With the Texas Longhorns' basketball season drawn to a disappointing denouement, it's high time to look ahead to next year's ballclub. To what extent you, the intrepid fan, are looking forward to seeing the 2012-13 Longhorns hinges on the following five decisions.
1. Will J'Covan Brown declare for (and stay in) the NBA Draft?
Brown was unarguably Texas' best player this year. He was first-team All-Big 12, a Ken Pomeroy Top 10 POY for most of the year, and the heart and soul of the team. If Brown were to return, he would be in discussion for conference and national preseason honors, and a strong contender for the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year.
He also happens to be a fourth-year junior (academically ineligible in 2008-09) with a daughter to care for. Most importantly, he is a 6'1", athletically average shooting guard that has maxed out his draft stock. This year, Brown has a shot at being a second-round pick, but is more likely to go undrafted and is probably an overseas player at best. Another year at Texas, even as the primary lead guard, probably won't impact his standing. As evidence, look at two recent guards comparable to Brown: both LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) and Jacob Pullen (Kansas St.) currently play overseas.
Brown has two important questions to ask himself. First, does he want to complete, or get closer to completing, his college degree (assuming he is not graduating this spring)? He has twice been awarded first-team Academic All-Big 12, and surely that counts for something. Second, does he want to enjoy his final year as an athletic "amateur" for a team that has the potential to win the Big 12?
2. Will Myck Kabongo declare for (and stay in) the NBA Draft?
If Brown represents a Texas guard that has maxed out his draft stock, Kabongo embodies unrealized potential. As a diaper dandy, Kabongo did some good things, most noticeably a great assist rate and a penchant for getting to the free throw line. On the negative ledger, he turned the ball over far too often, struggled to score for long stretches, and never became the "floor general" many envisioned.
Statistically, Kabongo lagged behind point guard predecessors T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin, two Texas Exes to whom Kabongo has been frequently compared. Like Ford and Augustin, Kabongo grades as a potential first round pick after his freshman year. Also like Ford and Augustin, Kabongo has a chance to play himself into Lottery status with an even better sophomore year.
If Kabongo looked at the risk versus reward quotient, he should ultimately choose to return. Unlike Brown, there is a lot left for Kabongo to learn at the collegiate level that will benefit him, both professionally and financially. Unfortunately, that may not be enough to convince Kabongo to stay. If Kabongo can get a first-round guarantee (and the guaranteed money that goes along with it), he may be gone, leaving Texas to start over at point guard next year.
One important note: new NCAA rules require any early entrant candidate to pull out of the NBA Draft by April 10 in order to retain eligibility. That means if either Brown or Kabongo declares, odds are against a return.
3. Will Cameron Ridley sign his National Letter of Intent to become a Longhorn next year?
Seniors Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene, while good organizational soldiers, were not sustainable answers in the post when tasked against future NBA players like Thomas Robinson, Perry Jones III, or Royce White. But that pales in comparison to the current depth chart next year. The only frontcourt returnees are freshmen Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes. Next year's signees include Prince Ibeh, talented but amazingly raw, and Connor Lammert, a Top 100 recruit that could really use a redshirt.
Ideally, these are guys you lean on when they become upperclassmen. Realistically, both Bond and Holmes played significant minutes this year, and Ibeh and Lammert may be thrust into a similar situation next year. Moreover, all of them are better suited to play the "4" or "3" forward positions. There is currently a Texas-sized hole at the "5" spot for the Longhorns.
Rick Barnes plans to fill that with 6'10" Cameron Ridley, a five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American who has been committed to Texas since January 2011. The rub with Ridley is that he declined to sign a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period (in fall 2011). That leaves him free to play for any school in the country starting next fall.
The late signing period starts April 11, and all eyes will be on Ridley. He has continually maintained interest in Texas, and has not been linked to any other schools throughout his recruitment. However, recruitniks like Hookem's Gerry Hamilton have pragmatically said that this is an "ink is dry" recruitment. That is, Ridley ain't a Horn until he has signed that Letter of Intent.
4. Does Devonta Pollard eschew SEC country to come to the 40 Acres?
If the doomsday scenario occurs in which Brown, Kabongo, and Ridley all aren't Longhorns next year, Texas will be desperately searching for impact players. Freshman Sheldon McClellan, who has shown a silky scoring touch, may become one in time, as could Ibeh as a premier defender. However, plan 1B is forward Devonta Pollard, like Ridley, also a five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American.
Pollard is a take no matter the depth situation. He idolizes Kevin Durant, plays pretty similar to KD to boot, and would be a huge get for the Longhorns. With two or three of Brown, Kabongo, and Ridley, Pollard is a nice to have. Without them, he's a need to have.
Pollard visited Austin in January, and has continued to take official visits throughout the spring. Mississippi St., his hometown school, had long been considered the favorite, but Rick Stansbury's unexpected retirement may end up being a huge deal in his recruitment. Pollard's other favorite, Kentucky, has shown lukewarm interest in Pollard and is awaiting a draft decision from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as well as a recruiting decision from swingman Shabazz Muhammad, ranked higher than Pollard by recruiting services.
Texas' recruitment of Pollard, helmed by Rob Lanier and Rick Barnes, continues to chug along. The coaches should get an in-home visit prior to Pollard's commitment, and will be competing with Mississippi St., Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri and Georgetown for Pollard's signature.
5. Will the staff recruit any other newcomers to complete next year's roster?
Last year, the staff scrambled to fill roster spots left by Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph's early departure to the NBA, as well as recruit Kevin Thomas' ineligibility ruling. Both Sterling Gibbs and Jaylen Bond were released from other LOI's to play for Texas, but the Longhorns missed out on transfer candidates Olu Ashaolou and Tony Woods (who both chose Oregon).
With Kabongo and Brown's futures in flux, the Longhorns have zeroed in on combo guard DeMarcus Holland, a mid-tier recruit who played at Garland Naaman Forest with future Horn Prince Ibeh. Holland doesn't currently have an offer, but will more than likely receive one and commit should either Kabongo or Brown depart.
Finding a player that could replace Ridley's talents would be impossible, but Texas has declined to aggressively pursue any spring prospects like Chris Obekpa (uncommitted), Ricardo Gathers (since committed to Baylor), or Jakarr Sampson (since committed to St. John's). There has continually been a sense of confidence from the staff that Ridley will ultimately sign with Texas. If not, the Longhorns may scour the transfer wire yet again to find a less-than-adequate replacement.
One more thing to consider is that between the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, Texas has nine players that will likely be juniors and sophomores on the 2012-13 roster. That leaves few scholarships open for the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. With a ton of elite prospects on the horizon (in the 2013 class, Texas is most aggressively pursuing Dallas Kimball's Keith Frazier and Plano PCA's Julius Randle), the staff will need to be judicious about how to allocate its scholarships.
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