With football gone (for a few weeks anyway) I can, at last, get with The Program. Here's my non-techno, fans' guide to the boys in shorts, 05.
*Overview: If you havent been to the Erwin Center since last winter you will need, I promise, one of those chintzy little programs they sell in the lobby. All gone is last years senior class of Boddicker, Mouton, Thomas and Ivey. If youre, like me, a cynic, it will be heartening to note that occasionally good things do happen to good people. I was stunned to see Royal Ivey, my personal favorite, not only on an NBA roster but starting for the Atlanta Hawks. Very cool. Basketball is a superior spectator sport because you actually see the players. Theyre very exposed out there. You see their freshman insecurities, their teenage struggles and their inevitable growth. Then we must let them go. This is always sad, but then another class comes in and the process starts anew. This is a big new family.
*The Frontcourt: I dont know if Brad Buckman should be the Comeback Player of the Year or Most Improved Player. I dont know if, as a sophomore, Buckman was injured or had girlfriend problems or was just suffering from nineteen-year-old angst. Whatever. This Brad bears no resemblance to the lethargic, pudgy #22 of last season, a season that saw the incredibly promising freshman disappear ever deeper down the rat hole of the Texas bench. Hes thinner, quicker and uber aggressive. Hes no Brian Boddicker but has, nevertheless, developed a surprisingly reliable three-point shot. Unlike Boddicker, hes a relentless, powerful inside force. The sullen teen of last year has grown into a leader In all of our vast universe there is no blacker hole than a basketball in the hands of Senior Jason Klotz. When the ball goes into Jason it is not coming back out. His career total of 21 assists bears this out. But this isnt all bad. Klotz has developed a devastating short hook shot from anyplace and any angle, as long as hes close to the basket. Jason is a tough kid and wont back down from anyone. He bears little resemblance to the clumsy blond boy of a few years ago Watching P.J. Tucker must be something like watching Charles Barkley when he was at Auburn. A tiny 6-5 forward, P.J. can do amazing things. Stunning really. He handles the ball as well as many 2-guards and is quicker than every forward he plays against. I dont know if he jumps high, but he jumps very fast. P.J.s the easy pick as Heart and Soul of the team, but I think that title might go to Buckman.
*New guys: Its hard for freshmen big men to show their stuff. Their position is harder to learn than the more intuitive guard position and a lot more technical than high school when they dunked on every play. And then someone has to get them the ball. Big-12 defenses often rendered Chris Mihm invisible. So be patient with highly touted LaMarcus Aldridge. Hes tall and thin with a body like Marcus Camby. I have a feeling hes going to get pushed around by some of the big trucks coming around the bend. But hes a willing defender and runs the floor like somebody is aiming a shotgun at him. Hell be a far better player in March than he is now and better still next year after a year in the weight room Mike Williams, like Aldridge and Daniel Gibson, was a McDonalds All-American. Because of eligibility questions he didnt play until December, so I didnt see much of him. Against an overmatched Centenary he looked like Moses Malone. But against UNLV, much better competition, he was undetectable. I believe what I saw against Centenary. This kid is going to be very good. All of the Longhorn big men can shoot free throws. Frontcourt guy Texas can least afford to lose? Buckman.
*Backcourt: I have to start with a freshman, 6-2 point-guard Daniel Gibson. A short anecdote. On the first possession of the UNLV game Gibson is bringing the ball up the court against senior Jerel Blassingame. Blassingame is one of those small, cat-quick guards that Oklahoma always seems to have and he easily took the ball away from a befuddled Gibson. Im thinking this is going to be a long night for Daniel. It was his only forced turnover of the night. His relentless defense forced Jerel into a string of ugly three-point shots. Most of them missed. Rick Barnes has already handed the keys to the new car over to Gibson. Hes a tenacious on-ball defender with unlimited outside range and a Ivey-like slashing ability. Want to see someone who looks like a new guy to D-I ball? Dont look at Gibson. Hes going to be the Big-12 Freshman of the Year During the drudgery of the December home schedule I got to thinking about one of the great untold stories of our time. How did Dave Bliss get Kenny Taylor and John Lucas to Baylor? The man was, clearly, a mad wizard. If life had a normal course, Baylor -- with a backcourt of Taylor and Lucas -- would be the St. Joes of 2005. Taylor (a deadly three-point shooter with NBA range) is, like Jason, something of a black hole. Kenny does like to shoot the ball. He does fill in duty on the point... The once wraith-thin Kenton Paulino has emerged as a solid, 180-pound guard who has clearly spent time pushing steel. Paulino isnt flashy but hes reliable. His outside shot, which weve been hearing about for several years has finally appeared. Kenton is an adequate college point guard. Not a bad thing to be Lord, I do love Sydmill Harris. I dont know why, but the Dutchman from Hoofddorp with a Wyatt Earp-quick release is a family favorite. Between Taylor and Sydmill no team in the nation has two better catch-and-shoot players. Syds defense, questionable in the past, is much improved, resulting in more time on the floor. Im already sad thinking this is Syds last year. This is a rock solid backcourt with the best rotation of talent UTs ever had. Guard Texas can least afford to lose? Gibson.
*The coach: Barnes arrived in Austin with a reputation as a slow-down, half-court offense, hard-nose in-your-face defensive coach. A Bob Weltlich with people skills if you will. And he was. But Rick has, like a young player, grown too. As hes become more comfortable with his seat in the spotlight, and, not coincidentally, his teams have grown ever more talented, hes learned to trust his players to play. I think this might have been something T.J. taught the coach. Hes moved from the Knight school of total, court-control-freak to an almost laissez faire Tom Penders style of offense except his teams play defense. Barnes 05 appears totally nonplussed with all sort of fire away bombs from his players. He doesnt seem aggravated with bad shots until late in the game. If Kenny plays D, Kenny can fill the air with as many threes as he wants. And that Kenny will do. Coach Texas can least afford to lose? Lets not even go there.
For ten years Andy Cotton wrote the Coach's Corner for the Austin Chronicle, where he was voted Austin's Best Sportswriter three times and was runner up twice. During his tenure at the Chronicle he covered all the major sports including tennis, golf, major league baseball, the NBA and, of course, the University of Texas. He has authored a book on the mini-tours of golf called It's Not Fun… Life Below the Radar of the PGA Tour, which is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.