Men's Basketball

The biggest 'What ifs' of Texas men's basketball

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Posted April 24th, 2017

Sports Illustrated’s recent series of articles discussing the “what ifs” of sports got us thinking last week when we wondered what the biggest were for Texas football. It seems pretty clear that Colt McCoy not getting hurt in the BCS National Championship game and Blake Gideon’s dropped interception were the biggest.

But what about men’s basketball?

Well, here are the biggest “what ifs” for Texas men’s basketball.

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What if Isaiah Taylor returns for his senior season?

Texas’s Isaiah Taylor celebrates a three-point play against West Virginia during the NCAA men’s college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex., Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

If Taylor is back, does the 11-22 season happen this past season? Is the record flipped? Take all the close games Texas lost and add Taylor. Take all the issues Texas had at point and add Taylor. It’s a pretty different team.

Taylor wasn’t drafted after signing with an agent last spring, and he spent most of this past season blowing up the D-League before joining the Houston Rockets roster at the end of the season.

What if Kevin Durant never visits Texas?

Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant greets Texas donor Bill Duval on the sidelines during pregame warmups before the Longhorn’s game against UTEP Saturday September 10, 2016 in Austin. Rodolfo Gonzalez/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Durant recently talked about his recruitment to Texas, and it seems pretty clear that if he wasn’t a person who keeps his word, he might have gone to North Carolina.

If he does, then North Carolina strengthens a team that was already a No. 1 seed, already had an All-American player (Tyler Hansbrough), already had a fleet of standout freshmen (Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright) and already was going  to reach the regional finals that season. Now put Durant on that team and no one beats them, and Florida doesn’t win back-to-back titles.

And Texas? The Longhorns would have been in trouble, considering they lost 11 games with Durant on the roster.

Instead, he went to Texas after feeling a connection on his visit and will be an icon on campus for decades.

What if Kevin Durant doesn’t get hurt at Kansas?

Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Texas’ Kevin Durant walks off the court pass the jubilant Kansas bench after losing during overtime at the Big 12 Championship game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Saturday March 10, 2007. Kansas beat Texas 88-84.

Texas took a huge lead on the road against an Elite Eight-bound Jayhawk team behind one of the greatest performances that building had ever seen. Kevin Durant scored 25 points in the first half, connecting on five 3-pointers. But he sprained his ankle and wasn’t the same player in the second half, scoring just seven points. Kansas overcame a big deficit and won the game.

If Durant is 100 percent, the Longhorns probably win the game and probably scores close to 50 points. Kansas winds up going 13-3, tied with Texas A&M and Texas for the Big 12 title. Texas probably improves its seed with that win, going from a fourth seed to a third seed and maybe Texas doesn’t even play USC in the second round, let alone lose by 19 points.

What if Luke Axtell doesn’t transfer?

When Jarrett Allen declared for the NBA a few weeks ago, Luke Axtell’s name was thrown around as one of the best one-and-done players in Texas history. Of course he didn’t leave after a season for the NBA, he left because of a run-in with outgoing coach Tom Penders. There was a lawsuit, there was back-and-forth, he-said-he-said stuff, but let’s say that doesn’t happen.

Let’s say Axtell decides to stay at Texas with former high school teammate Chris Mihm, and then Rick Barnes takes over as head coach. Barnes went 19-13 in year-one with Gabe Muoneke and Kris Clack leading the way. Mihm played center and averaged 13.7 points and 11 rebounds. Axtell, a 6-foot-10-inch forward who shot nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line, would have given Texas a nice boost in Barnes’ first season, in which he went 13-3 in Big 12 play.

In real life, Axtell transferred to Kansas and sat out the 1998-99 season. He never quite lived up to expectations in Lawrence, where he averaged a career 7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 39 games.

What if from 2009 to the end of his tenure, more of Rick Barnes’ players stay at Texas?

Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2/20/12 Texas’Myck Kabongo drives against Baylor’s Quincy Acy during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Austin, Texas. Baylor won 77-72.

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. But coach Rick Barnes’ tenure at Texas was derailed after 2009 when a string of talented players left early instead of staying an extra year. Every successful college basketball team can argue this point, but for Texas, it’s a little different. Sure, if John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns return, Kentucky has a Wooden-esque run going on. But those guys were never staying extra years and the thought of a senior year was beyond laughable.

But J’Covan Brown leaving early was probably not the best decision for Texas and Brown was not drafted. Myck Kabongo leaving after his sophomore year, not great. Imagine if Kabongo was on the 2013-14 team at Texas? The list goes on. Avery Bradley was a first round pick, but he played 5.2 minutes a game his rookie season. Cory Joseph left early and was drafted by the Spurs, but hopped from San Antonio to Austin in the NBA D-League before catching on several seasons later.

If Bradley stays, he and Joseph are in the backcourt together that season with Tristan Thompson down low for a squad that still made the NCAA Tournament.

What if C.J. Miles comes to Texas?

Indiana Pacers’ C.J. Miles (0) passes agasint Cleveland Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson (24) in the first half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, April 17, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

It’s taken some time for Miles to hit his groove in the NBA, but at one point this former 2005 McDonald’s All-American was considered one of the top recruits in basketball. And the Dallas Skyline product was going to play at Texas. He reportedly was planning on playing for the Longhorns only if he wasn’t going to get drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. He was drafted, in the second round by Utah, and bolted for the NBA.

If the one-and-done rule is in effect one year earlier, Miles comes to Texas and teams with LaMarcus Aldridge, A.J. Abrams, Daniel Gibson, P.J. Tucker and more. He joins a team that went to the Elite Eight. He joins a team that was a three-point loss to Texas A&M away from halting Kansas’ Big 12 Conference title streak. Texas still won a share of the Big 12 without Miles.

Who know if Miles would have panned out at Texas, but given the talent that was on that team, it wouldn’t have hurt having another talented ball handler.

What if LaMarcus Aldridge…

UT’s LaMarcus Aldridge runs up court during a game against Oklahoma at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday March 5, 2006. Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Three what ifs that change Texas basketball involving LaMarcus Aldridge:

A) LaMarcus Aldridge received a call from Shaquille O’Neal in high school when Aldridge was deciding whether to go to the NBA out of high school, or go to Texas. Shaq told him not to go to the NBA. If that call never happens, maybe Aldridge goes pro and Texas never gets one of the best seasons in school history in 2005-06, when Aldridge was an All-American who won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Maybe that impacts Texas’ ability to recruit Kevin Durant, because let’s face it, Texas is struggling those two post T.J. Ford years without Aldridge.

B) What if Aldridge isn’t hurt his freshman season? He played just 16 games for Texas as a freshman, averaging 9.9 points, 1.5 blocks and 5.9 rebounds. He hurt his hip, missed the end of the season in which Texas lost early in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. If he’s healthy, that season is much better.

C) The big one: What if Aldridge had stayed for his junior year. To be honest, Texas was probably lucky to get two seasons from one of the top recruits in his class. That hip injury helped keep Aldridge at Texas. If he plays a third year (he was taken second overall in the draft), he teams with Durant, which means two of three best players in program history are on the same team.

One thing is sure, Texas probably isn’t losing by 19 points to USC in the NCAA Tournament in 2007.

What if Texas hires Rick Majerus in 1998?

Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus yells from the bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Portland, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, in St. Louis. Saint Louis won 73-53. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Rick Majerus was the initial target for Texas in 1998 after Tom Penders was let go. He might have come to Austin had it not been for a money issue. Reportedly unwilling to pay the basketball coach more than the new football coach (Mack Brown), Texas’ contract talks with Majerus fall apart. Majerus made about a $1 million annually at Utah, but Mack Brown was being paid $750,00 by Texas at the time.

With the contract talks falling through, Majerus, who was coming off a national title game appearance and Final Four with the Utes that season, opted to stay in Utah. Texas also considered Phil Ford, Kelvin Sampson and Bob Bender. Barnes, then just 43, was at Clemson and was the choice. He went on to become one of the best coaches in the country at Texas and put the Longhorns on the map, taking them to the Final Four and multiple Elite Eight runs.

If Majerus is the coach at Texas, then the tenure certainly is different and certainly entertaining. Majerus had health issues that drove him out of coaching for several seasons before he returned with Saint Louis in 2007. Majerus led the Billikens back to the NCAA Tournament in 2012. He retired in August of 2012 citing health issues and died several months later in December.

Barnes is the best coach in Texas basketball history, and Majerus is a borderline Hall of Fame coach himself who won more than 500 games. But would Majerus have pulled the amount of high-level recruits Barnes did? Would Majerus had developed more players than Barnes did? Does T.J. Ford come to Texas?

Others to consider: What if the half-court shot in 2016 that dashed the hopes for a Texas-Texas A&M second round matchup in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t go in for Northern Iowa?  What if Carmelo Anthony had skipped school, does Texas beat Kansas in the 2003 title game?

 

 

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