Texas coach Shaka Smart talks with Eric Davis Jr. (10) during the game with the Incarnate Word Cardinals at the Frank Erwin Center on November 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Men's Basketball

Shaka Smart’s young Texas team still ‘in the process of learning to be men’

Longhorns must figure out a way to eliminate mistakes, stay positive despite 5-5 start

Posted December 19th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Shaka Smart: “I don’t think our guys are innately soft.”
  • Smart on G Eric Davis: “He needs to stop feeling sorry for himself.”
  • Texas has only two non-conference games remaining before Big 12 play starts on Dec. 30.

Texas coach Shaka Smart pulled guard Eric Davis from the game Saturday against Arkansas and barked at the sophomore to change his body language.

With slumped shoulders and a disgusted look, Davis gave off a distinct vibe inside Houston’s Toyota Center.

“Woe is me,” Smart said Monday, describing what he saw.

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Texas head coach Shaka Smart coaches his team against Incarnate Word during the first half of their game at the Erwin Center on Friday, November 11, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas head coach Shaka Smart coaches his team against Incarnate Word during the first half of their game at the Erwin Center on Friday, November 11, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Smart’s been patient and paternal with his young Longhorns thus far. But now Texas is 5-5 going into Wednesday’s game against UAB. Having watched several wins morph into losses, Smart sounds like he’s done dangling the carrot. It’s time for the stick.

“It is a learned quality to be able to take adversity, to take hard times and not get down and not be bummed out and not feel sorry for yourself,” Smart said. “That’s something you have to learn. It’s called growing up. It’s called maturing. It’s called being a man.

“Tell it like it is, we’re in the process of learning to be men.”

Smart usually doesn’t single out players. He’s a coach who chooses every public utterance with careful deliberation. But he didn’t hold back in talking about Davis, a 6-3 shooter that Texas needs to come on. This season, Davis is averaging 7.3 points and shooting 28 percent.

“He needs to stop feeling sorry for himself,” Smart said. “I can say that publicly because I’ve made that very clear to him. He and I are going to spend time talking about that and working through that.

“He is very talented young man. He’s a terrific kid,” the coach continued. “He’s a kid that, when he allows his charisma and personality to come out, can be great teammate. He can be a great leader. He’s gotten himself in a little bit of a rut. Instead of trying to get out of it through a process, he’s trying to hope his way out of it.”

If the Longhorns are frustrating to watch, imagine being the coach. This is a team that’s made a habit of falling behind by double digits and then having to scramble back uphill. In the end, it worked out against Alabama. But deep down, Texas players probably feel they should have taken wins over Michigan and Arkansas.

Asked if he thought the Longhorns were soft, Smart said, “No. I do think there’s been a lot of plays this year where, to me, I look out there and see at times a little bit of a divided mind that can keep you from being as aggressive as you can possibly be.”

Smart said he can see times when players go full speed with aggression on certain plays. There are other times Smart can see looks that indicate, “I’m not sure. That can lead to soft plays.”

“I don’t think our guys are innately soft,” Smart said. “I’ve seen these guys, to a man, make some really tough plays, really aggressive plays.”

Texas has only two non-conference games left before Big 12 play begins at Kansas State on Dec. 30. After Wednesday’s game against UAB, Kent State comes to the Erwin Center on Dec. 27.

Each day in practice the message will be the same. The Longhorns must have a sole focus on helping the team succeed regardless of individual achievement. Or, Smart believes, this team won’t go anywhere.

“Shift your focus onto what we need to do as a group to be the best we can be,” Smart said. “If we do that, when we do that, then we have a chance to be our best and then you can see what we’re all about. Until then, you’ll be asking me questions about soft plays.”

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

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