Q&A with Hoops Assistant Russell Springmann

The basketball season opener is less than two weeks away with Stetson coming to Austin on November 14. Texas, one of the top ranked teams in the country, returns four starters and many experienced bench contributors so a deep tournament run is expected. To whet your appetite, Texas assistant coach Russ Springmann breaks down the team and talks about the coaching honor bestowed on Rick Barnes.

Q: There is plenty of talk about the overall athleticism of this team. Is this the most athletic team in the Rick Barnes era at Texas?

I would certainly put it right up there. The Final Four team was so versatile that they are hard to top, but I think this team has the makings of the most athletic team in our time at Texas. The Final Four team played six post players, and this team can shuttle that many in as well.

Q: How does the depth of this team compare to other prior teams (particularly 03-04)?

The 2003 Final Four team had a deep winner's mentality. They were all tremendous competitors with a toughness coupled with physical and tenacious post players. We are working hard on the guys on this team to develop that mindset and we feel that the winner's mentality will come. We want all of our guys to be physical and consistent.

In addition to the physicality, this team has a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes for us which will help our depth as well. In prior years, we have played a lot of younger players with not nearly the experience.

Q: How do you see the low post defense and offense improving this year? Do you think the low post will be emphasized on the offensive end this season?

As the season went on last year, our big guys continued to progress. I sure hope that carries over – and I expect it to. Connor Atchley has worked very hard since the season ended. Dexter Pittman is under 300 pounds and moving better than he has ever has. Matt Hill is shaking the rust off since it has been a while since he has played competitively. Alexis [Wangmene] and Clint Chapman are both progressing nicely. And I have not even mentioned Damion [James] and Gary [Johnson] yet.

Everyone talks about our low post offense, but we view penetrating the lane as a low post offensive series, and we were very effective there last year. I think we will be able to score inside some more this year.

AJ Abrams and Justin Mason can lead the way earlier in the backcourt due to their experience, but our young guards can contribute. Dogus Balbay doesn't get tired and Varez Ward is a very competitive kid. Those guards will help our inside offense -- our big guys are going to be able to score.

Q: How do you balance your ability to play big and small given the improved play of Damion James and Gary Johnson on the wing?

We can play big and we can play small. We can play Gary [Johnson] and Damion [James] at the post. And we can have those two guys on the wing with two other post players on the floor. No matter who is on the court, we are going to be an up tempo team.

That versatility provides a tremendous opportunity for this team.

Q: What do Damion and Gary have to do to have success on the wing?

We always tell them, "Play hard, compete, be unselfish, defend your position, and you will find success."

Q: What are your thoughts on Coach Barnes earning the prestigious 2009 John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award?

It is a tremendous compliment to him and everything he has done at Texas and his entire career. I have never met Coach Wooden, but I understand what Coach Wooden has meant to so many people, and I think Coach Barnes has also positively impacted many, many lives. Coach very much deserves the honor. I know that I have been blessed to work with Coach Barnes for the past eleven seasons. He has helped me grow as a man and as a coach. I hope I am given the opportunity to work with him for many more years.

Q: This season's non-conference schedule is arguably tougher than any previous seasons. What are your thoughts on the schedule and how will it prepare the team for the rigors of Big 12 play?

Coach Barnes has always had the philosophy to play a tough schedule to see how we stand with the best teams in the country before we get to conference play. We will play anybody, anywhere, anytime, because it prepares us for the Big 12. I know our kids are really looking forward to testing ourselves.

Q: Texas has had two Wooden and Naismith award winners and four top 10 picks in the last six years. How has the national perception of the Texas basketball changed and how does that affect the program's ability to recruit?

We have more opportunities now to recruit nationally and that is a credit to the players who have come through our program, had success, and are playing well in the NBA. We have always had interest from top players, but now people are really listening because they see the opportunity to play and compete at a very high level here and potentially further their basketball career.

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