Not only do the Longhorns possess star power and first round NBA draft talent in spades, but they have a number of key returning role players and young big men in the program.
As is always the case, the Longhorns will face a daunting non-conference schedule featuring games against Michigan State in Austin, North Carolina in Dallas, USC in Austin, at Connecticut and the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City featuring Pittsburgh, Iowa and Wichita State in addition to Texas.
Last week, strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright took the time to speak to Burnt Orange Beat about the off-season and some of the players in the program.
Q: How would you assess the spring off-season?
A: I thought we had a great spring. I really did. There were some guys that made some huge strides. I thought Dexter made some big, big strides in the springtime. We gave them a little bit of rest after the season for about ten days, but then we went at it. You could feel the excitement that they were really looking forward to next year.
We had a great spring. We went through the decision of Damion putting his name in, which left some uncertainty of where we were at, but the process led Damion back. The guys worked really hard.
Q: Many big guys seem to make the big gains from sophomore to junior years based on past players that have come through the program. Clint Chapman is in the transition from sophomore year to junior year currently. Where do you feel he is?
A: Clint has always had a huge upside, but he's always needed more strength to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game. He's definitely making strides in those areas. It's hard to compete at this level. Sometimes you have to go through some growing pains and I think he's done that. I think he's ready to contribute to the program. He's been unbelievable since the summer started. I'm ecstatic about his attitude and approach. He's showed me great maturity since the summer started.
Q: Matt Hill has now had time to train for a year post all of his health issues. He has been mentioned as having a strong spring. What are your thoughts on Hill?
A: I think Matt has been a great addition as to his improvement. I think he's going to cause a raucous in regards to playing time. He's very smart, knows the game well and all of a sudden, his mobility has gone to another level. He's rebounding the ball well, which is a direct correlation to his improved mobility. He's just a smart player. We are going to be very competitive because out entire roster is developing. Practices are going to be fun to watch.
Q: Shawn Williams has been on campus for a couple of weeks now. What have you seen from Shawn?
A: First, he was very well coached at the high school level. You can tell he knows the game well watching him with the guys. Physically, he's going to come on unbelievably. I'm very excited about him. I think he's had an ankle injury quite repetitively that I believe we'll be able to find some strategies so he won't keep on getting injured. His attitude is unbelievable and that is a direct correlation to his family. It's fun watching him shoot the ball.
Q: There has obviously been a lot of talk about Jai Lucas since his transfer. His father mentioned the gains Jai has made since the transfer. Has he made big strides physically?
A: Once again, I love that Jai is in the program from the sense that he has been around the game his entire life and his father was a great player. I looked back at the history of his brother, John Lucas III, and he was not physically in the same place at Oklahoma State as when he was at Baylor. He made a huge transformation in his body after he got to Oklahoma State. Jai has really, really, developed a lot of strength so he can move his feet and hold ground.
When you are little, you have to be able to move, keep the feet in the ground and take the hit with your chest. You can't keep giving up ground because the next thing you know, a 6-4 guard is getting to the basket. You have to be tenacious and he's shown that since he has been here. His work ethic is incredible and I think his leadership qualities will make a huge difference in our program.
Q: When Varez Ward first reported to Texas, you mentioned he was about as physically gifted as any kid you have worked with. Has he made gains since the season ended?
A: I think his transformation was hard because he missed the summer last year and he came in as the only freshman around guys that had been training and training. He was able to keep up for five weeks because he's an incredible athlete. I was stunned he was able to do what he did, but it did catch up with him. The human body can only take so much.
Since the season ended, I would say that if I had to pick one player that has improved the most, it's Varez Ward. His ability to use his left hand and get people shots has improved. You could tell he had good vision last year, but he seems to hve more mobility in his shoulders now. When he drives the ball, he's getting to more straight lines and his shot has really improved. His upper body looked a little mechanical last year, but he has loosened up and his shot looks good. We are going to be very versatile on defense because of his ability.
Q: Did you guys see the late season surge from Dexter coming or was it a bit of a surprise?
A: With Dex, the first two yeas the amount of volume and time and work that he put in was incredible. It was five hours a day for two years. The theory on last year was I wanted to take some of the volume away and give him a chance to come on. He hit a couple of bumps in the season where the workload was too much, but he's a guy that is so big you want to do a little more work with him. We were just trying to keep him healthy and mobile. Coach does a great job with the guys of pushing and resting and he did a great job of getting Dex some extra legs at the end of the year. The theory worked so he could have the legs at the end of the season.
The season has a bunch of different transitions in it. He'll probably come out early this year a little tired. The beginning of each season is insane because of the practices and schedule. When practices start to change, I think he'll climb. He's in such a great place right now that I wouldn't be surprised if he came out well though.
Q: The expectations heading into the 2009-10 season are very high with a pre-season top five ranking very likely. Is that some thing the players are aware of? Is it talked about and how do you guys keep things where you desire in the summer and leading into the season?
A: I think that since we started here, we know what our expectations are and the guys know that our expectations every year are to give us a chance to win the national championship. We have some experience in the stables and that is going to help. We have guys that have played in the tournament and in different arenas. We are dropping some young talent in too.
We are talented, but it's the day-to-day process that we have to stay focused on. The team that is in front of you, the practice that is in front of you and the day that is in front of you training. If you can focus the guys on the day in front of them, good things have a chance to happen. When they start to look ahead at things that could happen, we don't allow it to happen. Compete from day to day and night to night.