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6 TEXAS
Phil Taylor
November 25, 2002
With every starter back from last year's Sweet 16 squad, no one should take these Longhorns lightly this season
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November 25, 2002

6 Texas

With every starter back from last year's Sweet 16 squad, no one should take these Longhorns lightly this season

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STARTING LINEUP

POS.

PLAYER

HT.

CL.

KEY STAT

SF

Brandon Mouton#

6'4"

Jr.

13.7 ppg

PF

Deginald Erskin#

6'5"

Sr.

57.2 FG%

C

James Thomas#

6'8"

Jr.

8.9 rpg

SG

Royal Ivey#

6'3"

Jr.

10.9 ppg

PG

T.J. Ford#

5'10"

So.

8.3 apg

#Returning starter

When a torn ACL shelved senior forward Chris Owens, the Longhorns' top scorer and rebounder, before conference play began last season, it appeared that Texas's run of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances was about to end at three. In the brutal Big 12, featuring four other Top 25-caliber teams—Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Missouri—Texas was suddenly undersized and short on experience.

The Longhorns couldn't do much about their stature, but they did grow in a figurative sense, none more than 6'8" center James Thomas. Though only a sophomore, Thomas averaged a double double—12.2 points and 10.6 rebounds—after Owens's injury. He gave Texas the inside presence it needed to earn a tournament bid, and the surprising Longhorns ended up reaching the Sweet 16 despite a starting lineup that included three sophomores and a freshman at point guard. "He really filled the void for us, and he's just scratched the surface of his talent," says Texas coach Rick Barnes.

Thomas has a linebacker's ferocity on the boards, which isn't surprising considering that football was his first love. But he quit football for basketball as a high school freshman so that his mother, Rachael, could watch him play without worrying about his safety.

It's the Longhorns' opponents who will have worries this season. The offense will be in the capable hands of T.J. Ford, who last year became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists. The Longhorns should be tough on defense as well. Thomas was a member of the Big 12 All-Defensive team, and 6'3" junior guard Royal Ivey is also a lockdown defender. He gave two NBA-bound scorers a case of poison Ivey last season: Stanford's Casey Jacobsen shot 3 for 17 and Missouri's Kareem Rush went 4 for 19 under Ivey's pressure in two Texas wins.

The Longhorns are still relatively small, but inside help should come from 6'8" forward Brad Buckman, a highly regarded freshman from Austin. Although Barnes plans to bring him along gradually, it won't be surprising if Buckman becomes a key contributor before long. At Texas players tend to grow up in a hurry.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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