Young Basketball Team Ready for a Big Year

Today is the first official day of practice for a Texas Men's basketball team that returns no starters, but welcomes the nation's No. 3 recruiting class.

The jewel of the class is G Kevin Durant, the highest ranked prospect ever to play for the Longhorns. Barnes said this week that Durant is the most talented player he's ever coached. When players were asked which players established themselves as the team leaders during summer workouts, the response was sophomore G A.J. Abrams and Durant. Junior G J.D. Lewis said of Durant, "I've never seen a player like him. He's got a great outside game. I don't think there's anything he can't do." The consensus First-Team high school All-American is a 6-9 G, but he says he feels most natural at small forward. Durant would likely be on an NBA roster this season if it wasn't for the rule change that went into effect this year prohibiting players from entering the professional ranks directly out of high school. Most of the speculation is that Durant will be on campus for just one season.

"I don't really have a time-frame," he said. "I just want to play and enjoy my life in college. I'm just going to see how it goes."

Barnes will likely start four freshman this season, with Durant expected to carry the team on his young shoulders. When asked if Barnes had gotten on him about his defense (because, after all, Barnes gets on everybody about their defense), Durant replied, "Oh, yes! Oh, yes! The things they say on the court is different from when they were recruiting me. They told me what I wanted to hear when they wanted me to come here."

If Durant wasn't on this team, most of the hype would fall on guard D.J. Augustin. (See, we've gone from P.J. to T.J. to A.J. and D.J.) Augustin is a McDonalds All-American with a reputation as an excellent distributor. He received his diploma from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans, although he played his senior season at Fort Bend Hightower in Sugar Land after Hurricane Katrina forced his family out of their home. Several of Durant's comments indicated that Texas will be more of a run-and-gun team than at any time during Barnes' tenure, a style specifically patterned after the Phoenix Suns.

"Coaches have got me watching Steve Nash a lot. I'm trying to model my game after him a little bit. At practice, we've been pushing the ball. We've been getting into condition so we can push the ball and run. That's what coach wants us to do, like the Phoenix Suns. Hopefully, nobody can stay with us on the fast break. We won't have to rely on a slow-down game."

Then there's 6-7 F Damion Jones, a second-team Parade All-American who originally committed to Oklahoma. The Nacogdoches product switched to Texas after former Sooner coach Kelvin Sampson took the Indiana job (and after the NCAA slapped Sampson's hand for improper recruiting contacts while in Norman).

"Things happen for a reason," James said. "It ended up being the best situation for me anyway. I'm really glad I'm here."

Fans are going to love C Dexter Pittman. He is such a playful, personable lug, but has a tremendous work ethic, evidenced by the nearly 70 pounds he has shed this year. Pittman now tips the scales at 6-10, 309 pounds. (He weighed 388 during his senior season at Rosenberg; he arrived on campus at 366). I had to ask: was it Atkins?

"Since the day I got here, I had to change my diet," Pittman told me. "I started eating grilled stuff. Coach said no more fried foods, pizza, or anything like that, until I get my weight down. Then, we can modify that. I did that, and I worked hard. I got up in the morning and came here by myself to run. I did a little extra before the other guys came in. Coach said as long as I keep on doing that, it's going to pay off. Right now, it's paying off but I'm not finished with it. I feel like a new person. I can jump higher, I'm quicker, and my footwork is better. My game went to another level."

He's also much stronger from just the few months he's been in Todd Wright's strength-and-conditioning program. The new, improved Pittman was on display at the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game in July. That's when he poured in 30 points (14-of-18 FG) and 12 rebounds to earn MVP honors for the South squad. That night, he was virtually unstoppable.

"I haven't gone up against anybody yet who is stronger than me," Pittman said.

The most conspicuous freshman will be Matt Hill from Lincoln, Nebraska. (Try to imagine a 6-9 Napoleon Dynamite with slightly browner hair, and you've got Hill.) He's got a big 'ol afro straight out of "That Seventies Show." He started growing it during his sophomore year in high school.

"I kept it because not many white guys can grow an afro," he said. As such, his nicknames include 'Sideshow Bob' and 'Screetch'.


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