15 December 2011
When Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, and Cory Joesph heard their name called on draft night this year, they made Texas fans everywhere proud. Even if they were still frustrated over the Longhorns second-round exit following a heartbreaking loss to Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, they could still hold their head high knowing that their team was producing such a wealth of quality talent.
But the trio of first-rounders also represented what Texas would be missing this year as the Longhorns did not return a single starter with forward Gary Johnson and point guard Dogus Balbay exhausting their eligibilty last season. But head coach Rick Barnes buckled down and brought in a recruiting class that was both deep and talented. Now, Barnes is working with what might be his most inexperienced team since he took over as the Longhorns head coach in 1998.
Myck Kabongo was the most highly-touted of the six rookies. The lightning-quick point guard came to the Forty Acres needing to increase his understanding of the game. So far, so good. Kabongo did not shoot 50 percent from the floor in either of his first five contests. In his last five, he has made at least half of his field gaol attempts, shooting more than 58 percent from the floor, scoring in double figures four times, and posting no less than seven assists in each of those five games. Texas has seen great point guards go through its basketball program recently, including D.J. Augustin and T.J. Ford, so the standard is set high for Kabongo. If he keeps playing like he has over the past couple of weeks, Kabongo could meet that standard.
Fellow freshman guard, Sheldon McClellan, like Kabongo, was a member of the ESPNU 100, checking at No. 47. Despite averaging nearly 25 minutes per game, McClellan scored more than 12 points in just one of his first seven games. But his 23-point outburst in a 80-62 win over Texas-Arlington earlier this month showed everyone what he's capable of. He missed just three of his 11 shots, connected on four of his six three-point attempts, and snagged six rebounds for good measure. Because of the fact that the Longhorns lost six of their top seven scorers from last year's squad, a legitimate scoring threat like McClellan that can complement J'Covan Brown will prove very useful the rest of this season.
Brown has come a long way since getting ejected in a three-point loss to NC State and going 3-for-10 against North Texas. After two 20-plus-point performances in victories over UCLA and Nicholls State, the junior shooting guard is beginning to look more like the prolific scorer that tied his career-high with 28 points in the season opener, topped it with 35 the following game, and averaged 27.3 points over his first three contests this season. Because Brown is the only one with experience as a legitimate scorer for the Longhorns, he will be crucial to whatever success Texas has this year.
Julien Lewis was another member of last year's ESPNU 100 (No. 76), one of four on that list to come to Texas this season, three of which were from Texas. Lewis, a La Marque product, hit four three-pointers en route to scoring 18 points against Boston University in his collegiate debut. But it took him almost a month top that number when he nailed five shots from downtown in a 19-point effort against Texas State. Lewis has solidified himself as a starter but needs to be more consistent. Excluding those two performances, Lewis has barely made one-third of his field goal attempts. Either way, Lewis has displayed how high his ceiling is, making the prospect of him reaching it very intriguing.
Alexis Wangmene is one of two seniors on the team and has grown into a dominant defensive force and an extremely efficient offensive presence. He leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game and a 60.5 field goal percentage. He's had at least seven boards and a block in each of his last three games, which is exactly what the Longhorns need from Wangmene. But another interesting statistic also reveals what Texas does not need from him: Texas is 8-0 when Wangmene does not foul out and 0-2 when he does. Pretty simple - Wangmene needs to stay out of foul trouble.
The other senior on the squad is another big man, 6-foot-10 Clint Chapman. He is the only of Texas' ninescholarship players to not have scored in double figures this season but he registered a career-high five blocks in Texas' most recent game against Nicholls State, a 93-40 rout. Chapman leads the team with 1.7 blocks per game and his performance this Tuesday could be a good indication that he's shaken off the rust he developed while sitting out all of last year with an injury.
But Chapman and Wangemene are grossly out-numbered by the freshmen on the team, including Jaylen Bond - the team's best dunker. Why his jersey number is not seven is a travesty and a crime against pregame festivities everywhere but the fact that he scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the aforementioned 53-point blowout victory over the Colonels is a sign that Bond can be a big contributor this year and in the years to come. He averages only 4.5 points per game (the 18 points he scored was three times more than he scored in any other contest this season) but, like all of the Longhorns' youngsters, showed just how much potential he has.
The only other scholarship player not mentioned yet is Sterling Gibbs, Pittsburgh star point guard Ashton Gibbs' younger brother. Gibbs scored only 12 points total during his first eight games as a Longhorn but topped that number in his most recent outing after scoring nine the game before that. The freshman guard made each of his five attempts, including three from behind the arc, as he scored 14 points off the bench for Texas against Nicholls State. He did not miss, even swishing a meaningless three-pointer after a foul was called during the contest. If Gibbs ever earns more playing time, he should make the most of it.