Part I will be a look at the newcomers for next season and holdovers from last year's squad (Part II is here). I was going to do this all in one article, but I have too much to say about next year and I don't want the thing to get unruly. Part II focuses on scouting the Horns and what we can expect from them as a team. So...
Last season's Horns squad seemed to be swimming up stream because quite frankly, they weren't that talented especially after a couple of key cogs seemed to regress as the season went on. Throw in the fact that the Horns lacked players with complementary skills and an experienced catalyst to tie together what mismatched skills the players did have, and you had the makings for what ultimately was an up and down, frustratingly uneven season. Point blank, this Texas squad lacked players that can create offense for themselves and others and outside of AJ Abrams, they lacked shooters. But the purpose of this here blog entry, neigh, article, is to look forward so let's start by telling you what Texas will look like next year by telling you who we're adding.
Pittman is a 20 and 10 guy with a bit more conditioning.
Long story short we're adding shooters and playmakers that like to defend. Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley, Shawn Williams and Jai Lucas are going to be just what the doctor ordered for finishers like Dex Pittman, Damion James (if he stays), Gary Johnson, and a distributor like Dogus Balbay. Injecting this kind of skill into the rotation will considerably improve the production of the pieces already on campus. If you're a fan of tenacious defense. If you're a fan of Alfordian bombs from downtown. If you're a fan of spreading the floor, attacking the rim, and generally speaking, a fan of basketball made easy, you're going to love these cats.
Avery Bradley is a 6-3 shooting guard, hell call him a scoring guard, out of Henderson, Nevada who thrives in the lost art that is the midrange game. He can blow by defenders off the dribble but Avery has tremendous upper body strength that allows him to ward off defenders and create space for his nice little pull up game. If he were two inches taller they'd be calling him the next Jimmy Jackson. He has a Jim Jackson midrange game, and like the Ohio State star, Avery has a similar type of mental make-up in that he leads his team on both ends of the floor. When it's time to get buckets, he gets buckets. When it's time to draw a foul, he's getting to the line. Need a stop, he's a ferocious defender that takes things personal when his opponent scores on him. Next year, when Texas is mired in a 4 minute scoring drought, Bradley's going to find offense for the club and stop the opponent's run. He'll go into traffic and grab a big board, or he'll penetrate and drop a dime to Dex who should own the weakside block. Bradley is that kind of player. He does it all and has a tremendous basketball IQ.
Jordan Hamilton is a 6-7 small forward from the City of Compton. Jordan's a rare breed of pure shooter and playmaker who could put on an AJ Abrams' like shooting display for a couple possessions, and then recognize an over contest and use his ability off the bounce to create offense for teammates. He can handle incredibly well for a young 6-7 wingman, but even more impressive is his willingness to get up in a guy's chest and defend. The fact that Jordan can handle the basketball and attack opposing teams' weaker on ball defenders will make the Horns very difficult to pressure next year. Remember how much success Mason had against the opposition's third best defender? Hamilton's skillset shooting from deep and finishing at the rim is the perfect compliment to what Bradley does on the floor.
Bradley reminds of Jimmy Jackson with his midrange game and leadership.
Jai Lucas is a diminutive sweet shooting one guard that transferred in from Florida. But don't let his small stature fool you, the kid is as tough as they come mentally. Folks that have followed Jai's career all his life, guys that I trust when it comes to evaluating basketball talent, all say the same thing about Jai. He's not going to back down from anyone, and he has the ability to make his teammates better because he understands the game and where on the floor certain players need to get the basketball to be successful.
Mentally, you can categorize him as the "son of coach" type with plus quickness and the ability to consistently knock down deep jumpers that will open up the floor for the Texas offense. Jai would have played a huge role on this year's squad had he elected to go to Texas instead of Florida. And, I know for a fact that Jeff Capel, while happy for Jai, hated to see him land in Austin. Defensively, Jai's size might be seen as a liability from the standpoint that opposing guards may post him up, but I have two thoughts on that. First, this ain't the NBA and you rarely see college teams butter their bread by completely going away from their offense to isolate a guard on a guard down low. It simply doesn't happen for more than a possession or two. Secondly, Jai has more than held his own against current NBA players in pickup games over the years in this respect. Make no mistake, he'll get significant minutes right off the bat after the fall semester. Good player. Great kid. With just the skill set this team needs next year.
Lucas can open up the floor with his shooting.
Shawn Williams is a 6-7 pure shooting wing out of Duncanville. He's got great size for a shooter which enables him to rise up and get his shot over smaller players. Shawn really needs to get stronger with the dribble so he can use his perimeter credibility to put the ball on the deck and get to the rack. If he's willing to work, he has the perfect frame to be the praying mantis on the wing defensively that all coaches covet.
As for the pieces of the puzzle coming back from last season, this is where I see them fitting in.
Dex Pittman is going to be the biggest beneficiary of this tremendous influx of perimeter skill and talent. Pitt has been fighting double teams all season long and mostly shrugging them off to the tune of double doubles game in and game out. Next year, I look for Dex to be a dominant counter on the weakside block to teams trying to defend strongside gaming we'll do with perimeter drivers and scorers, but I'll get to that in part II. Expect Dex to play the role of finisher on the weakside to the 3 or 4 penetrators we'll have on the floor at any given time. Help a litte too much with your big to our penetrators on the strongside, and Dex will punish you by getting a weakside pin, a drop step and a dunk after a quick ball reversal or skip. You think he played big last season, I look for Dex to be a 20 and 10 guy if his conditioning allows him 30 minutes per.
Hamilton will own the 3 regardless of what Damion James does.
Damion James might be a pipe dream to come back, but I'm hearing whispers that he's really considering it because he's fallen out of the top half of the first round. If he does indeed come back, his ability to rebound like a 4, and blow by fellow defending 4's will make the talent on this Texas team sick. If he's allowed to roam the baseline, playing off of the playmakers like Lucas, Balbay, Bradley, and Hamilton the offensive game will come easier to the would-be senior forward. You'll see a ton of power dribbles and finishes from James that he'll end up Mike Mamula-ing some NBA franchise picking high in the first round with his inflated stats.
Dogus Balbay, next to Pittman, might enjoy the biggest positive impact from the newcomers because he'll be playing on a better spaced floor in the halfcourt with the wings having to fan out to guard scorers like Hamilton and Bradley. Doge still needs to develop some semblance of a perimeter game otherwise defenders will continue to guard him with their heels on the foul line. If he can't start hitting the little pull up from 15 consistently, he'll be relegated to a defensive stopper or pressure role with talent coming in and the emergence of Varez Ward as a viable weapon.
Varez Ward certainly earned himself some credibility on both ends of the floor with his play in the tournament. Not only was he Texas' offensive go-to-guy, but he slowed down a sizzling Gerald Henderson in the second half. Ward's toughness will mesh well with players like Bradley and Hamilton, giving the Horns a junkyard dog mentality on defense, and plenty of fire power on offense. I also love his stroke from deep. It's just a matter of time before he becomes an accomplished 3 point shooter. Form, elevation, touch. It's all there.
Gary Johnson fits into this club as a high energy mix and match role player that can play in spots vs. various opponents. Gary isn't big or explosive enough to give the Horns a true power forward, but he can give the right defenders fits with his face up game. Again, I'd love to see GJ playing out of the high post delivering the ball to Dex and Chapman down low when opponents worry about his 15 footer, but Gary has to knock down that shot more consistently for starters, and get a better knack for delivering the post entry to be effective as a true high post player.
Clint Chapman is an intriguing low post prospect because he has good size and tremendous athletic ability. And, other than the foul line, he showed good touch around the bucket down the stretch. Clint needs to get stronger, period, in order to play more than a handful of minutes on this club with or without Damion James.
Alex Wangmene gives Texas an athletic defender in the low block which is an element they sorely missed last season. Before the injury, the sophomore pivot man was starting to come on as a skilled low post player. He can give the Horns options at power forward alongside Dex Pittman, or answers as a 5 if the Horns wanted to go small and athletic to play a more up tempo, pressure style of game. When paired with Pittman or Chapman, Alexis can be a menacing defender and shot blocker from the helpside.
Justin Mason has gone from glue guy extraordinaire to no better than something first graders eat before snack time. Will he regain his stat sheet stuffing ways when he's not one of the first 3 options? Who knows, that's up to him. If he can't enjoy a resurgence with the talent coming in, then there's something else wrong with Justin.
Matt Hill and Harrison Smith, meh. Not going to be a ton of PT out there for them so why bother?
In Crystal Ballin' Part II, look for a scouting report and analysis on what to expect from Texas as a team, both offensively and defensively. Next year should be a ton of fun.
Also, be sure to read Scipio's take on how the pieces fit together.