Column

Bohls: Expecting Mo’ wins, Shaka Smart has revamped his Texas men’s program

Posted May 18th, 2017

Story highlights
  • With the signing of five-star forward Mo Bamba and four-star point guard Matt Coleman, Texas has the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class.
  • Shaka Smart has recruited three McDonald's All-Americans in his first two full classes and knows he's able to land higher-caliber players who may in turn leave school early.
  • Asked if he'd guarantee more than 11 wins next season, Smart said, "We'll try to win the first one."

Over the course of the past five weeks, Shaka Smart landed a hot-shot, four-star point guard who could be the next T.J. Ford and as of Thursday, a five-star big man who might be the first pick of the 2018 NBA draft.

Together, 6-foot-11 power forward Mohamed Bamba of Harlem, N.Y., and 6-2 point guard Matt Coleman of Oak Hill Academy complete a recruiting class that’s ranked fourth in the nation, according to 247 Sports. And there’s still an open scholarship.

Will Smart use it?

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“We’ll see,” he said coyly.

All this on the back end of an 11-win basketball season.

Lord knows how well Shaka would have done in recruiting if he’d won 12.

Mohamed Bamba #11 in action during the Jordan Brand Classic, National Boys Team All-Star basketball game at The Barclays Center on April 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

It is borderline impossible to overstate the significance of the news that Smart landed one of the biggest fish in the recruiting pond. Bamba’s ranked the second-best recruit in the nation by 247sports and Scout, and he fills out a class that now boasts shooters, passers and big men.

Take a bow, Shaka.

He may not have won a single game on the road outside the Big 12 Tournament last season, but when it came to recruiting on the road, the man cleaned up. He brought home a winner.

Just weeks after Texas suffered the blow of freshman center Jarrett Allen departing for the NBA draft, it reels in a prospect that has so much potential that one source with NBA connections told me that Bamba already is “the top-rated pick for next year’s draft.” According to several 2018 mock drafts, Bamba is projected as a top-four selection.

And why?

“He is loooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnngggggg,” the source said.

And as Smart said at a hastily called news conference, “the better the big man, the better the big-man coach.” That would be assistant Darrin Horn, a prospective head coaching candidate who vastly improved the play of such Longhorns bigs as Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh and most recently Allen. Bamba has a 7-foot-9-inch wingspan that will help a team that ranked next to last in rebounding in the Big 12 last season, and he has elevated a program that needs to rise.

Texas coach Shaka Smart and assistant Coach Mike Morrell celebrate after taking the lede against West Virginia during the NCAA men’s college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex., Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Thursday’s signing underscores the still deep-seated, strong reputation of Smart and should signal a turnaround in Longhorns fortunes, even though Smart has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in his first two seasons.

What Texas may finally be getting is the VCU Shaka Smart, not so much in philosophy as in a rosy future. He personally handled Bamba’s recruiting and scored big.

At Texas, Smart’s recruiting a higher-caliber player than previously and he’s learning that with the change, he’ll also be losing high-caliber players more frequently than he did in Richmond, Va. He may lose the Colemans and Bambas and Allens as quickly as he signs them, but that’s OK if he’s continually replenishing the talent. Now Smart’s just got to replicate what Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina do in the win column and the NCAA Tournament.

Texas got Bamba in part because it already had landed Coleman. It wasn’t coincidental that both visited the Austin campus at the same time during the last week of October. And perhaps freshman point guard Andrew Jones, who is still flirting with an early NBA exit, will be more enticed to stay with the Longhorns, further enhancing the depth of next season’s team.

Hey, with a little luck, Texas might be so drastically removed from last year’s hideous 11-22 nightmare that — who knows? — it might even finish second in the Big 12 to Kansas. Won’t surprise me a bit if the Longhorns open up in the Top 25 and build from there.

“There’s no question we were nowhere near where we want to be,” Smart said. “I can tell you there’s a very strong motivation on my part, but there was before this. The roster has taken a significant jump in the direction we want it to go.”

Smart constantly speaks of cultural growth, connectivity and the development of the overall person when he discusses his team, and there’s no reason to discount his sincerity. Now he’s showing stability.

That a five-star recruit and four four-star players saw enough optimism and upside in Smart’s program to come aboard speaks volumes. Bamba, remember, picked Texas over the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan.

”I think it shows a lot of belief,” Smart said. “Those guys understand what this program can be and what we want to move toward and feel like we are moving toward. You have to have things in place before you can win what you want to win, things like accountablity, ownership. We’re making some strides in those areas.”

Quickly enough that Shaka will go out on a limb and promise more than 11 wins next season?

Smart, showing great vision, wouldn’t bite. “We’ll try to win the first one.”

But he then added, “I bet our guys would definitely make that guarantee. We have big goals, and we’re not shying away from that.”

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