Having absorbed his 21st loss this season, Texas freshman Jarrett Allen sat stone-faced through a press conference and appeared to be lost in time and space.
Asked to describe the highlights, Allen looked confused.
“Highlights?” he asked with a puzzled look.
Well, there haven’t been many — that’s for sure. The Longhorns finally hit rock bottom Saturday, finishing the regular season with a 75-64 loss against 11th-ranked Baylor and crashing to the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Dead last.
The Horns (10-21, 4-14 Big 12) were picked to finish third in October, which feels like a lifetime ago. Instead, Texas will be the No. 10 seed in Wednesday’s first-round matchup at the Big 12 Tournament against No. 7 seed Texas Tech at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“That’s obviously highly disappointing,” coach Shaka Smart said after the Horns completed their first losing season in four years. “Nobody’s more disappointed about that than me.”
Shaq Cleare, Kendal Yancy and Mo Isom all got the starting nod on senior day. Cleare took advantage by getting 14 points and a career-high nine rebounds. But most in the announced crowd of 12,195 at the Erwin Center had a far more important question: Was this Allen’s last home game at Texas?
“I’m going to keep my options open,” Allen said after scoring 20 points, getting nine rebounds and blocking three shots. “I really haven’t made a decision right now. I’m going to have to talk to my family about it.”
With recruit Matt Coleman addressing the void at point guard, Allen’s future is far and away the biggest question facing Texas basketball.
He’s not even mentioned in most NBA mock drafts. That didn’t stop former UT guard Isaiah Taylor from jumping into the pro waters, a move widely panned by most. Taylor just signed a three-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Rockets.
Those inside the UT basketball program can’t really say for sure which way Allen is leaning. He’s given little to no indication. It’s a total crap shoot at this point as to whether Allen returns or not.
All anybody knows is that athletic 6-foot-11 big men are rare. Allen has averaged 13.6 points and 8.5 rebounds while playing in arguably the toughest league in college basketball.
“I don’t know,” Smart said. “That’s obviously a decision for him and his family to make after the season. I think he’s made a ton of progress. There’s a lot more progress that he can and will make, but I don’t know the answer to your question because it’s not up to me.”
Allen proved himself extremely coachable, both on the court and with reporters. He gave the standard answer that pro prospects always give when asked about the future.
Remember, this is the same athlete who delayed his college decision for months. The NBA dictates that Allen, along with all other underclassmen thinking about going pro, must make a decision by 10:59 p.m. Central time April 23.
“For the season, I just feel we’re missing one piece from everybody on the team — the fight that we need,” Allen said. “We just need to show more fight in the games.”
Meanwhile, Baylor coach Scott Drew’s group is on the opposite end of the Big 12 spectrum. The Bears still have designs on a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Drew sat point guard Manu Lecomte (left ankle) as a precaution, and his team still cruised to victory.
Baylor’s Johnathan Motley had 17 points and 17 rebounds in 29 minutes. Jake Lindsey poured in 16 more on 6 of 7 shooting. Just as it has done all season, Texas hung in there. The Horns trailed by five with 17:33 left in the second half. But Baylor had no trouble pulling away.
“Jarrett Allen, he’s a beast,” Motley said. “I think that team will be good in the upcoming years. A few more shots go their way, this could be a totally different Big 12 season for them.”
Drew knows firsthand how difficult building a program in this league really is. He looks at the Longhorns and simply sees youth.
“Shaka does a great job of making sure they’re playing as a team,” Drew said. “But at the end of the day, it’s tough when you have a bunch of first-year players in the toughest conference in America.”
And Smart’s job could be incredibly more difficult without Allen. The program is effectively in limbo until UT knows his decision, one way or the other.
“That’s one of the realities of college basketball,” Smart said. “On one hand, obviously his decision is his decision with his family’s help, but we’ve got to prepare our program moving forward either way.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.