30 November 2011
Temper your expectations, people. It's bad enough that everyone expected more out of a Texas team with three first-round picks and just one NCAA tournament win last year but without six of their top seven scorers from last season, the Longhorns don't have nearly as good of a team that they had last year... yet.
It may take a year or two, but, like the Texas football program, Rick Barnes has the basketball squad on the right track. With an top-notch recruiting class that come in this season and another set to come in before the next, the Longhorns are poised for success. But it will be a process, as evidenced by Texas' 4-2 start. For the first time in a while on the Forty Acres, a trip to the NCAA tournament is not guaranteed. Even with Kansas not being the overwhelming juggernaut it's accustomed to, the Horns are not a primary contender for the Big 12 title. Nevertheless, here's my player-by-player take on the Longhorns' first six contests:
J'Covan Brown: C
He's proven to be one of the nation's best scorers but that doesn't make him one of the nation's best players. His ejection practically cost Texas a win over NC State when the Wolfpack ended the game on a 24-9 run after Brown's fifth foul - a technical foul for uttering an obscenity under his breath following his fourth foul - as the Longhorns lost by three. His sluggish six-point showing against North Texas Tuesday night didn't help matters. If he wants to embrace his new role as the go-to guy on offense, he must accept the responsibility of that position and not take games off like he did against the Mean Green. Texas needs Brown to step up to be successful this season.
Myck Kabongo: B+
Kabongo is always the quickest guy on the floor, regardless of Texas' opponent. He can get an entire frontcourt in foul trouble because of his ability to turn himself into an orange and white blur. He's constantly looking to distribute the ball but it would be nice to see him assert himself more on offense, like he did against North Texas Tuesday when he scored 16 points and had seven assists in his best performance of the season. More games like that and Kabongo could be all-conference by year's end.
Jonathan Holmes: A-
Holmes gets the highest grade not because he's the most talented or productive player on the team but because he hustles the most, he gives up his body for loose balls and has an uncanny ability to be in position for rebounds and easy baskets. Holmes has even shot 37.5 percent (3-of-8) from beyond the arc, impressive for a 6-foot-7 forward. He hasn't made any freshman mistakes that I've seen but Holmes seems to be the first-year player closest to reaching his ceiling. But if he plays like this for four years, I won't complain.
Alexis Wangmene: B+
Wangmene, one of two seniors on the roster, has always been known for his defensive process but has made strides offensively. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 6.7 points (up from 2.3 last season) and is shooting 57.7 percent from the floor (up from 36.2) while maintaining his defensive presence, averaging 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game (up from 2.3 and 0.2 a season ago).
Sheldon McClellan: B
McClellan has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat, a useful trait especially on a team that lost more than 80 percent of its offensive production from last season. He has also made it evident that he's one of the team's best dunkers en route to being one of the Longhorns to average a double-digit number of points per game. It'd be nice if McCllelan could improve on the one assist he's recorded in six games.
Clint Chapman: C+
Chapman may still be rusty after missing all of last season with an injury as he has not been himself. He stands tall at 6-foot-10, easily making him Texas' tallest player, but he's playing like he's 5-foot-10. Unlike Wangmene, he dunks from time to time, but for the Longhorns' sake, they'll need him to play like the dominant force he can be, especially since he's, along with Wangmene, one of his squad's only two legitimate post presences.
Julien Lewis: B
Lewis may have the longest way to go before he realizes his potential of all the Texas freshmen. But that doesn't mean he's having a bad start to his Longhorns career. He's always one of the most athletic players on the floor and will work on turning raw talent into production on both sides of the floor this season. He is tied with McClellan for the team lead with 10 steals and averages 9.8 points per game but could stand to improve on his 34.8 field goal percentage.
Jaylen Bond: B+
Bond. Jaylen Bond. Really wish his jersey number was 7 instead of 2 but oh well. Would also like to see him get more minutes as he averages 12.6 rebounds per 40 minutes played. Only problem is he's only playing 13.5 minutes per game. As long as he keeps playing consistently well in his limited role, he should get a chance to shine in a bigger one.
Sterling Gibbs: B
Gibbs is another freshman who hasn't gotten a chance to showcase his abilities as much as other players. He is the only scholarship player to average less than 10 minutes per game but has shown that he's not a typical warm-the-bench player. He scored a season-high five points in 11 minutes in his last game against North Texas and has made five of his nine shots from the field, including two of four three-pointers. He's another guy that could take advantage of a chance to play more often.
Rick Barnes: B+
Barnes did an outstanding job compiling this recruting class, especially under the pressure of knowing that he had only had three scholarship players returning to his team this season. Time will tell if the six-member class will realize its potential but, like the Longhorns football program, its best years are ahead of it. As good as Barnes' group of freshman is, none of the rookies should be leaving for the NBA anytime soon. Even J'Covan Brown should return next season as Texas welcomes in another impressive group of prospects. As for this season, whether or not the Longhorns can contend for a Big 12 title and become a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament will be decided by whether or not Barnes can develop his first-year players. So far, so good.
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