Texas coach Shaka Smart, assistant Mike Morrell (left) and the rest of the coaching staff are hoping to land a few more players this spring, including New York center Mo Bamba. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Men's Basketball

Shaka Smart gets his point guard, but Texas is still chasing Mo Bamba

Longhorns finally secure letter of intent from highly-coveted point guard Matt Coleman, a likely day-one starter next season

Posted April 12th, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Coleman averaged 12.3 points last season as Oak Hill raced to 37-4 record.
  • Smart in contact communication with freshman Andrew Jones, who is testing the NBA waters, too.
  • Coach wants a new arena to be “in the most fan-friendly place that we can.”

Shaka Smart was late to his own press conference on Wednesday to announce the signing of someone he hopes is a game-changer for Texas men’s basketball — Oak Hill Academy point guard Matt Coleman.

“I was actually on the phone with a recruit, and obviously this is the first day of our signing period,” Smart said after entering the room. “It’s an important stretch of days for us.”

The usage of a plural noun seemed appropriate. The Longhorns landed their coveted guard from Mouth of Wilson, Va., but the recruiting chase continues. Smart and his staff are hot for five-star center Mo Bamba, a possible day-one replacement for the now one-and-done freshman Jarrett Allen.

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Next season’s roster is far from a finished product at this point, if Smart gets his way.

Coleman, who submitted his national letter of intent to UT officials on Wednesday, is one of four incoming freshmen that will dramatically alter the Horns’ overall look. UT had previously signed guard Jase Febres and forward Royce Hamm Jr. from Houston and Jericho Sims from Minneapolis.

Also, center Dylan Osetkowski will finally get to play after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

Coleman (6-2, 175) is a true point guard, something that was sorely needed during this past season’s 11-22 campaign clunker.

Coleman averaged 12.3 points at Oak Hill. He shot 56.4 percent from the floor and went 25 for 54 (46.3 percent) from 3-point range. Considered the nation’s 10th-best point guard recruit, he also averaged 7.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Oak Hill Academy’s Matt Coleman #2 in action against Nathan Hale during the second half of a high school basketball game at the 2017 Hoophall Classic on Monday, January 16, 2017, in Springfield, MA. Nathan Hale won 80-77. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

He was essentially the on-court quarterback for a team that went 37-4 and averaged 90.6 points per game in February and March. Coleman also played for Smart on the Team USA Under-17 squad last summer and was a regular on the high-profile summer basketball circuit. Smart started tracking Coleman in middle school when the coach was still at Virginia Commonwealth.

Now that Coleman is a Longhorn, some fans may be under the illusion that all of Smart’s problems will be solved. That’s not quite true, though, as anyone who follows college athletics knows freshmen go through transitions before finding their way. But the coaching staff believes he’ll move the program forward.

Smart said the key will be constant communication “and also making sure he understands he doesn’t have to do anything alone.”

“Matt becomes one of the perimeter players on our team that is really going to drive the success that we want to have,” Smart said. “Now, Matt Coleman is a pure point guard. He orchestrates offense, he gets other guys shots. He makes everyone around him better. He’s one of those guys that when he’s on the floor, anyone else playing with him takes a step forward, regardless of what position they’re playing.”

As much as Smart raves about Coleman, he’d love to sing Bamba’s praises, too. However, NCAA rules prevent coaches from talking publicly about recruits. Bamba, the No. 1-ranked player in the state of New York, is believed to be down to two choices — Texas or Kentucky.

Some recruiting services have speculated that Bamba is slow-playing the recruiting process to see what players actually stay in the NBA draft and who goes back to school. Available minutes could impact his decision.

Bamba, like Allen, is also widely considered a one-and-done type of athlete. Allen announced late Tuesday that he would sign with an agent and stay in the NBA draft.

The Longhorns are also looking at the junior college or graduate transfer market, although Smart prefers to sign high school players and develop them from the ground up. With three scholarship spots still open, he has flexibility.

Keeping tabs on Jones: Allen isn’t the only freshman thinking about the NBA. Freshman guard Andrew Jones submitted his name for the NBA draft but has yet to hire an agent, and the smart money is on his return to school.

“He has really big aspirations and goals,” Smart said. “I think he’s a guy who has a really great opportunity at the highest level. What he wanted to do is exactly how they call it — test the waters. He and his dad and I have been in constant communication.”

Smart said Jones has continued to go through the team’s offseason workout program. Jones was lifting weights on Wednesday “as we speak,” Smart said.

Arena talk: Texas has announced that a new basketball arena will most likely be built on the parking lot south of the Mike A. Myers Stadium and Field. Smart said his biggest concern was the arena go “in the most fan-friendly place that we can.”

“They’ve been studying it for a while, and they’ve been great about keeping me in the loop,” Smart said. “When things of this magnitude happen, there are several different steps along the way. So the first step was studying and figuring out what’s the best thing for UT in terms of this arena. Obviously we’re a long way from every detail being fully determined and decided.”

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

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