Despite the fact that nearly all collegiate athletes occasionally find themselves mired in an extended slump, it's nevertheless "painful" to watch someone as hardworking and likeable as Buckman try to work his way through it, Barnes said.
"The worst thing we could do is look the other way and think this is going to work itself out," Barnes said. "I think that will happen, but you've got to try to find a way to make it happen. For Brad, I think it's confidence more than anything else. All athletes go through something like this. The bottom line is the athlete himself has to try to figure it out. They have to control all of their thoughts and come out of it."
For Buckman, it may indeed be the "thought" process that keeps him from picking up where he left off last season when he lead the team in FG percentage (.517) and finished second in rebounding (5.3 rpg) while averaging just 16 minutes per game. During an interview for Inside Texas magazine, Buckman told me earlier this year that he was "thinking too much" rather than "letting the game come to me."
His overall numbers (6.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) haven't fallen off significantly, yet the production pales to the workhorse Buckman we saw during the 2003 post-season when he averaged 12.5 ppg in the Sweet Sixteen. He also led the team in blocked shots en route to earning a place on the Big 12 All-Freshman team.
But Buckman's line score in Texas' 78-77 upset loss at Iowa State Saturday has been the norm rather than the exception since early January. He was just 1-of-5 from the field against the Cyclones and never made it to the free throw line. He has also been held to just two points in games against Baylor, Colorado, Texas Tech, Missouri and Providence.
"If I could figure it out, I would have fixed it a long time ago," Barnes said, before adding that his tactics to get through to a player may include some mixtures of "shock, ignoring them or being positive."
"The hardest thing is to see this happen to a guy like Brad who works so hard to do everything you ask him to do," Barnes continued. "He just needs to have something good to happen to him."
Texas also needs something good to happen to it to rid itself of the after-taste of Saturday's loss, and Barnes is counting on Tucker to give his team that spark (albeit against the woeful Aggies, 0-9 in Big 12 play). With eight starts under his belt this season, Tucker is Texas' leading rebounder (6.6 rpg) and second-leading scorer (11.4 ppg). Although his numbers tapered somewhat against double-teams in the more physical conference action, the three-time Big 12 Rookie Of The Week has scored in double figures the past two contests. He continues to lead the Horns in FG percentage (.580).
"P.J. is a very intelligent player; he really understands the game," Barnes said. "He's getting more comfortable playing on the perimeter, although he would still prefer to play inside. What makes him so effective is that he's such a good ball handler. He sees the floor well, but he's still learning on the job."
Tucker served notice when he became the first freshman in UT history to record back-to-back double-doubles to start his career. He tied the freshman debut record (13 points) while breaking the similar mark for rebounds (13). While making his first career start against George Washington (December 29), Tucker recorded a career-high 27 points and 15 boards in 33 minutes. Of course, his coast-to-coast move against nationally-ranked Providence resulted in the five-foot finger roll at the buzzer to upend the Friars, 79-77, in OT on January 4.
And as for Buckman?
"He's going to come out of it," Barnes said, "and when he does he'll be better for it. He wants it as bad as anyone."