Learning together: Texas’ Greg Brown should follow example set by Kai Jones
Longhorns’ big men working together on the frontcourt as No. 13 Texas heads into Big 12 opener at No. 2 Baylor
Everybody wants to play in the NBA, and everybody wants to get there as fast as possible. Texas freshman Greg Brown hopes to be there in 2021. Heck, maybe sophomore Kai Jones believes he will, too.
And there’s nothing wrong with chasing hoop dreams.
But here in this pandemic-crazed season, it’s fascinating to watch two players advancing on their own individual journeys while wearing the same uniform.
One is a freshman trying to take the college basketball world by storm and learning it's not all that easy. The other is a sophomore who’s already been through the Big 12 battles and spent the entire offseason focusing on specific skills to be a better all-around player.
Brown and Jones are going to learn as much from each other this season as they learn about themselves. The Longhorns should be terrific beneficiaries.
“We're pretty close off the court,” Jones said. “So the conversations are always about just trying to dominate and make our team one of the best teams in the country. And we just feel like if we try to make that an emphasis in practice every day, it's going to carry over into the game.”
No. 13 Texas (4-1) was scheduled to travel north on Interstate 35 to face No. 2 Baylor (4-0) on Sunday. However, the Big 12 announced Saturday the game was being postponed, and Baylor was shutting down team functions for COVID-19 protocols. The game will be rescheduled at a later date.
Sunday's game was to be the Big 12 opener for both teams. The Bears have owned this series in recent years, and they’re still a veteran-oriented team, like the Horns.
For Brown, every game is a new opportunity. It wasn’t that long ago he was preparing for district opponents while at Vandegrift. Already this season at Texas, Brown has played basketball powerhouses Indiana and North Carolina and next faces the Big 12’s preseason favorite.
“I lean on (the veterans) quite often, because a lot of the times I do struggle and they pick me back up fast,” Brown said. “They're just saying, 'Greg, it gets better.' When you play more, the game slows down for you. Then you can make plays and then we can make plays for you. And then we can win a lot better.”
Brown should lean on Jones.
Last season, Jones came to UT as an athletic-but-raw big man. The Bahamas native averaged 3.6 points in 27 games but showed incredible moments of pizazz.
Earlier in the pandemic, he spent time in Florida with his personal trainer. Jones said he worked on offensive efficiency, not focusing on the total number of shots. What was your percentage? Where were the hot spots? What’s a good shot versus a bad one?
Already this season, he has shown remarkable catch-and-shoot confidence having started the year 22 for 27 (.815). That covers everything from some high-flying dunks to quick-trigger corner 3-pointers.
“A big thing I focused on was just finding ways to be active in the offense, whether it's getting in a highway action, like setting screenings or slipping out of them,” Jones said. “I set a lot more screens this year than I did last year, and that’s a great way to create action for the team and for myself.”
Brown was used to being the all-everything player at Vandegrift. And let’s be honest, he had to be. But what happens when the shots don’t fall as easy? What if you start the year 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the first three games?
Newer players typically don’t understand how to impact the game by other means than scoring. Can you set good screens? Can you utilize good screens set for you? Can you move without the ball? How good is your help-side defense?
Brown had his best offensive game of the young season Wednesday against Texas State. He was 7-for-14 shooting, hit three 3-pointers and finished with 18 points. He had three blocks. He also had just two rebounds, no assists or steals.
“I thought it was going to be like this,” he said. “I just haven't really prepared myself for this. It just came a lot sooner than expected.”
Guard Matt Coleman III said, “It was good for Greg to see the ball go in during the last game.”
Texas coach Shaka Smart has been down this road before with eager beavers. He signed Jarrett Allen and Mo Bamba knowing they’d be one-and-done players. Jaxson Hayes’ talent exploded his freshman year, and he left after one season.
As for Brown, Smart said, “He’s learning.”
“The exciting thing is there's so much room for growth,” Smart said after the Texas State game. “There are so many things that I think he knows that he can continue to do better. But tonight was a step.”
Asked where he wants to improve, Brown said, “The main thing I want to get better at is just playing with patience, just knowing where the next play is, just having that next-level basketball IQ. And once I get that, then everything else will fall into place.”
Next-level basketball IQ is talking about screen angles. Jones spoke at length about the importance of framing the setup and how the guard responds. It’s about creating angles to the rim, both for the guard and the big man setting the screen. “That's kind of why we emphasize that so much. It’s really important,” Jones said.
Brown knows the importance of working within the team construct. “I feel like I should make a great play for my teammates because they make great plays for me,” he said.
It doesn’t happen by osmosis, though. Developing one’s college basketball IQ simply comes with time — something that’s in short supply already with Brown.
The clock is ticking. One-and-dones will be good as gone before you realize it.
“The details are very important, especially at this level, because the players have more talent, they’re stronger and they’re faster,” Jones said. “So those little things can make a huge difference in the long run.”