Posted: Monday October 17, 2005 12:34PM; Updated: Monday October 17, 2005 3:49PM
P.J. Tucker is hungry after sitting out the second half of last season for academic reasons. Tucker averaged 13.7 points before being ruled ineligible.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
This is the first in a series of stops on Seth Davis' preseason tour of college hoops camps. Check back Thursday for his report from Oklahoma.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Sitting courtside at the University of Texas' Erwin Center on Sunday afternoon shortly after practice had ended, I asked Longhorns coach Rick Barnes how many 3-pointers he thought junior forward P.J. Tucker would attempt this year. "Well, let's see. He just made four in a row," Barnes said, nodding at where a shirtless Tucker was casually swishing NBA-length 3-pointers. He continued counting: "There's five. That's six." Tucker finally missed but buried his next attempt. "That's 7-for-8," Barnes said. After making one of his last two, Tucker stopped at a cool 80 percent.
Of course, drilling 3s after practice against no defense is one thing. Making them during games is quite another. Based on what I saw during practice, I'm not convinced the 6-foot-5 Tucker, a small forward who took just one 3-pointer all last season, is ready to be a frequent long-range threat, but he has clearly improved in this area. The scene underscored why Barnes is so bullish on his team's potential to lead the nation in scoring. The first few practices have convinced him they'll be deeper than he anticipated, which is one more reason why many people -- myself included -- believe one way or another, this team's season will end in Indianapolis next April.
Though I had to leave my Connecticut home at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday to make it to Texas' 2 p.m. practice, Austin was a perfect place to begin my preseason college hoops tour. Hope always seems to spring eternal in this perfectly-sized college town, which boasts great weather, lively music and scrumptious food. My visit began with a guided tour of the $14 million practice and locker room facility for the men's and women's basketball teams that opened two years ago. It ended at Maudie's Tex-Mex restaurant on Lake Austin Boulevard, where some of Barnes' pals and I ate dinner and then stood for -- I kid you not -- 90 minutes listening to Barnes tell hilarious coaching stories. He did 45 minutes on Gary Williams, his former boss at Ohio State. My face still hurts from laughing.
In fact, Barnes was in a jolly mood throughout the practice, which, to my surprise, entailed nothing but fullcourt 5-on-5 scrimmaging. There was no conditioning work and no drills designed to develop skills. Barnes explained to me that he believes players can withstand just three super-hard workouts a week. As for all the joking that went on, Barnes conceded he would never have encouraged that early in his career. "When I was at Providence, I'd feel like every day I was coaching to save my life," he said. "As you get older, hopefully you get smarter. I've learned that sometimes less is more."
The guy I was most curious to watch was 6-10 sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge, who sat out the final 15 games because of a hip injury. Aldridge appeared to be ready to break out when he got hurt, and while he is suffering no lingering effects from his injury, I still don't think he's ready to emerge as a major scoring force. On this team, however, he doesn't have to. The trio of Tucker, 6-8 senior forward Brad Buckman and 6-2 sophomore Daniel Gibson (the best point guard in the nation) averaged a combined 40.4 points last year. Aldridge is such a good rebounder he can get 10 points a game using offensive putbacks and free throws. If he knocks down a few open jumpers on top of it, well, that's just gravy.