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Rick Barnes reflects on LaMarcus Aldridge’s retirement while Chris Beard builds up Texas

Beard: ‘A former player, former manager, former coach, we want you back.’

Rick Barnes can still hear that laugh, the one that resonated all the way from Seagoville High School to the University of Texas and went 15 seasons in the NBA.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s locker room personality was unmistakable.

“LaMarcus’ laugh, I could go in a room and he could be however far away and I know who it is,” Barnes said Thursday.

Aldridge played two seasons for Barnes at Texas and then became a seven-time NBA All-Star, mostly with Portland and then San Antonio. Aldridge, 35, announced Thursday he was retiring with an irregular heartbeat. His final game with the Brooklyn Nets was last Saturday. 

Texas ex LaMarcus Aldridge, seen here in March 2006, played two seasons with the Longhorns before becoming a seven-time NBA All-Star. He retired from the NBA on Thursday.

“Though I’m better now, what I felt with my heart that night was one of the scariest things I’ve experienced,” Aldridge wrote in a Twitter post. “With that being said, I’ve made the difficult decision to retire from the NBA.

“For 15 years, I’ve put basketball first, and now, it’s time to put health and family first.”

More:UTEP coach Rodney Terry stepping down to join Chris Beard at Texas

Aldridge thanked the Portland organization “for drafting a skinny, Texas kid and giving him a chance.” He also thanked the Spurs and Nets.

“You never know when something will come to an end, so make sure you enjoy it every day,” Aldridge wrote. “I can truly say I did just that.”

In a phone interview, Barnes remembered a time Aldridge didn’t even think he would make an NBA roster.

“What I remember was a year, I think the NBA had gone on strike, and (Texas ex) Chris Mihm was back,” Barnes said. “I’ll never forget this. LaMarcus turned around, got a shot off, Chris Mihm blocked it. LaMarcus took another shot, Chris Mihm blocked it. He couldn’t get a shot off.

“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t play in the NBA. This guy doesn’t even start and I can’t even get a shot off him.’” Barnes continued. “I said to him, ‘Well, you do know this, you are going to play in the NBA.’ We always teach that high release. Chris Mihm was one of the first guys we did that with. I told him once you get that, nobody’s going to be blocking your shot.”

Rick Barnes is now the Tennessee head coach.

At Texas, Aldridge averaged 13.5 points during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons before going pro. His sophomore season, the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight, where Texas lost to LSU in overtime. Aldridge would go on to average 19.4 points in 1,029 regular season games.

“The night we got beat by LSU in the locker room, he was as emotional and distraught as any player I’ve ever been with because he truly enjoyed his time at Texas,” Barnes said. “Throughout the season, did he know he was going pro? Did he know it? Did I know it? Did everybody know he was leaving for the NBA? He never let that get that inference with what he was getting done at the University of Texas.

Texas starters P.J. Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brad Buckman and Daniel Gibson laughed their way through a first round scare against Penn in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

“That day in that locker room, he was so distraught and so heartbroken,” Barnes added. “I feel like he knew he was leaving a family that truly loved him. He knew he was going from that to the NBA, which is a much different culture.”

The “L-Train” is always welcome around Barnes.

“He will always have a special place in my heart,” said Barnes, now the head coach at Tennessee. “I know him tremendously. I just know where he started and where he is today, and I’m so extremely proud. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

More:Jones, Febres announce they are staying on whirlwind day for Texas basketball

Roster management: On a Zoom call with reporters Thursday, new Texas men’s coach Chris Beard said he’s had good communication with all players from last year’s roster as they weigh future decisions.

Andrew Jones, Jase Febres and Brock Cunningham are so far the only three who have committed to return. Those three are getting NCAA-approved offseason access. Beard said the new staff is working with others “any way we can.”

“The three guys that have made their commitment here, we’re already on the floor practicing with those guys,” Beard said. “We’ve got a few more that are going through their decision-making process, and I respect that.”

Texas' Brock Cunningham sits among confetti after the Longhorns' win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. He's one of three Longhorns who have said they'll return next season.

Thus, it’s unclear when players like Jericho Sims, Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman or Greg Brown will announce a decision. 

Beard said Jones’ personal story of overcoming leukemia is “well documented and it’s awesome. And I’m so proud to be his coach.

“But also let’s don’t forget the basketball side,” Beard added. “This guy’s a really, really good basketball player that we think has another ceiling of his game.”

More:Once signed with Texas Tech, F Jaylon Tyson changes course, signs with Texas

On Febres, Beard said he sees a brighter future “other than just shooting the ball.” Also, Beard said it took one quick phone call with Cunningham; both want to win. “Shows a lot about his loyalty and commitment to not only our new staff but also the program,” Beard said.

Staff finalized: The Longhorns formally announced their new coaching staff with “some other guys coming soon,” Beard said.

Rodney Terry, who worked at UT for nine seasons under Barnes, will be an associate head coach. Jerrance Howard, previously one of Kansas’ top recruiters, also once worked with Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M and Kentucky. Ulric Maligi was one of Beard’s key recruiters at Texas Tech.

Off the court, Texas ex Chris Ogden has been named the program’s managing director, and he’ll work on welcoming former players back into the fold. Ogden left the job as UT-Arlington’s head coach to come back; Terry left the head coaching job at UTEP.

Bob Donewald Jr. was named special assistant to the head coach. Donewald was a head coach for professional foreign-based teams and was head coach of the Chinese National Team from 2010-12.

It was announced Tuesday that John Reilly, Tech’s strength and conditioning coach, would have the same role at UT.

“Just what I can tell you is we’re all connected,” Beard said. “We’re all on the same page. We all have the same goals and vision of Texas basketball.”

Welcome back: Texas’ previous coach, Shaka Smart, had no real ties to the UT program when he arrived in 2015. Over time, many of Barnes’ former players started drifting away from the program. Beard, who played for UT coach Tom Penders in the early 1990s, wants them all to come back.

“Every time I talk, I just want to make sure that everybody knows. A former player, former manager, former coach, we want you back,” Beard said. “We need you back. It’s an open-door policy. We look forward to getting everybody back this summer — having an event, having reunions. I mean, this is important. This isn't fluff. We're doing this. It's a priority.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.