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Texas Hoops Offseason Meets Bull Durham

As some have pointed out on this site, we're in sports limbo at this time of the year. The Astros suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, Longhorn baseball hasn't quite entered the second season, and thanks to Mack Brown, recruiting is a non-event in June. Couple some idle time with a TNT sports movie marathon that included Hoosiers and Bull Durham, and I got to thinking about how the Longhorn Basketball team could overcome the nightmarish 2009 season.

It all starts in the offseason, and it wouldn't hurt if a Crash Davis psychological type was in the collective ears of this schizophrenic squad. Coaching staff included.

So here's a Bull Durham style primer on what this team needs to do this summer to rebound from last year's debacle and get ready for 2010.

Crash Davis: Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.

Ah, so many ways we can go here, but let's start with J'Covan Brown. (You thought I'd go with Hamiltonian shot selection didn't you? That's too easy.) If Brown puts in the requisite time with Todd Wright to transform his body into that of a high major caliber player, then this Bull Durham quote applies. Brown made some spectacular passes last season that were unfortunately never caught nor converted.

J'Covan needs to learn to make the easy pass and realize he'll be playing with a front court that either has below average hands or is woefully inexperienced. There's nothing wrong with a two handed chest pass that gets the same results as a no-look behind the back Magic Johnson jobber.

Joe Reardon: He walked 18.
Larry: New league record!
Joe Reardon: Struck out 18.
Larry: Another new league record! In addition he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice...
[Joe laughs]
Larry: Also new league records! But, Joe, this guy's got some serious shit.

Coach Barnes, we're talking to you. When you have a team that will need to lean on underclassmen for most of its production, there are going to be mistakes. Hamilton, Brown, Williams, Thompson, and Joseph are going to be spectacular at times and downright horrible at others. Be prepared to take the good with the bad. If they're not giving effort that's one thing, but don't mistake lack of effort for honest to goodness growing pains.

Larry: Who's this? Who are you?
Crash Davis: I’m the player to be named later.

Translation, Texas needs one of its frontcourt afterthoughts to contribute because the Horns will be woefully small. One of Chapman, Wangmene, or Hill better have their onions drop or freshman Tristan Thompson becomes your enforcer. Not good.

Annie Savoy: The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness.

Rick Barnes meet Jordan Hamilton.

Crash Davis: You just got lesson number one: don't think; it can only hurt the ball club.

Jordan Hamilton meet Rick Barnes.

Crash Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.

This one's for Cory Joseph because he's the most skilled point guard Rick Barnes has had since DJ Augustin. Joseph doesn't really need to improve on anything from a skills standpoint. He can handle, shoot, and he has plus size. What Joseph needs to do is work on the nuances of the point guard position.

The psychology of running a team as such a young player is tough, especially when you're ordering talented upperclassmen all over the floor. It's one of the reasons I pointed out last summer that J'Covan Brown wouldn't be successful as point guard early on in his career at Texas. Brown didn't have the maturity or experience necessary to run a show that included talented players with more seniority.

Fortunately, Joseph has run some point at the highest levels of the summer AAU circuit and at Findlay Prep, but he'll still have to deal with psychology of the position where there's certain to be some growing pains.

The good news for Co-Jo is that unlike J'Covan Brown, he won't have to deal with dominant seniors playing for a contract like Damion James and Dexter Pittman on this year's squad. He only has to manage Jordan Hamilton's heat checks and J'Covan Brown's tantrums. That's doable.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while.

A simple game indeed, especially when you have a true point guard.

Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
Larry: Lollygaggers!
Skip: Lollygaggers.

Lollygaggers, loafers, insert your favorite coaching euphamism here. However you want to term it, guys like Hamilton and Brown better be doing 1,000 power slides a day until they can figure out how to stay in front of a dribbler. And the team itself should be doing four man shell drills everywhere they go until they figure out ball-you-man principles. I don't care if they're at Abratto's Night Club or in lieu of a stomp routine at a Phi Beta Gamma step-off.

The fact of the matter is that the 2009 Texas team fielded one of the worst team defensive clubs I've seen in a long while. That has to change, and fast.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don't like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem. You got a gift.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I got a what?
Crash Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you're pissing it away.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I ain't pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt.
Crash Davis: Christ, you don't need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball!

Other than his obvious on the court contributions, this is why we need a healthy Varez Ward. He's a tough kid who gets tremendous respect from his teammates. He can counsel head cases like Brown and Hamilton, or lead by example for Cory Joseph.

Looking back, Ward's injury ended up being the fatal blow that sent this team into a spiral after a 17 and 0 start. Ward was the only player with leadership qualities who could play on the ball which means not only could he lead in the huddle, but he could lead by example since he had the ball in his hands. Hell, guys like Pittman and James could have been George Patton himself, but their leadership capabilities were limited because they had to rely on teammates to get them involved.

[Larry jogs out to the mound to break up a players' conference]
Larry: Excuse me, but what the hell's going on out here?
Crash Davis: Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live... is it a live rooster?
[Jose nods]
Crash Davis: . We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.
[to the players]
Crash Davis: Is that about right?
[the players nod]
Crash Davis: We're dealing with a lot of shit.
Larry: Okay, well, uh... candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two! Go get 'em.

It doesn't get any easier for the 2010 Longhorns. They'll have to deal with a ton of shit, even more so than their 2009 counterparts.

They'll start by having to overcome the disappointment of last year.

On the personnel front, an influx of new players with first year guys like Thompson and Joseph, as well as guys coming off of injury like Balbay and Ward will instantly change team chemistry, which means Barnes gets another crack at this issue. It remains to be seen if this is a good or bad thing.

Speaking of chemistry, Hamilton and Brown will need to mature in a hurry if they want to be positive contributors in this department. Frequent tantrums and selfish play will be too much for this young squad to bear.

But what's most frightening is this team's utter lack of size especially when you consider its matador style defense on the perimeter. It will be tough enough to rebound and defend with a front court of Gary Johnson, Jordan Hamilton, and Tristan Thompson who go a rail thin 6-6, 6-7, and 6-9 respectively. Insert frequent dribble penetration which forces these waifs out of position while they help and recover to bigger, more physical athletes, and you have a recipe for constant foul trouble.

Is zone the answer? Sure. If you're interested in pulling rebounds out of the net after three or four attempts per possession. Remember, this squad will struggle to rebound with blockout responsibilities, take those away and you're going to miss Damion James even more than you thought you would.

Quite frankly, the only way for this team to be top 20 caliber, is to somehow get better at staying in front of players on the perimeter specifically, and team defense in general.

Which means Varez Ward has to be healthy and Jordan Hamilton and to a lesser extent J'Covan Brown have to become better defenders not only physically but mentally.

If not, don't be surprised to see Todd Wright handing out candlesticks or Rick Barnes using magic words with officials and players alike.

Teddy Cullinane: [broadcasting on the radio] I've never seen Crash so angry. And frankly, sports fans, he used a word that's a no-no with umpires.
Millie: [Annie snaps off the radio] Crash must've called the guy a cocksucker.
Annie: Mmmmm. How romantic.