. "He’ll always be an ambassador for The University of Texas. His job is to find the next T.J. Ford for us."

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