Men's Basketball

Shaka Smart gets to know his new Texas players

Posted April 27th, 2015

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Shaka Smart says he’s all about building relationships. Well, if you can’t get players to come into the Texas men’s basketball office, then go find ’em yourself.

“He’s been over to the apartments with some of the older guys. He’s been to the dorms with us,” point guard Isaiah Taylor said. “We’ve been out to eat with him before. It’s just really been a great relationship with Coach Smart so far.”

Who knows what Smart said to persuade Taylor to skip the NBA draft and stay at least one more year with the Longhorns? The 6-foot-1 sophomore said he received a late first- to early second-round grade from NBA scouts. Who knows how many other underclassmen are told the exact same thing, too?

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Regardless, Taylor is staying in Austin and, by all appearances Sunday outside his UT dorm, couldn’t be happier.

“He’s shown the commitment and the relationship that we need in this Texas basketball program,” Taylor said of Smart. Taylor admitted it was a 50-50 decision. He didn’t make a final call until Saturday and then made an announcement on social media.

Taylor was clearly frustrated at how the season ended. All the players were. It didn’t help that former coach Rick Barnes was incredibly hard on point guards.

Taylor averaged 13.1 points per game to go along with 110 assists and 63 turnovers as the Horns were a disappointing 20-14. A team that was ranked sixth nationally in December spiraled out of the Top 25 and was quickly knocked out of the NCAA Tournament. Texas has not been to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAAs since 2008.

Barnes was soon fired, making way for the 38-year-old Smart to arrive from Virginia Commonwealth.

“From these past couple of weeks, this coaching staff has given our guys a lot of confidence, and that’s what we were lacking last year,” Taylor said. “Just playing with that confidence now can help showcase everybody’s talent.”

When asked if the tempo will be faster this season under Smart, Taylor said,”I think the tempo will be much faster.”

Smart is on the road recruiting. In a statement released by the school, Smart said he is excited to coach Taylor in the upcoming season, which will begin against Washington in Shanghai.

“We’ve had the chance to work out on the court several times over the past few weeks, and his commitment to improvement has been terrific,” Smart said. “We are looking forward to Isaiah being a tremendous leader for our team!”

With Taylor back at the controls, Texas will be a difficult group to peg during the preseason. The entire team returns, except for departing senior Jon Holmes and NBA-bound freshman Myles Turner. Meanwhile, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, Iowa State’s Georges Niang and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield have all announced they are coming back to school, too.

“We know that we have pieces, just like we did last year,” Taylor said. “We just didn’t put them together. I think Shaka’s going to do a great job at doing that, putting the pieces together, and helping everybody reach their full potential.

“The NBA’s not going anywhere.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957.

Twitter: @BDavisAAS

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