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November 13, 2011With six freshmen getting big minutes for this season's Texas basketball team, the opener against Boston University on Sunday night could have gone in any number of directions.
"We could have thrown it all over the court and turned it over, and we didn't," said freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, speaking on behalf of his talented classmates, who helped force 24 turnovers (Texas had only 10 turnovers as a team).
Texas looked the same and completely different in an 82-46 victory over Boston University in the season opener Sunday night in front of 6,101 at the Erwin Center.
They looked the same because J'Covan Brown picked up where he left off in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 22 points per game, by matching a career-high with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
"He's a natural offensive player," Rick Barnes said of Brown. "J'Covan had 8 assists and 1 turnover. He has a great feel for the game and really good vision.
"I thought J'Covan settled us down. When they went zone, he did some good things to settle us down. He's crafty and cerebral and knows how to set his man up as well."
The Longhorns looked totally different in that six freshmen were playing key roles. Five of them played at least 20 minutes Sunday night (G/F Sheldon McClellan 22 mins; F Jonathan Holmes 20 mins; PG Kabongo 22 mins; PG Sterling Gibbs, 20 mins; G/F Julien Lewis, 20 mins). The other - F Jaylen Bond - played 14 minutes.
"You could tell they were excited," Barnes said. "After we finished shootaround today, they didn't want to leave the court. We got nothing done in the first four minutes of both of our scrimmages in the preseason because they guys were so excited. But all in all, we did some good things."
***The speed of the Longhorns is real. It's why Texas will be a predominantly running team this season (along with UT's lack of size). And the Horns' speed lends itself to suffocating defense.
Kabongo is lightning fast. But UT's wings and big men can run, too. Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman get up and down the floor.
"Texas' speed took us completely out of what we wanted to do offensively," said Boston U coach Joe Jones, whose team returned 9 lettermen from a group that won the American East Conference and played Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tourney last year.
"Their freshmen are as good as advertised. J'Covan Brown was outstanding. Their length gave us trouble. They shot the ball better than I probably thought, and their speed and quickness is impressive."
***Texas hit 11 of 26 from 3-point range (42.3 percent). No early season jitters there.
***Texas scored 27 points off of BU's 24 turnovers and also outscored BU 15-6 on fast-break points and 19-9 in bench points.
***Freshmen wing Julien Lewis is going to inherit a lot of what Jordan Hamilton did last year.
He scored 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting and did it from all over the floor. He hit 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He drove to the rim. He even grabbed four rebounds. All in 20 minutes.
"Julien Lewis can score the ball," Barnes said. "He missed a lot of the preseason (with a back injury). He played a little in both scrimmages. But not much.
"The best play he made was the finish at the rim. He can score. He's fearless. He's a guy who can get his own shot."
***Rick Barnes said freshman F Jonathan Holmes improved so much over the past three days of practice, he knocked Clint Chapman out of the starting lineup.
Holmes finished with 7 points and 2 steals but only had 2 rebounds.
"I don't think he knows how good he can be," Barnes said of Holmes. "Early on, he would get frustrated and say I've got a lot to learn about basketball and it bothers me I don't know this stuff. But he's working hard to grasp it.
"He's got to do a much better job on the boards. I do know that."
***Myck Kabongo scored just 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting, but he had 7 assists and only 2 turnovers with 2 steals. It was the most assists by a freshman in his debut since D.J. Augustin posted 7 in the season opener back in 2006.
"I was so excited, I couldn't sleep," Kabongo said. "I stayed up until probably 3 a.m. It was exciting. It was my first college game. For the performance, I grade it an 'A' because we got a win. Defensively, we did a great job today."
***Texas made 9-of-12 free throws Sunday. Without Tristan Thompson to bring the curve down, UT should be a much better FT shooting team this season.
***Rebounding. Against a team that really lacked size (Boston U's frontcourt didn't have a player taller than 6-8), the Longhorns were outrebounded 43-35. It allowed Boston U to outscore Texas in second-chance points 16-9.
This year's Longhorns are going to have to "gang rebound," Barnes said.
***Running the offense. Barnes wants the cutting and screening he installed last year to become second nature to his players. They are a long way from it. There were times, especially against Boston University's zone defense, when UT settled for jumpers early in the shot clock or didn't swing the ball from side to side and make the defenders in the zone move and work.
FINAL ANALYSIS: These players like each other, so there is chemistry already.
Myck Kabongo is a dynamic personality whom all of his teammates gravitate toward. J'Covan made 28 look easy. Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan should give UT scoring options to help spread the floor. Sunday, it was Lewis hitting. But McClellan has been a strong scorer for Texas in the preseason. He didn't have it Sunday (1 of 6 shooting), but he didn't force it.
Clint Chapman (6 pts, 4 rebs, 3 blks, 1 steal, 1 assist) is a much different player. He's more physical. He was looking for contact Sunday. At one point, he drove right through his defender to the rim. That 20 pounds of muscle put on during a redshirt season last year is paying off.
If Chapman thought of himself as a perimeter oriented big man before, he's changed his mindset to go bang down low. And Texas will need his presence in the paint as the biggest guy on the team.
Sterling Gibbs is smooth and isn't afraid to take charge at the point. He'll be a solid complement to Kabongo. Bond and Holmes combined for 5 rebounds Sunday. They'll need to double and then eventually triple that number consistently for Texas to rebound with upcoming opponents like UCLA, Temple and North Carolina.
UP NEXT: Rhode Island, 3 p.m. , Tuesday, Erwin Center on ESPN.
***T.J. Ford was recognized at Sunday's game.
***Former Longhorns Chris Mihm (out of the NBA) and Royal Ivey (Oklahoma City) were on the bench as volunteer student assistant coaches.
Both are full-time students this semester, along with Tristan Thompson.
Mihm and Thompson are both taking 12 hours this semester. Ivey is taking 9 hours and will have his degree completed in December.
***Kevin Durant may make an appearance at Tuesday's game against Rhode Island.
***The game against Boston University Sunday and the game Tuesday are part of the TicketCity Legends Classic. UT will play Oregon State in the semifinals in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, and could face Vanderbilt in the final on Monday, Nov. 21.