Men's Basketball

Shaka Smart begins second season with young roster, same expectations

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Story highlights
  • Kansas coach Bill Self: Horns could be “ridiculously talent” but “ridiculously young.”
  • Shaq Cleare, Kendal Young, Mareik Isom are team's only three scholarship seniors.
  • No. 21 Texas begins its 111th season of men's basketball Friday against Incarnate Word.

Posted November 5th, 2016

John Underwood finished his basketball career at Texas A&M in the late 1960s and was intrigued by coaching. Why a finance major would choose such a life of excitement and misery is anyone’s guess.

Underwood accepted a job as the head junior varsity basketball coach at Victoria Stroman. “And they paid me $500 more to be the 10th-grade football coach,” he said.

So Underwood went to his college coach, A&M’s loquacious Shelby Metcalf, and asked for some advice.

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“He said, ‘Always do good when football does bad,’” said Underwood, now a Big 12 associate commissioner overseeing men’s basketball. “The alumni want something to hang their hat on in January, February and March.

“And you can’t quote silence,” Metcalf said, to which Underwood interpreted as keep your mouth shut.

That’s time-tested advice for second-year Texas coach Shaka Smart. The men’s basketball coach is well aware of what’s been happening over at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The next five months would be a terrific time for his Longhorns to generate some buzz over in the Erwin Center.

Texas, which opens the season Friday against Incarnate Word, starts the year ranked 21st in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Texas freshman James Banks (4) is defended by Angelo State's Michael Thomas (5) and Gustavs Puhovs (10) during a NCAA college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas freshman James Banks (4) is defended by Angelo State’s Michael Thomas (5) and Gustavs Puhovs (10) during a NCAA college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Smart signed two McDonald’s All-Americans in 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen and 6-4 guard Andrew Jones. Two other freshmen, 6-2 guard Jacob Young and 6-10 center James Banks, will be key contributors. Kansas coach Bill Self said the Horns could be “ridiculously talented” but admitted they’re also “ridiculously young.”

The Horns have spent their first month of practice flying under the Austin radar, which isn’t hard in this football-obsessed town.

All the water-cooler talk is focused on football coach Charlie Strong, leaving Smart and his bunch free to focus on building team chemistry. Case in point: only a few hundred showed up last Wednesday —  the same day as the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians were playing Game 7 of the World Series — to watch the team’s 95-55 exhibition win over Angelo State.

Smart finds himself in an odd situation. UT administrators gave him a $100,000 raise and tacked another year onto his contract as a show of support. Yet, he’s lost five seniors from a team that finished 20-13 along with junior guard Isaiah Taylor, who went pro.

Like all coaches at UT, Smart can’t afford to see his program regress in its second season, especially because the team is young. Getting into the NCAA Tournament is considered a minimum for a program of this stature. But Smart, like Strong, is working with a talented, albeit young, roster.

Three sophomores and four freshmen will likely play every game this season. Shaq Cleare (3.6 points in 2015-16) and Kendal Yancy (3.0) are two of the team’s three seniors. Mareik Isom, a graduate transfer, averaged 5.9 points last season at Arkansas-Little Rock.

“I tell these guys all the time, if we care about two things above all others, we’re going to be just fine,” Smart said. “Care about each other and care about what goes into winning.

“Well, in order to care about something, you actually have to know what it is,” he added. “That’s what our job is with these freshmen, to help them understand down to the smallest detail what’s going to go into success for them.”

Smart would probably rattle off a laundry list of concerns, but the Longhorns biggest question appears to be point guard. Sophomore Kerwin Roach and Jones are expected to rotate early in non-conference play.

Jones had 17 points, five assists and just one turnover in 33 minutes against Angelo State. Roach sat out due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.

“We’re playing faster than we ever played in high school,” Jones said. “So as guards, he wants us to push the ball and still be able to make plays at the same time. So as we play fast, he wants our minds to be slow, too.”

Allen and Banks may be statistical upgrades over the departed Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh. Those two seniors combined for 15.2 points and 13.5 rebounds last season. Granted, it was one lonely exhibition game, but Allen and Banks combined for 24 points and 18 boards on Wednesday.

“I’m just excited to see where he’ll be midseason, going toward postseason,” Cleare said of Allen. “He’s going to grow extremely fast because these guys are really coachable. I’m really excited about these guys.”

This will be an intriguing journey, for sure.

Smart, a well-read, cerebral coach, has a much better understanding of UT’s administrative plumbing and internal politics than he did this time last year. The men’s basketball staff has made serious inroads with some of the nation’s top recruits. There’s no reason to think the Longhorns won’t be competitive in every game on the schedule this season, either.

Metcalf, who died in February 2007, would’ve really liked Smart.

Texas' Andrew Jones(1) celebrates a dunk against Angelo State during a NCAA college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas’ Andrew Jones(1) celebrates a dunk against Angelo State during a NCAA college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

“Now, he said, ‘You can win too many, too quick,’” Underwood said. “I said, ‘Coach, everybody wants to win all of their games.’ Shelby just said, ‘Oh, you’ll see.’”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

2016-17 TEXAS LONGHORNS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Shaka Smart (20-13, second season at UT; 183-69 overall)

Last season: Longhorns finished 20-13 (4th in Big 12) and lost in the round-of-64 of the NCAA Tournament to Northern Iowa.

Preseason rankings: Texas is 21st in the Associated Press Top 25 and 22nd in the USA Today coaches poll.

Returning starters: None

Returning veterans: C Shaq Cleare (6-8, Sr., 3.6 ppg), G Kendal Yancy (6-3, Sr., 3.0), G Eric Davis (6-3, Soph., 7.4), G/F Tevin Mack (6-7, Soph., 5.1), G Kerwin Roach (6-4, Soph., 7.5)

Local ties: F Mareik Isom (6-9) is a graduate transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock. He graduated from Bowie. F Jarrett Allen (6-11) is a five-star recruit from St. Stephen’s who was named a McDonald’s All-American.

Other key newcomers: G Andrew Jones (6-4, Irving), G Jacob Young (6-2, Houston), C James Banks (6-10, Decatur, Ga.)

Key early games: Texas will play Northwestern (Nov. 21) and either Notre Dame or Colorado (Nov. 22) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. UT also travels to Michigan (Dec. 6) and will play Arkansas (Dec. 17) at Toyota Center in Houston.

Conference opener: at Kansas State (Dec. 30)

Circle your calendar: Texas gets two appearances on ESPN’s Big Monday — Jan. 23 at home against Oklahoma and Feb. 20 at West Virginia. Kansas (Feb. 25) and Baylor (March 4) won’t come to Austin until late in league play.

[brightcove_video video_id=”5184813252001″ caption=”Texas coach Shaka Smart and guards Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach discuss the upcoming season.”]

 

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