AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Last season was an embarrassment for Texas, for coach Shaka Smart, the players and the entire program.
There are few other ways to describe a season in which the Longhorns finished last in the Big 12 for the first time in league history and won just 11 games after starting the season in the Top 25.
“I used to say on selection Sunday, ‘Don’t take this for granted,'” Smart said. “Last year, we obviously were far from a tournament team. It gives you a real sense of urgency. Coming off last year, we certainly don’t want to dwell on it, but we want to learn from it.”
The terrible season didn’t stop the Longhorns from getting some really good news a few weeks late when top recruit Mohamed Bamba signed with the Longhorns. Most expect the power forward to make only a short stay at Texas on his way to the NBA. He’s already been named the Big 12 preseason freshman of the year .
“Mo is a unique player. He has the ability to impact a team in some very powerful ways,” Smart said.
Smart came to Texas two seasons ago as one of the hottest coaching names in college basketball and with the expectation of elevating a program back into a Big 12 title contender. His first season ended with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, the same sort of March fade that made the program lose patience with Rick Barnes. Then came the losing.
There’s been no suggestion from the school’s administration that Smart’s job is in jeopardy. But with Bamba on board and point-guard recruit Matt Coleman feeding him the ball, Texas should be, and must be, much better.
“We can be a team that can play with anyone,” Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of maturing to do.”
Some things to watch for from Texas this season:
BIG MAN BAMBA
Bamba carries the expectation that he can dominate in college right away. Last season, Texas had forward Jarrett Allen, who was a first-round pick after his freshman season. Allen was good all year but seldom took over games like Bamba will be counted on to do.
POINT GUARD PRECISION
A huge problem for Texas last season was the lack of a true point guard and Smart never really coached one up. Coleman is a four-star recruit who will have targets like Bamba and Andrew Jones to get the offense moving. Coleman’s impact likely won’t make many highlight reels but it could be key in winning close games throughout the season.
Forward Dylan Osetkowski sat out last season after transferring from Tulane and gives the Longhorns much-needed versatility and athleticism up front next to Bamba. He had 11 double-doubles as a sophomore at Tulane and led the Green Wave in rebounding that season.
“Dylan and Mo, those guys are as good as anybody on our team as offensive engines. It starts with those guys. I’d doubt he’ll lead us in scoring, but he’ll make a lot of plays,” Smart said.
BIG SHOT DAVIS
Texas lacked the outside shooting that could deliver the daggers in big moments or help rally from big deficits. Guard Eric Davis was the top outside threat two seasons ago and needs to find that role again.
“We missed a lot of open 3-pointers last year. This is a make or miss game. The bottom line is we need to make more shots this year,” Smart said.
It was a problem all last season as losses mounted and Smart suspended Tevin Mack, the team’s top scorer and best defender at the time. Mack never returned and eventually transferred to Alabama. A happy team likely plays as a better team.