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The 2018 Texas Frontcourt

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas vs Nevada Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first time in three years Texas will be starting a season without a lottery-level freshman in the paint; Mohamed Bamba moved on to the NBA after a year and none of the bigs Texas recruited this season are likely to be going pro in May. That’s not to say there will be a downgrade in frontcourt production, as the returning players will be good enough to hold their own. Dylan Osetkowski is back and in better shape than a year ago and Jericho Sims showed during Bamba’s absence that he’s capable of putting in extended minutes as the starting five.

The incoming freshmen are good recruits but unlikely to supplant either Osetkowski or Sims in the starting lineup during the season; this is not a bad thing so much as a sign that Texas is starting to build towards a concept we haven’t spoken here in awhile: depth. Having potentially the next Jericho Sims on the roster before Jericho Sims is gone is a fancy bit of long-term planning in a program that was working out the air bubbles in the supply lines for the last couple of years. I’ll save the program-building talk for a later piece - I have to fill the recruiting piece with something other than pure conjecture - let’s discuss the guys on the 40 Acres now.

Dylan Osetkowski (6-9, Redshirt Senior)

Man, how do you even start this section? Half the fans think he’s fat and crappy, the other half think he’s fat and overworked, and all of them think his hair is terrible. The guy is simultaneously the hub of the offense and the hub of the problems with the offense; he’s the Justin Bieber of hair and...well, yea the hair was bad. *extreme Farnsworth voice* GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE, Osetkowski shaved his head! DO looks less like the dude who sold you dirt weed while talking up his Soundcloud and looks more like the cop who pulled you over for a busted tail light, sooo...Texas to the Sweet Sixteen? Osetkowski’s issues last year were two-fold. First, he was overworked. He was capable of giving 28-30 quality minutes a game, but in conference play he averaged something like 56. Ironman awards are great in two sports: triathlons and baseball, that is it. In basically every other sport, it means something went wrong. In Osetkowski’s case, it was a combination of Jones’ cancer diagnosis and other wings not providing the quality depth necessary to give DO a breather. In the last 13 games of the season, Osetkowski played less than 35 minutes four times. If there was an overtime game, chances are he played the full five minutes of the extra period. DO was gassed, y’all. This played into why he gained some bad weight during the season, which sounds counterintuitive but let me offer up an explanation.

Most everyone is familiar with the concept of calories in and calories out, but what is less discussed is fatigue and recovery. For those of us mere mortals who workout after work and maybe play sports on the weekend, fatigue and recovery are transient sensations. For athletes, it’s a constant tug of war. As they build workout volume, they also build fatigue. Their form is (on a basic level) fitness minus fatigue, and training staffs are trying to manage fitness and fatigue throughout a season. (Ever hear Texas swimming legend Eddie Reese talk about his swimmers tapering for a big event? That’s them gaming the fitness/fatigue equation.) Generally, they spend the off-season building strength and during the season they manage fatigue. When a player has increasing fatigue, there are two options: rest, or increase their nutrition to compensate. With 2-3 games a week Osetkowski wasn’t in a position to rest enough to counteract the exertion, so the only viable option was to feed him as many calories as possible to feed his muscles and keep his glycogen as high as possible. The side effect of this is that he put on a few pounds as the season progressed; no solution is without consequences. For those of you concerned with his weight, he’s entering this season 20-30 pounds leaner than last year. This should help, but not as much as the offseason focus on increasing not only his cardio shape but the increased depth around him.

The second problem for Osetkowski happened entirely between his ears. Early in the season he was playing within the offense, taking shots in rhythm, and generally reacting rather than thinking. The load of the offense started to wear on him as the season went on, he was facing guys who he couldn’t push around, and the minutes began to add up. I wish I had better news here, but even with all the right coaching this is something that is up to him to sort out. Osetkowski has plenty of ability, and with the amount of shot creators around him this season there’s reason to believe he will be able to play more and think less, but at the end of the day mental issues are a one-person solution. Whether he figures this part out or not will be a factor in the arc of the Texas season.

Jericho Sims (6-9, Sophomore)

Have y’all seen a photo of Jericho Sims lately? He looks like Jericho Sims’ older brother just came back from a boot camp with Bane. Sims is friggin’ jacked this year, and he didn’t sacrifice any of his leaping ability in the process of turning into a swole bro. Sims is going to be the starting 5 for Texas this year, and the sky is still the limit for him. He’s going to get some blocks, he’s going to get some putbacks, and he’s probably going to murder a couple of rims in the process. What I want to see out of Sims this year: the ability to reliably hit a shot outside of 8 feet, the ability to hit more free throws than he misses, and the ability to roll hard to the basket on PnR. He did a fairly good job of avoiding foul trouble late last season when Bamba was hurt, so I’m less concerned about that than I am about the other areas of his game that need to progress. Having said that, I’m not so much concerned as intensely interested because he showed a major progression from November to March and he’s now had another entire offseason to work with Darrin Horn. It’s possible Sims surpasses all of our expectations this year, which would be great...up until the point he goes pro. I’m not saying it will happen, I’m just saying it wouldn’t surprise me if he at least tested the waters. Unless he can hit shots from 12+ feet, he’s probably in the same boat Sagaba Konate was this year. Still, enjoy Jericho while you can, he might be around for 6 months instead of 18 or 30. Or maybe he’s around all 30, which would technically be a reverse Tristan Thompson. I wouldn’t complain.

Kamaka Hepa (6-9, Freshman)

There’s a lot to like about the incoming class for Texas. It’s not just a class of quality and quantity, it’s also a class without any clear-cut one & done players. As much as I enjoy watching aliens like Mohamed Bamba parading around the Earth in burnt orange pretending to be humans - and you always, always take a guy like Bamba if he wants to come to town - 97% of D-I programs are built on the foundation of multi-year players. None of the incoming freshmen are likely to seriously test the NBA waters after this year. The one possible exception? Kamaka Hepa. Hepa is a 6-9 stretch four with a shooting ability beyond his age, and he made the USA U18 team for a reason. He didn’t play a ton in the games due to some of the guys on that team - including Quentin Grimes, who Texas will see plenty of when they play Kansas - but he’s shown enough ability that Bill Self wanted him on the national team. Hepa had offers from Arizona, Gonzaga, Oklahoma, Oregon, and a litany of others, but the Gonzaga one should stand out because Hepa is exactly the kind of rangy distance-shooting forward Mark Few adores. If he’s the kind of player that Mark Few, Bill Self, Lon Kruger, and Shaka Smart all love, then he’s a good ‘un. Pretty much the only reason Hepa wasn’t a 5-star recruit was the fact that he lived in BFE Alaska for most of his high school career. Local seals raved about his shooting, but their Tumblr blogs were written entirely in whatever the fuck language seals speak (#Sealism #NotAllSeals) so it wasn’t until Kevin Flaherty and Andrew Slater ran through a Babelfish link that anyone realized Alaska had produced a basketball player worth a damn. Also, the seals lacked opposable thumbs so their Youtube highlight videos were shaky as shit.

I don’t think Hepa is necessarily likely to go pro after one year, I just think he’s the most likely of the freshmen. To my eye, his skills more easily project to the next level in the short term than the rest of the freshmen, but I wouldn’t put money on it. He’s a stretch four in the truest sense; think Connor Lammert with more natural athleticism. If Osetkowski wasn’t around, Hepa would probably be the starting 4 for Texas this year.

Jaxson Hayes (6-10, Freshman)

Barking Carnival, meet your Jericho Sims clone. OK that’s probably not fair, they’re not exactly alike. There are some thematic similarities though as they both came to Texas as very bouncy, very raw bigs who have a world of potential yet to be realized. I would be pretty happy if Shaka Smart and staff continued to bring in projects like these, especially given the coaching staff’s track record of developing bigs. Think of what Prince Ibeh did his final year on campus, how the skills of Jarrett Allen and Mohamed Bamba developed over their brief Texas tenures, and consider what Sims looked like in March compared to November. Hayes will have the benefit of developing before being thrown into the fire; chances are good Hayes only plays a few minutes a game with Sims and Osetkowski in front of him, and that’s fine. The more time Hayes spends in Darrin Horn’s laboratory before assuming a major role in the rotation, the more polished he will likely look if/when he takes over for a departing Sims. I would expect Hayes to mostly be a rebounder and paint defender this year, though he has the potential to play some PnR defense as well. The brightest days for Hayes are likely at least a year away.

Gerald Liddell (6-6, Freshman)

I’m going to be 100% honest: I have no idea how Gerald Liddell fits into this year’s squad. I don’t mean that as a knock on Liddell, he’s a very athletic wing with the sort of measurables most coaches covet. Offering him made sense, and I imagine he will pay dividends in later years (hell, probably next year). It’s just that for this particular year, his skill set doesn’t really feel like it fits what I envision this team is going to try to do. I’ll get into a bit more detail on this in the piece breaking down the minutes on the team, but Texas isn’t really lacking in athletic guys who can get to the rim and that seems to be the biggest attribute Liddell possesses at this point. Unless Liddell is a significantly better outside shooter than I realize, the things he does well right now don’t separate him from his counterparts. I readily admit I could be vastly underrating his abilities, but this seems like a guy who will be significantly more important to the 2019 team when the likes of Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach II are gone.

Brock Cunningham (6-7, Freshman)

Hello and welcome to the section of the preview where I miserably fail to avoid all of the gritty blue collar lunch pail tropes in describing a Texas player. Brock Cunningham is going to be described as a glue guy approximately 4,000 times in his Texas career, and about 3,900 of those will be accurate. He shoots well, but isn’t lights-out. He defends well, but his agility isn’t likely to draw the interest of NBA scouts. What he does well is anticipate, and I mean in every area. He rebounds better than he should because he anticipates where the ball is going to go. He shoots better than he should because he anticipates where the open spot will be. He assists better than he should because he reads the defense well. I watched Cunningham at an AAU event in 2017; well, to be honest, I watched an AAU game and he continually caught my eye because he was constantly around the ball on both ends of the floor. Watch a missed shot, guess who snagged the defensive rebound? Watch a pass to an open man, guess who was open? Cunningham is not blessed with NBA talent, the only way he leaves early is if he turns into a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk clone who nails every open three he takes. What Cunningham appears to be to me is a 4-year player who works his way into the starting lineup the last couple of seasons and provides a Brad Buckman-like veteran influence over the squad. I like this guy a lot, I was very happy when Texas snagged his commitment. That said, I don’t think he sees the floor much this year. There’s simply too much high-level depth in front of him right now, that may not be the case in 2020 or 2021.

Royce Hamm (6-8, Sophomore)

Unless he’s secretly spent the summer swapping syringes with Steve Rogers, Royce Hamm is probably going to get about 100 more minutes on the floor than you will this season. Yes you, man or woman who is enough of a degenerate you’ve made it 2,000 words into a piece about Texas Longhorns basketball wings and bigs. You’re basically a UT letterman at this point, please contact @Hookem_Drew for your jackets. Hamm seems like a fun guy to be around, his Snapchat account involves a lot of ‘in the lab’ posts intermingled with him lip-syncing to whatever rap track is hot right now intermingled with him encouraging his teammates to dance and/or lip-sync with whatever rap track is hot right now. Oh, and getting tattoos. Lord, there are so many tattoos. I think he and Febres are in a contest to see who can get the most vaguely religious tats in a calendar year. I say all of this as a way of stalling while I think of a nice way to mention he’s probably going to be on the bench most of the year. If there’s a scholarship for friendly enthusiasm, Hamm is going to be all-conference.

I’ll get into how the minutes are distributed across the team in an upcoming piece.