Bohls: Coleman spearheading a different Texas team that has a banner to prove it
- Texas joined the club of now 22 champions in 37 years, thanks to Matt Coleman’s sweet jumper that kissed the glass before dropping softly through the net with a tenth of a second left to play to ignite a big celebration after the 69-67 win.
The Maui Invitational wasn’t even in Maui.
The verbose Bill Walton wasn’t in control, to the surprise of no one.
The fans weren’t in Harrah’s Cherokee Center gym unless you count the cardboard cutouts of the ESPN broadcaster and others.
And Texas is no longer Texas.
At least, not the same old, underachieving Texas it’s been the last five seasons under Shaka Smart. And that’s a very good thing.
This one’s different.
Texas looks different, plays different, and reacts differently when pressed to the max as it was Wednesday afternoon.
The site of this tournament may have changed, shifting 4,500 miles and five time zones eastward to Asheville, N.C. for safety’s sake. But this was still, as Smart said, “high, high-level basketball.”
When Smart and his team walked into the gymnasium beforehand, he pointed out to his team that he didn’t see any UT championship banners that the sponsors brought with them from Hawaii with all those decorative surfboards representing this year’s competing teams.
The who’s who play in this annual tournament held, until this year, off the mainland. The teams that have won the Maui Invitational are on college basketball’s Main Street. Duke’s won it five times, more than anyone since this shindig began in 1984. North Carolina’s won four of them. Kansas, which historically owns the Big 12, won it last year and twice in the last five years.
But not Texas. Ever.
“I told them there’s no Texas on those banners,” Smart said. “Texas is not up there.”
It is now.
Texas joined the club of now 22 champions in 37 years, thanks to Matt Coleman III’s sweet jumper that kissed the glass before dropping softly through the net with a tenth of a second left to play to ignite a big celebration after the 69-67 win.
This is a springboard week for Texas. Four teams have won the Maui and then the national championship in the same season — including two North Carolina teams — but we’ll hold off on predictions that crazy.
For now, the Longhorns won a big tournament, and all signs are promising. Winning anything is good, but especially this one since they played steady, solid hoops to win three times in three days against tough competition.
While the pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside down, a new Longhorns basketball team has emerged as a confident, strong-willed, deep team that’s ready to take on every challenge and not wilt under the pressure.
It’s a 17th-ranked team that has to learn how to win close games, and it did just that twice in Asheville to capture a tournament and start the season as a rosy 4-0 after holding off Davidson and ripping apart Indiana. Texas gets another chance to showcase itself with a home game against 12th-ranked Villanova on Sunday.
Texas is going to lose some games, but it’s going to win plenty if it can upgrade its rebounding after a minus-18 margin on the boards against the Tar Heels and play smart down the stretch. Texas has too many weapons not to.
Smart’s got to sort through his rotation that now includes the reliable and budding star that is the explosive, athletic Kai Jones as a virtual sixth starter. It was telling that Smart had super subs Brock Cunningham and Royce Hamm on the floor at crunch time. They both produce big time and in many ways. Smart’s got quickness and maturity and good outside shooting in his veteran backcourt, none more savvy that Coleman.
This was shaping up as Smart’s best team in his six seasons even before his club held off a North Carolina comeback and won this highly charged game with a wild finish.
But the thrilling victory over the 14th-ranked Tar Heels provided ample evidence that this team has the experience and the spirit to rise above any adversity such as Carolina’s second-half rally that threatened to undo Texas’ 12-point advantage at halftime.
How confident are these Longhorns?
Coleman said he went to his bench before the final possession “with a little smirk on my face” because he’d been in this situation so many times before. That he had, banking in a game-winner to top Oklahoma after tossing in a floater in the lane with nine seconds to play for the winning bucket as a freshman against Tennessee State.
Texas has plenty of guys to take shots, but precious few — as of yet — who have the belief to want the ball at crunch time. Those moments are earned if teammates are to trust one another.
This is a club loaded with veterans, the kind that have endured the slings and arrows of missed NCAA Tournaments amidst big-time pressure on their coach, who is still in search of his first NCAA win with the Longhorns.
“We can build on the success we had here,” Smart said. “We’re getting there.”
And they can now point to a banner of their own.