It's time for some foundation repair at the University of Texas. The school's all-time winningest class -- one that went to the Final Four and made two other trips to the Sweet 16 -- is gone. Royal Ivey, Brandon Mouton, Brian Boddicker and James Thomas -- the foursome coach Rick Barnes refers to as the foundation -- helped Texas become a contender. Their most significant contribution, however, may be in proving to the country that basketball can indeed thrive in the Lone Star State.
Now, players are lining up to play for the Longhorns. And Barnes' staff is reeling 'em in, as they sport an incoming class regarded by many experts as the best in the country, a class that includes three McDonald's All-Americas. "Last year's class was the greatest we've ever had," Barnes said. "This group can be better, but you can't talk about it; they have to demand greatness from each other and deliver.
"You can't ever take it for granted. It can get away from you quicker than you can imagine."
FRONTCOURTTexas will again be tough inside with the likes of Jason Klotz and Brad Buckman in the post. Freshman forward Mike Williams adds to the bang quotient with his ability to rebound.
Klotz, a hard-working fifth-year senior, almost developed into the team's go-to guy in the latter part of last year thanks to a dependable jump hook. But he's not a night-in-night-out big-time scorer.
Buckman hasn't been consistent either in his two years and was a disappointment last year (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Still, Barnes has high hopes for Buckman. His ability to make foul-line jumpers and his solid passing skills make him a natural at the high post, and he has concentrated on becoming more explosive. "Buck's sophomore slump -- if you want to call it that -- helped him see what it takes," Barnes said. "You should see a different player this year."
The Longhorns add what could be the most dynamic big man the program has had in LaMarcus Aldridge, a 6-foot-10 freshman who likely would have been a first-round NBA Draft pick. Lanky and lean, Aldridge will play flyswatter inside (assuming the stress fracture in his back heals as expected) and should start ahead of Klotz by season's end -- if not sooner.
Don't be surprised if freshman small forward Dion Dowell makes some noise. Athletic with a long wingspan, he is expected to be a defensive stopper, though he has solid offensive skills and can finish on the break.
BACKCOURTBarnes plans to play P.J. Tucker, the freshman surprise a year ago, on the wing in a three-guard lineup, though the 6-5 sophomore does much of his damage inside 10 feet. A solid ball-handler and physical defender, Tucker will need to improve his play away from the basket. But because Buckman, and Klotz to an extent, can step outside a bit, Tucker will get his opportunities in the post against what most likely will be smaller defenders. "I expect P.J. to have a big year," Barnes said. "He does so many things well, and he's a load. He's a tough matchup for anybody we play against."
Freshman Daniel Gibson became the starter at the point the day he graduated from high school. And like T.J. Ford before him, he would have started from the day he signed the letter of intent if it were within the rules.
Solidly built at 6-2, Gibson has an excellent outside stroke, passes well and carries that "I'm in charge" persona that makes him a leader. He could have the same impact Ford had.
Barnes will run senior gunners Kenny Taylor and Sydmill Harris in and out and go with the hot hand.
FINAL ANALYSISDon't be surprised if by the middle of conference play, the Longhorns have three freshmen -- Gibson, Aldridge and Dowell -- in the starting lineup with Tucker and Buckman. And Williams could even overtake Buckman.
"Guys these days play so much basketball, against such good competition traveling around the country like they do, freshmen come in better prepared to play," Barnes said.
To have a superb season, UT needs Klotz and/or Buckman to provide veteran leadership, Tucker to take the mantle as the go-to guy and Gibson to quickly adjust to the college game.
Depth is again a key; four of the top 10 players are freshmen. Inexperience could mean more close losses, but a difficult schedule will get this team ready for another NCAA tournament run.