Expectations High for Rick Barnes' Longhorns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Here in Kansas City for Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Days where Rick Barnes and Jonathan Holmes represented the Longhorns. Isaiah Taylor was supposed to be here as well but he took a "spill" in practice recently and wasn't able to make the trip.


Myles Turner has passed the first impression test with flying colors. You can tell Barnes loves the kid, particularly because of his humble attitude for being such a high-profile recruit.

Barnes said that he noticed the first time Turner came to campus that he was all about wanting to go to a place where the team wanted to win as much as him and Barnes felt as though Turner saw that in UT's players, which was a big reason for him choosing Texas over Kansas, Texas A&M, Ohio State, and various others.

"But certainly Myles is a player that we're excited about having and a player that we really appreciate the way that he has embraced this situation that he walked into in terms of right from the beginning, through the recruiting process, we felt like -- and he told us this -- that he wanted to be a part of the program where he could be a part of it but not necessarily him be the program."

Holmes calls Turner "blue collar" and a "hard worker who doesn't expect anything" to be given to him.


The biggest adjustment Barnes sees Turner dealing with right now is in ball screen situations. He's not far off but has work to do adjusting to this part of the college game, which quite frankly isn't much a part of the high school game (moreso in AAU).


Barnes said this was the first time that he's ever had a team with all 13 scholarship players on it before the whole Martez Walker incident. I asked Holmes how deep he thought Texas could go off the bench and he thought that 10 or even 11 players was possible. Barnes said things, at times, were so bleak a few seasons ago that they had to run some practices 3v3 or 4v4 because they simply didn't have enough bodies.


This depth is especially noticeable in the sheer size of Texas' roster with guys like Cam Ridley, Turner, Prince Ibeh, Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert all being 6-8 or taller (Ridley, Turner, Ibeh and Lammert are all 6-10 and above). Barnes didn't say who was going to start at this point but the way I'm reading into things it's going to most likely include Ridley, Turner and Holmes. Barnes is going to toy with many different lineups before conference play to figure out which units gel together the best. The best way of telling who is working out with who is going to come on the defensive end.


Playing sound defense and stretching out to the perimeter where the bigs aren't used to defending is going to take some time for this team to get used to. It's one of Barnes' biggest keys if Texas is going to be able to play consistently with bigger lineups on the floor.

"I think the key is defensively. I think where we've -- the second part about analyzing our team where we have to improve is our ball screen defense. Not just the rotations that we have to get better with, but it's our post players stepping out and helping our guards, giving them the chance to get back in front of the ball.

"So I think defensively, that's where a player that's accustomed to playing down low has to be able to step out and help. Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh, John Holmes, and Connor Lammerts have the ability to obviously do that because they play out there."


Barnes made it perfectly clear, though, that this team is going to go away from what the rest of the conference is really doing, and play big. He wants to play inside-to-out.

"We do. We want to put it in there, and when you do that, you hope to get fouled. You hope to get to people's benches. On the other hand too, you've got to make free throws, which we did a better job of that a year ago. We have to continue to improve there because we definitely want to get fouled and get to people's benches."


The coaching staff has made it a point of emphasis with Isaiah Taylor this offseason to shoot the open jump shot when it is there. Taylor got to the rim at will last season but that shouldn't be needed as much this season with Barnes wanting the ball to get to its post players a lot more this season (the earlier in the shotclock the better). Taylor, apparently, has taken those words to heart and really improved his J.

"He's gotten better physically, but the biggest thing is that we, as a coaching staff, we continue to talk to him about shooting the ball when he's open. That's a big key because we want him to shoot the ball because we know that he can.

"Again, he's a player that his whole life he's been able to get the ball pretty much where he wants it, and he does have really a good midrange game. I think he's terrific across the baseline. When he's open on the perimeter, when we're screening the ball or whatever it may be, he's got to take open shots, and he will."


Barnes said that Taylor's biggest adjustment this offseason has been his vocal leadership on the court. That's an area that he said Turner is already ahead of the curve on, but one he said Ridley needs to improve.

"I like teams that talk. Teams that talk intimidate others."


Barnes said that Lammert is the most improved player on the team. I asked Holmes about this and he agrees. He said that the day after Texas lost to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament Lammert was in the gym working on getting his body and mind right for this upcoming season. Holmes said that Lammert has taken on a vocal leadership roll as well. He could, for many reasons, be the key to this team with his ability to defend both the perimeter and paint, and his ability to shoot from the perimeter.


Shaquille Cleare is already making an impact even though he won't be logging minutes for the Longhorns this season. He's not practicing at the moment because of a hamstring injury but he's definitely making an impact down low, giving Texas' bigs a challenging body to bang up against on a consistent basis. Barnes said that Turner will tell you that Cleare is the most difficult player on Texas' roster to play against. He's about as big as Cam Ridley but has a lot more noticeable muscle in his upper body.


In case you've forgot, the Longhorns do have another freshman on this squad in Jordan Barnett and he's really impressed Barnes and Holmes so far. Barnes said there's not another player like him on the roster - a 6-7 wing that can sky and shoot. Holmes brought up Barnett on his own as a guy that was going to surprise a lot of people this season. Barnes said Barnett had his best week of practice this week.


Holmes has trimmed 20 pounds and a bunch of body fat since the end of last season. He's 230 pounds and has 8.7 percent body fat. Gives all the credit to UT strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

"I think he's changed his body greatly, and I think that's going to give him the opportunity to let us be more versatile in terms of because we do have a big team, a tall team, and a long team," Barnes said.

Barnes wants Ridley to get his body fat percentage down as well.


Improving his chances of making the league was one of the main reasons Holmes underwent body transformation. It's noticeable. But another reason he did it was to be better equipped at guarding the 3 position this season, which he will have to do with Ridley (5) and Turner (4). Holmes doesn't foresee any issues with it and is excited about the challenge.


If I wasn't asking Holmes a question about Texas someone else was asking him about Kansas. At one point I asked him if continuously talking about the Jayhawks was pissing him off, and he said it was. He's not alone. In talking to Turner this summer he told me that one of his biggest goals was beating KU. He said that one of KU's pitches for committing to its program was "why not join the best." But Turner's mentality is "why not go somewhere that beats the best."


I'd heard that Turner guarded KD at the alumni game a few weeks back and asked Barnes about that. He smiled. Holmes said he guarded KD as well and they he got lit up. He did say that he jab stepped KD and made a pull-up jumper once, which he calls the "best bucket" of his life.


The pride/mood of this program is back to where Texas wants it to be. Barnes admits that it's been tough but that one of the main things he's done is start to recruit players that have the mentality that he said Turner has - a player that wants to work hard and doesn't want anything given to him. That's been the biggest key in this turnaround.


Holmes said that two years ago when UT lost to Houston in the CBI, a day after that loss the players met in the football complex (couldn't meet in Erwin Center because NCAA Tournament was going on - talk about a salt-in-wounds) moment, and that they were determined then to get program back to where they wanted it. All of this transpired from the football weight room.


The staff has really worked with Javan Felix to embrace his roll as a a shooter. They want him to shoot the open J (shouldn't be a problem with Javan).


Texas will scrimmage Davidson next Saturday and then Gonzaga at a later date.


Barnes' biggest concern going into the season offensively "is understanding good shot selection and protecting the ball from the offensive side." Poor shot selection leads to fast break opportunities for the other team. Texas can't afford to do that. No one can.

"I think, when you go back, if you analyze our team from a year ago where we have to improve, we got hurt defensively with transition defense, and that was a direct result of not taking care of the ball and, I think, our shot selection," Barnes said."


I asked Barnes a few different times about if he thought his team would be able to shoot well enough outside with the loss of Martez Walker. He gave me a simple answer: "Yes."

He mentioned that he wants Felix not to pump fake as much and mess around on the perimeter, and instead really wants him to shoot when he has the shot. Not to be bashful (like Felix will ever have that problem).

Another player to keep an eye on here is Connor Lammert. Barnes called him the most improved player from last season. Said his jumper has really, really improved. I remember talking to a scout when Lammert had just committed to UT and he told me that CL had NBA potential.

Holland is going to have to hit that mid range J a lot more consistently this season for sure.


Barnes really admires the job that KU has done in this conference, winning as many titles as it has. He said the most impressive thing they've done is win Big 12 titles with the round robin format as opposed to when the conference was split up into divisions.


Barnes doesn't understand why he's gotten this label as a coach that won't recruit 1-and-dones. "It's talent," he said. He wants recruits to dream big but also to embrace the here-and-now, and that if they choose to go to the league after one season, so be it. But do your all to help Texas succeed while you are in Austin.


Barnes talked a bit about the hard work his staff put in with Turner during his recruitment and how gratifying it was to get him to sign. They addressed the fact that he was going to be playing next to a lot of other bigs early on in his recruitment. Barnes said he distinctly remembers there being a difference in team the day Turner committed, like they knew they had just gotten a truly elite player.


Texas will make it a conscious effort to get the ball inside more this season. But Barnes said it is harder than it looks. Ball movement has to be better, he said.


Longhorns 2015 QB commitment Zach Gentry's junior highlights


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