The Longhorns will unofficially start to the men’s basketball season on Wednesday with the Texas Tip-Off event at Gregory Gym. Coach Shaka Smart said flat-out “we expect to take a very big jump this year.”
The environment in which Smart operates sure makes coaching more difficult, though.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches organized an emergency conference call on Monday, presumably to discuss the recent negative headlines that have dragged college basketball through the mud.
The FBI has launched an investigation into whether shoe companies bribe assistant coaches to steer talented players in certain directions. Five people related to the investigation were arrested in late September. And last Friday, the NCAA announced there will be no penalties imposed on North Carolina basketball despite one of the biggest academic scandals in NCAA history.
Texas men’s Athletic Director Mike Perrin said Friday he has “no reason” to think the Longhorns will be on the FBI’s radar anytime soon. Smart said the federal investigation, which has engulfed Louisville’s Rick Pitino and at least four assistants at different schools, is “obviously not good for our sport.”
So how do you fix a problem that was widely known behind the scenes and brought front and center by the FBI?
“That’s an interesting one, because I don’t think there’s any easy fix,” Smart said. “There’s been a lot of talk lately about the model, and whether or not it works and whether or not it’s broken. I’ve read a lot about it, and listened to a lot of people. I’ve not heard anyone that has all the answers. I don’t have all the answers.
“I will say this,” he continued. “We operate under similar rules to every other sport that is under the umbrella of the NCAA. But our sport is so very different. I think it would be naive of all of us to act like it’s the same. It’s so very different well before these guys get to us.”
Smart said the difference is that standout players can be identified early. The fact that a talented player can be identified at age 15, “opens up a whole other can of worms that certainly factors into some of the stuff we’re talking about.”
“I don’t think coaches are happy to see something bad happen to the sport or to individual people,” Smart said. “We’re talking about people with families. Would coaches love to see the playing field be leveled? Yes. But I’ve not heard a quick, easy fix for that. To truly come up with a solution, you have to be willing to look at all the factors that go into the quote-unquote problem.”
When the season begins in November, Smart also faces a sticky situation about the national anthem. College football teams have avoided the issue about protesting during the anthem because they are usually in the locker room when the song is played.
However, college basketball is totally different. College basketball teams are on the court when the anthem is played, usually right before the starting lineups are announced. There is no NCAA-wide edict that players must stand, as the NBA requires of its players.
UT Chancellor Bill McRaven issued system-wide memo to all UT presidents and athletic directors last year that left no wiggle room. “I would ask that you encourage your coaching staff and your players to stand up straight when the national anthem is played; to face the flag and place their hand over their heart as a sign of respect to the nation,” McRaven wrote in January 2016.
Smart said he’s told players that they all have meaning, their families have meaning and their communities they come from have meaning.
“I want our guys to understand that they are more than just someone who dribbles a ball or shoots a ball,” Smart said. “They are someone who has a voice, and this is a critical age to find that voice.”
Still, Smart said the Longhorns represent more than just themselves. “We represent the University of Texas,” he said. “We represent all of our fans, and that’s very important to us. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Smart said he will have no specific edict that players stand during the anthem. “But my number one job is to support our players and make sure we’re connected in what we do,” Smart said. “We’ve in the past been able to come together around that, and I hope that we can continue do.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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