The Replacements

They have scorers, they have defenders, they have experience and they have a definitive leader running the show. But can the Longhorns put together a title team just one year removed from the departure of one of the greatest players in the history of the program?

Kevin Durant is gone to the NBA and 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game don't replace themselves.

But Durant was also at the helm of a team composed almost entirely of freshmen, a team of freshman that are a year older and a year wiser. Durant was unmistakably the top player in college basketball last season, but now that he's gone, it's time for the rest of the players to shine. The talent on the roster is certainly great, but Texas will have to play much better as a team.

The departure of Durant also means that Texas will be getting back to more "Rick Barnes-style" basketball. It means a more developed half-court game and more use of the post players to create scoring opportunities down low, which in turn can open up the outside shooters. But more importantly, according to Barnes, it means much more focus on the defensive side of the ball.

"We signed seven freshmen (last season) and we knew we couldn't throw a lot at them," said Barnes. "We did put more emphasis on the offensive end probably than we had in the past. And we did get better as the year went on defensively. But it wasn't good enough. We realized that."

The year, with no powerhouse scoring threat with a No. 35 on his chest barreling down the lane, team defense could play even a bigger role in Texas' success.

"We went back and told our guys from the time that we finished last year and to right now, we said if you're not going to play defense, you're not going to rebound, you're not going to play," said Barnes.

According to the preseason polls, the drop-off for Texas won't be significant, if at all. The Longhorns enter the 2007-2008 season ranked No. 2 in the conference, but Barnes said he doesn't put much stock in preseason polls.

"I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it," said Barnes. "I would assume the same people that are picking us No. 2 are the same people that picked the football poll this year."

To stay high in those polls and eventually reach the top, though, Barnes is focused on one thing.

"Consistency is what you strive for. And I think over the last ten years we've done a pretty good job of being consistent, but we still want to be the one there at the end of the year, the last one standing. We haven't done that yet," said Barnes.

In order to finally be the last one standing, Texas must do it without it's shooting star from last season. But it can be done if the Horns play like the team they're capable of being.


When talking about the 2007-2008 Texas Longhorns, one has to start with D.J. Augustin.

Ask any player on the team who the leader in practice is, who's been managing things on the court, who's been running the show, and you'll get the same response every time: D.J.

Last season, the freshman guard out of New Orleans became Texas' main ball distributor, averaging 6.67 assists per game, but he also proved to be a legitimate scoring threat, putting in 14.4 points per game and leading the Horns in scoring four times. He also played for seemingly every minute of that season. Augustin trailed only Durant with 35.6 minutes per game.

Augustin may get some relief this season. With A.J. Abrams, moving into a pure shooting guard role, there wasn't a legitimate point guard to back up Augustin if he ever got winded.

Enter Dogus Balbay. Going international for the second time in the 2007 recruiting class (more on the first under Wings), Barnes signed a 6-foot-1 true point guard from Istanbul, Turkey named Dogus Balbay.

Balbay has only been in the US for a year, playing one season at Brewster Academy in New Jersey. He averaged 13.5 ppg at Brewster, but, more importantly, 7.5 assists on the way to a 29-6 record.

Abrams, naturally, will maintain his role as the team's sharp-shooter. Abrams took 284 three-pointers last season, 81 more than the next closest (Durant) and more than double the amount taken by any returning player. Abrams hit an impressive 42.3 percent of those threes and averaged 15.5 ppg, but he was notably streaky in the early parts of the season. If experience breeds consistency, Abrams could become a huge scoring threat for Texas.

A wild card at the guard position is Justin Mason. The 6-2 sophomore worked his way into the starting line-up and started 31 of Texas' 35 games. He got the spot thanks to some serious hustle on defense and on the boards, averaging more rebounds per game than any other guard with 3.6. But his effectiveness lessened late in the year, according to Barnes, because of unexpected weight gain, growing to 210 pounds. Mason is back down around 190 and should be able to provide a more consistent defensive presence.

Providing depth are J.D. Lewis, the team's lone senior, and sophomore Harrison Smith. They averaged only 7.6 and 5.6 minutes per game, respectively, but either could step up into a key role off the bench now that Craig Winder is gone.


Early in the 2006-2007 season, Damion James was largely considered only a defensive presence, but as Texas got into conference play, his mid-range jumper became one of the Longhorns' most effective weapons and by the end of the season was actually leading the Texas starters in field goal percentage (49.3 percent). If he can continue to improve his offensive game and cut down on the fouls (a team-leading 100 last season), James could be a go-to guy.

As for wild cards in the swingmen, there's no bigger question mark on the team than the one over freshman forward Gary Johnson. Johnson was the top recruit in Texas' 2007 class and was expected to immediately be inserted into the starting line-up. But the discovery of a heart condition sidelined him and threatened his basketball career.

Recently, though, team doctors gave Johnson the official go-ahead to practice. He'll be closely monitored and, although he hasn't been cleared to play yet, things are looking very promising for the budding star.

"I'm excited about the fact that he had been cleared to practice, and he looks good," said Barnes. "He hasn't disappointed us at all in what we thought we recruited."

Texas will also gain the services this season of 6-foot-8 swingman Alexis Wangmene, who hails from Maroua, Cameroon. He moved to the United States as a high school sophomore, legally becoming the adopted son (this is true) of San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford. Wangmene enrolled at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio and immediately showed his athletic ability. His junior year, Wangmene's first full season in the US, he averaged 22.7 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots while he was still learning the game. He then played his final year of high school at basketball powerhouse Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J. after signing his letter of intent with Texas.

Ah, and lest we forget Ian Mooney. The 6-3, 225-pound junior walk-on scored a single point last season and should continue to be an ever-excited supporter of the team and a fan-favorite.


The big men are a position that was notably missing from last year's squad as Texas instead spread the ball out and ran the floor in order to accentuate, naturally, the abilities of Kevin Durant.

The could change significantly and a major reason could be the insertion of a very big, but not quite as big as he used to be, player. Dexter Pittman only averaged 5.3 minutes per game last season, but he was also going through intense workouts, even on gameday, to get his weight down. Pittman arrived on campus at a whopping 366 pounds. Since then, he's dropped 70 pounds off his 6-foot-10 frame and his body fat is down from 44 percent to around only eight to ten percent. His smaller body should play a much larger role this season.

Pittman is dealing with a minor foot issue, which has slowed him in early practices, but he should be ready to go for the start of the season. However, that, combined with relative level of experience, means Texas' starting center at the beginning of the season will likely be Connor Atchley. The junior F/C played 17.9 minutes last season and was consistently praised for doing all of the "little things" such as setting solid picks and moving well on defense.

We likely see a lot more of sophomore Matt Hill now that the frizzle-haired center from Lincoln, Nebraska is healthy. Also, keep an eye out for Clint Chapman. The 6-10, 245-pound freshman out of Canby, Oregon is the biggest, size-wise, out of Texas' forward-heavy 2007 class and could bring another big presence to the Texas post game.

Projected Starting line-up:

G D.J. Augustin
G A.J. Abrams
F Damion James
F Gary Johnson
C Connor Atchley

[Note: the projected starting line-up is assuming that Johnson will be cleared to play.]

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