Shaka Smart, on the day he was introduced as the new basketball coach at the University of Texas on Friday April 3, 2015, at the Frank Erwin Center. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Men's Basketball

Shaka Smart: It’s time for Texas basketball to grow, grow, grow

Posted June 22nd, 2016

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Shaka Smart looks at his 2016 men’s basketball roster and sees this:

  • His point guard — the inspirational leader of his first 2015-16 team at Texas — has left early. Isaiah Taylor finds out Thursday night whether his NBA gamble was a right one, even though most mock drafts have him not being selected.
  • Also gone are five seniors — big men Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, long-range shooting forward Connor Lammert, and guards Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland.
  • Lots of youth to work with, including sophomores-to-be in guards Eric Davis Jr., Kerwin Roach Jr. and guard/forward Tevin Mack.
  • Only two seniors: 6-8 forward Shaq Cleare and 6-3 guard Kendal Yancy.
  • Two highly-regarded incoming freshmen in Jarrett Allen and James Banks, and a third (Andrew Jones) who may end up being his starting point guard.

Smart met with the media on Wednesday morning in advance of next month’s Team USA U18 national team camp in Houston, for which he’s serving as head coach. Allen and Banks are among the 18 finalists trying for a spot on the 12-player roster.

Smart talked hoops for about 30 minutes, but didn’t get the best question until the last, asked by our own Kirk Bohls:

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Is this a rebuilding year?

“According to who?” Smart snapped back quickly. “I don’t really know what that means. You’re always building. Building last year. Building this year. What are you building towards? I don’t really like the term ‘rebuliding.’ But we’re always building, make no mistake about that.

“I don’t care if you’re winning every game; you’re still building, you’re still going to grow. We are trying to make them the best version of themselves.”

Smart continued: “Everybody else wants to focus on the basketball program, and that’s fine, but we’re trying to build them as people. A month ago, five guys graduated from this program. That’s as big to me as anything. Yeah, I want to build on the court, but I want to build these guys up as people. You want to call that rebuilding, you can. I’m not going to be calling it that. Our goals will be just as big as they ever are.”

And, with that, Smart’s press conference ended. He touched upon a number of topics, including what it’s been like working with Banks and Allen on the U18 team (it’s been huge), whether the sting of that Hail Mary loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament has worn off (not really), what losing guys like Taylor, Felix, Lammert, Ibeh and Ridley will mean to this year’s team (lots of shoes to fill), the offseason move to elevate Jai Lucas into an assistant coach (it’s all about growth and development) and retain Mike Morell on the staff (they go way back), who’s going to fill Taylor’s role at point guard (hello, Roach and freshman-to-be Andrew Jones), and the big goals for next season (grow, grow, grow).

RELATED: Jarrett Allen, James Banks highlight length arriving for Texas basketball

“This is going to be a different team in August than it is right now, and it’ll be a different team in October than it is in August, and throughout the year we’re really going to emphasize growth because with young guys, that’s how it has to be,” Smart said.

“Last year, we were starting over with everyone and we didn’t know anything about Texas. We just hadn’t been here,” he continued. “This year, we have a year under our belt as a coaching staff, we have seven returning guys and a decent understanding of what we want as a staff.”

Out are Taylor, Ridley, Ibeh, Lammert and Felix. In are guys like Allen, Banks and Jones to mix in with Roach, Davis and Cleare. Texas went 20-13 last season, including an 11-7 mark in the Big 12, fell to Baylor by 6 points in the Big 12 tournament and then were felled by Northern Iowa’s buzzer-beater in the first round of the NCAAs.

Next season’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, but Smart said Texas’ first three games will be at home, and there won’t be any long international trips to China or the Virgin Islands to deal with.

New team, new season.

“The dynamic is no longer (being led) by Isaiah and those returning seniors,” Smart said. “They were really receptive to things we asked of them when we came in, but at the same time, those guys had been here two to three years and sometimes, things are the way they are. When you get a coaching job, that’s how it is. It’s going to take some time to get this program where from one year to the next, everybody understands and it’s a smooth transition. But I’m excited about it.”

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