May 2, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
While Rick Barnes has won nearly 70 percent of the games in which he’s coached at the University of Texas, there had been the feeling in recent years that the program had underachieved. Given the importance of the month of March in college basketball, not going deep into the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis can be an issue when running a program that has (in the eyes of many) the resources needed to be a power player in the sport.
With Texas having missed the NCAA tournament in 2013 and making just one Sweet 16 appearance since 2006 (2008), it wasn’t too difficult to find those critical of what Barnes was doing in Austin. And with four members of the 2012-13 team transferring and two others turning pro, the 2013-14 campaign didn’t look all that promising from the outside.
As a result practically any preseason “hot seat” list included Barnes’ names, with the veteran coach ranking among the top names most likely to be in search of a new position at season’s end. And within the program, Barnes and his staff focused on what they could do to get the program headed in the right direction.
“When players come in and leave your program, obviously it goes back to the evaluation part of it,” Barnes said in an interview conducted in May 2013. “That’s the one thing I think we did as a staff a year ago  with what will now be our sophomore class, we said we’re going to be really selective in terms of making sure we get the right kind of player to fit what we want at the University of Texas.
“The one thing was, we want guys who truly want to be at the University of Texas for all the right reasons,” Barnes continued. “We’ve never wanted someone not to pursue their dreams of playing in the NBA or whatever that may be. But while they’re here what we want is the University of Texas and our basketball program to be really important. And I feel like the energy in our program right now, this spring, is the best it had been in a couple years.”
Many scoffed at those words, seeing the fact that Texas’ top two returning scorers averaged 6.8 (Javan Felix) and 6.4 (Jonathan Holmes) points per game respectively. However Barnes’ words proved accurate in 2013-14, as the rejuvenated Longhorns won 24 games and returned to the NCAA tournament. Texas’ season may have ended in the Round of 32 at the hands of a talented Michigan squad, but the general feeling at the time was that this group chock full of rising sophomores and juniors was poised to take another step forward in 2014-15.
And then, earlier this week, five-star big man Myles Turner announced that he’ll be attending Texas next season. As a result expectations for Texas grew even more, with some even asking if the Longhorns have enough to not only contend with Kansas atop the Big 12 but possibly end the Jayhawks’ run of ten consecutive regular season conference titles.
To say the least, that’s quite the departure from where the Texas program was just a year ago. And while much of the credit will be bestowed upon Barnes and his staff (and rightfully so), those young players who weren’t expected to accomplish a whole lot in 2013-14 deserve praise as well.
Holmes (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who will be the team’s lone scholarship senior, doubled his scoring average and led the team in rebounding while also providing the veteran leadership the Longhorns needed throughout the season. And he had help in the front court, as Cameron Ridley took a significant step forward as a sophomore and both Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert solidified their spots in the rotation as well.
In the backcourt, the arrival of Isaiah Taylor and the improvement of Demarcus Holland alleviated some of the pressure that was on Felix’s shoulders in 2012-13. With Myck Kabongo suspended for most of that season Felix was asked to do a lot at the point, and the results were mixed. That changed this past season, resulting in both Felix and the team as a whole reaping the rewards. Texas hasn’t lost a single player from its rotation, and the addition of Turner gives the Longhorns a high-level talent who is expected to hit the ground running upon his arrival in Austin.
Whether it’s the people within the program or those on the outside, there’s a much better feeling regarding the state of Texas basketball this spring than there was in 2013. And for that Barnes can point to two important areas: he and his staff’s decision to pay closer attention to the commitment of those within the program, and the players’ willingness to push forward in the pursuit of a common goal.
With that being the case, Texas will move from being the “hunter” to the “hunted” in 2014-15. And in his comments following the season-ending loss to Michigan, it’s obvious that Barnes wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You go back, I can assure you this: We were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 this year. We won’t be picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 next year,” Barnes said. “I’m sure we’ll come out — I told them what’s going to be fun for you guys a year from now, you’re going to understand what it’s really like with the, what the Texas program has been built on, and the fact that next year we will be hunted. And that’s the way we’ve always liked it, and that’s why I really appreciate these guys.”
Apr 1, 2015, 10:57 PM EDT
Reports surfaced earlier Wednesday that Marshall would visit Alabama on Friday.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Jones produced yet another highlight Wednesday night.
Apr 1, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
With Ty Johnson being the lone player out of eligibility, South Carolina may have some other moves in minds when it comes to getting down to the 13 scholarship limit.
Apr 1, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is projected to be a first round pick, but he stated that he still needs to talk with his mother and Arizona head coach Sean Miller before making a decision.
Apr 1, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
“Forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke.”
Apr 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Booker played just 14.3 minutes per game this season, with the Sooners relying on the triumvirate of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard on the perimeter.
Kentucky’s John Calipari on short list of coaches with four Final Four appearances over five seasons
Apr 1, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Also on that short list: John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski.
Apr 1, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Hurley led the Rams to a 23-10 record this season, and with the amount of talent they’ll return Rhody should be an NCAA tournament team and a contender in the A-10.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Harvey averaged 23.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the Big Sky champion Eagles.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
With eight uncommitted McDonald’s All-Americans playing in Wednesday night’s game, there are still plenty of decisions to be made going forward.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:55 PM EDT
Trimble’s decision to return is a big boost, and it ensures that Maryland will be a Big Ten contender next season.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Liberty re-hired former head coach Ritchie McKay after McKay spent a stint at Virginia as associate head coach.
Apr 1, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
What kinds of changes has Duke made to improve defensively during a strong NCAA tournament run?
Apr 1, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Kelly Oubre Jr. will leave Kansas for the NBA Draft.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Nebraska is losing another player from the roster.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Ohio State landed an impact forward in the 2016 class on Wednesday.
Wisconsin stops selling Nigel Hayes-inspired shirt in campus bookstore over potential NCAA violation
Apr 1, 2015, 10:10 AM EDT
Wisconsin stopped selling Nigel Hayes-inspired shirts at a campus bookstore.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Kevin Ollie and UConn will stay away from the Final Four in Indianapolis as the state of Connecticut has banned state-funded travel to the state.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
San Diego turned to a former player to lead the basketball program.
Mar 31, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Head coach Ernie Kent is losing three first-year players after his first season at the helm.
- Gregg Marshall to remain at Wichita State, won’t visit Alabama 0
- Maryland point guard Melo Trimble to return for sophomore season 5
- Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor highlight five Wooden Award finalists 3
- 2015 NCAA Tournament All-Second Weekend Team 2
- While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16 3
- Tournament darling R.J. Hunter is heading to the NBA 3
- Texas freshman Myles Turner declares for the NBA Draft 6
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four (88)
- Kentucky responds to Daxter Miles Jr.’s pregame comments (30)
- Updated tournament records: Big Ten teams make up half of Final Four (27)
- The Final Four is set, and it’s going to be insane (24)
- Wisconsin vs. Kentucky: The Final Four rematch we deserved to see (22)