OH HAPPY DAY.
In an unexpected gift from the good news bears, point guard Myck Kabongo announced on the Longhorn Network that he will return to Austin for his sophomore season. Kabongo was a highly hyped, five-star point guard who was, fairly or not, expected to lead the Longhorns to greatness. (AND IMMEDIATELY!) However, his freshman season turned out to be an uneven one.
On the plus side, he's unbelievably quick, knows how to draw contact, and can make passes most people can't. Chief complaints include a high turnover rate, a propensity to disappear in big games (most notably Texas' NCAA Tournament loss to Cincinnati), and like, he can't freakin' lead a team, man!
Kabongo admitted he had deficiencies in the LHN broadcast, saying "It’s about being ready. I want to be someone who is ready to play and contribute at the next level." While Kabongo absolutely has the skills to eventually contribute to an NBA team, he just did not look ready for the professional ranks. He likely would have been a second-round pick with a shot at the first round, but was more Developmental League material. With a stellar sophomore year, Kabongo has a chance to play himself into the 2013 Lottery.
Off the cuff, one guy I'd like to compare Kabongo to is Connecticut's Kemba Walker. Walker matriculated to Storrs as a lightning-fast, New York-hyped waterbug. In his freshman season, he got some run for a loaded Final Four Huskies team. Walker's profile was similar to Kabongo: sweet passer, quick into the lane, and good at getting to the line, but a turnover machine with a mediocre outside game.
Walker's sophomore year was incredibly disappointing. Tasked with leading a team full of senior overachievers and incoming freshmen, Walker struggled to improve, and the disappointing Huskies posted just an 18-16 year. Walker upped his usage without really increasing his effectiveness; it wasn't until his outstanding junior year that he put it all together. He was rewarded with an NCAA Championship and a spot in the Lottery.
Besides being Speedy Gonzales fast, Walker and Kabongo's skill sets are by no means carbon copies. Still, I think it's perfectly plausible to expect a similar jump from Kabongo. No doubt, last year was a tough one for Myck. He had envisioned hanging out and balling with his Canadian teammates Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, being the last piece of the puzzle instead of a first piece to a new one. Instead, he was treated to a rebuilding year, surrounded by fellow freshmen who similarly yo-yoed between production and frustration.
To make "the leap," Kabongo needs to focus on his areas of improvement. Strength and conditioning will be one. Along with his future sophomores like Sheldon McClellan and Jonathan Holmes, Kabongo will get a full summer and off-season with strength & conditioning demi-god Todd Wright. Optimally, he will bulk up without losing his quickness, making him a tougher nut to crack when he penetrates into the paint.
Decision-making is step two. While he won't be a feared shooter like D.J. Augustin, Kabongo has nice form on his jumper. He should at the very least be an asset from the perimeter. More importantly, he needs to dribble into the paint with a purpose, instead of just taking it into the teeth of the defense hoping to get bailed out by a foul call.
Finally, I would love to see him just, y'know, have some fun on the court.
Kabongo returns with a promising class of sophomores, but key decisions still need to be made before properly assessing next year's Longhorns squad. J`Covan Brown is still mulling over his NBA future, and high school seniors Cameron Ridley and Devonta Pollard both have yet to make final decisions on their college choices. But if things break favorably, there's no reason why Kabongo can't have a sophomore season on par with past Longhorn greats Augustin and T.J. Ford. Texas is getting a very special player back for a second year, and that kind of good fortune has not happened recently in Austin. Embrace it.