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November 10, 2009

Men's basketball team ready for season to start

The No. 3 men's basketball team opens the season Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Erwin Center against UC-Irvine. Here we go …

1. Everyone wants to know how Rick Barnes is going to distribute the minutes on a team in which 14 players could play vital roles. Last year's team had three 30-minute-per game players (or just about): A.J. Abrams (37.7 mpg), Justin Mason (30 mpg) and Damion James (29.5 mpg).

This season, only Damion James may be a 30-minute per game player because of UT's depth on the perimeter.


"The thing we've had up to this point is a lot of different guys at different times show us what they can do," Rick Barnes said Wednesday. "Now, it's the consistency of putting it together. With the numbers that we have, the hardest part is to make sure you don't break flow when you start subbing. Only they can make sure that doesn't happen.

"When we go to our bench, I expect them to bring a different level when they come in the game. Just a simple thing of post defense. If we're working the post a certain way, and if we make a substitution for Dexter (Pittman) and the guy who comes in doesn't do the job, I'm going t go to someone else. So the number of people we play will be determined by how well the guys we bring in keep things moving."


2. Barnes has high expectations for this year's team, starting with Sunday's opener against UC-Irvine, which is an opening-round opponent in the CBE Classic. Texas plays Western Carolina on Nov. 18 and then faces Iowa in Kansas City on Nov. 23 on ESPN2.

If Texas wins against Iowa, the Longhorns would face either Wichita State or Pittsburgh in the championship round of the CBE.


"We want to run, and they all better be ready to play," Barnes said. "It's all about getting better every day. It's still early. It's our first game and it counts. I don't expect us to be as good as we're going to be, but I expect us to be pretty darn good. I want to see us do the things we've emphasized up to this point."


3. Barnes said he'll be less forgiving of veterans making mistakes.

"I probably won't be as tolerant of the older guys coming in and getting it wrong because I expect them to know what they're doing," Barnes said. "The young guys, there's no doubt that early they are going to be a little bit jumpy. But last weekend, they did pretty good.

"I would say they young guys have been stung. What's helped them is having a group of older guys who can mentor them and lead them and teach them in a way the senior class didn't have when they got here.

"It's a process they go through because they all have a tendency when they get here to wander around, not understanding how to go from one play to the next play and the intensity it takes to be a really good player."


4. Barnes said he's happy with the number of ball handlers he has on the team.

"The positions one through four on the floor will handle the ball," Barnes said. "Damion (James) has shown he can rebound and bring the ball up. Every guy.

"In what we're doing, the way we're playing, when we want to get the ball in the hands of a point, Dogus (Balbay), J'Covan (Brown), Jai (Lucas), Varez (Ward) and Mace (Justin Mason), who played the point a lot yesterday. As a group, we need to collectively handle the ball well."


5. Barnes said his team got much more out of closed-door scrimmages against Davidson two weeks ago in Austin and last weekend in Denver against Gonzaga than by playing exhibition games.

"It's the most important thing we do in the preseason," Barnes said. "It far outweighs anything we could do playing an exhibition game. You get to play against two really outstanding coached teams. It's two teams we benefited a great deal from playing against (Davidson and Gonzaga).

"We create situations in the scrimmage. We can put two minutes on the clock and put a team up two, down two. We did that quite a bit in the first scrimmage with Davidson. We're able to create any situation we want.

"A year ago, when Davidson came in here and they had Stephon Curry, they wanted us to run some triangle-and-two and box-and-one because it's stuff they saw but were things we don't normally do. We were able to accommodate them. I told (Davidson) Coach (Bob) McKillop how I wanted certain guys played, and they did that.

"That's what the scrimmages are all about. We have segments of specialized situations, and then we have a scrimmage, where we're going to play. They do what they do, and we do what we do."

(Jai Lucas did not participate in either scrimmage because he is not eligible to take part in organized games or scrimmages until he becomes eligible on Dec. 15.)


6. Jordan Hamilton, a super scorer in AAU and high school ball, is still getting acclimated to Rick Barnes' mandate that things other than offense will be the standard by which players at UT are judged.

"Jordan is doing better," Barnes said. "He had a really good day yesterday. He's starting to understand it a little bit more. He's starting to pay attention to the details. I think he's trying. That's all we can ask.

"At some points, he's tried too hard. Some players, who have a reputation as an offensive player like he does still have a tendency to judge how they're playing by how he's shooting the ball.

"The best players will never judge how their playing by if they're making shots. It's going to be all the other things. So I think he's learning he can impact the game by ways other than shooting."


7. J'Covan Brown has emerged as a point guard who Rick Barnes trusts to handle the point in the final four minutes of a close game. The ultimate sign of Barnes' trust.

"He's really worked hard at it. He really has. Like all the young guys. I'm happy with where is and how hard he's trying," Barnes said of Brown. "He has a really nice feel for it.

"He's worked hard to change his pace. He plays with a real smooth pace, but there's times he needs to change it to a higher gear, which he has, and he's just figuring out how and when to use it. But he's really tried hard."


8. The depth on the Longhorns squad makes it possible for Barnes to play different styles and tempo.

"When you have the depth we have, if we need something we've got it," Barnes said. "Shawn (Williams) can play different positions, and we can use him in a post area if we want to screen and pop him. We've got different ways we can go. We've got a guy in Dogus (Balbay) who can really force tempo. He and J'Covan really do complement each other.


9. Barnes is still looking for someone to come close to matching Damion James' intensity and effort on the boards.

"Damion has been excellent," Barnes said. "He's done everything we could ask him to do, and we just need someone who when Damion leaves the game will continue to rebound the way he rebounds and does the things he's done. He's become a guy who really leads. He talks. And we need that from someone else."

When a reporter asked Barnes if that player should be Gary Johnson, Barnes said, "Well, someone. It would be nice. It could be Gary. It could be Alexis Wangmene.

"Lexi has played really well. I'm not sure from a coaching standpoint just how much we missed Lexi last season. Defensively, what he does. Offensively, he has to continue to work. But just his intensity, toughness and physical presence he brings us."


10. Avery Bradley is not the only guard who can lock down an opponent on the perimeter. Barnes said Dogus Balbay, Justin Mason and Varez Ward are also really locked in defensively.

Barnes said he has even put those four on the floor together in specialty situations (with Damion James) when Texas would be desperate to force a turnover.

"In a special situation we did use those four, when we needed to get the ball and they actually got the ball with Damion out there," Barnes said.

"All of our guards we expect to defend and take care of the ball. Varez has worked hard at shooting the ball. Defensively, he's been really solid for us. He's done a good job. Varez, Dogus and Mason understand the defensive end a little bit better for us."


BONUS NUGGET: Barnes said his team has put in a lot of time on free throw shooting after the Longhorns shot just 66.8 percent from the foul line last season, the worst average since the 2000-01 season (65 percent).

"We just practice and we put a lot of time into it," Barnes said. "We start every practice with that, and we'll continue to shoot a lot of them. I think it's an individual thing where guys have to take care of their routine and the process will take care of itself."


BONUS NUGGET NO. 2: Tristan Thompson, a 6-9, 240-pound forward from Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. And a native of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, signed his national letter of intent on Thursday. Thompson will join Texas for the 2010-11 season.

Thompson played in just five games for Findlay last year after transferring in February from St. Benedict's Prep Academy in New Jersey. In those five games, Thompson averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while playing alongside current UT freshman Avery Bradley.

The duo helped lead Findlay to a 33-0 mark and the high school national championship.

"We're happy," Barnes said. "Obviously, Tristan had committed to us a long time ago, and when I think of Damion (James) and Dexter (Pittman), two front line guys moving on after this season, Tristan really likes to rebound the ball and he'll continue to get better offensively. We're really excited about him."


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