Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, Right?

I feel like it only deserves one paragraph, so that's all I'm going to give it. I could go into it more, but it would only be a waste of time. Memphis was quicker, more athletic, longer, bigger, and played with infinitely more confidence. I think it was the first time I've seen anyone be quicker and more athletic than us, and it makes a world of difference when those quicker, more athletic people also happen to be freakishly long. There might have been some ways that we could have won that game, but I can't think of any other than Memphis playing much worse than that. It was a good season, the ending was kind of disappointing, but there's no reason to disect it and say if we had done this and this it would have been different, because I don't believe that to be true. We got taken behind the shed.

Instead I prefer to look to what this offseason spells for the Longhorns. With JD Lewis and Ian Mooney as the only graduating seniors on the roster, the future looks bright for the Horns. While Damion James had a breakout season and showed why he was so highly touted coming out of high school, he didn't have the kind of tournament and late season impact that he would have needed to elevate his draft status. Unless he's hoping to catch on somewhere in the 2nd round, he should be back next season.

The big question will be the status of DJ Augustin. Early in the season he looked like he was fighting for the top point guard in the draft status. Clearly, with a less than stellar tournament (14.25 ppg/6.5 apg/3.25 rpg/1.75 spg/2.5 TOpg/35% FG/39% 3P), he has lost that battle. What he gained in his outstanding Stanford game, he lost with his struggles in the Memphis game. He's behind Derrick Rose (Memphis) and Jerryd Bayliss (Arizona), and is still jockeying for position with Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Ty Lawson, all of whom have improved their status with their tournament play. Most "experts" (people who have a website) have DJ as a late lottery selection to a mid-first rounder. It will be interesting to see how that changes as we get closer to the draft. But one thing his tournament performance did, was put his draft stock into question.

While most comparisons are to Steve Nash, and that's who DJ likens his game to the most, another player he always seems to remind me of is Deron Williams. And Williams used all for of his years at Illinois to become the player he is today. DJ could benefit from one or two more years in school to continue to learn the position and get to a point where he is in constant control on the floor. I wouldn't fault him or disagree if he decides to turn pro, but if he did decide to wait one more year he could encounter a weaker draft class and also set himself up for a better draft position.

Regardless of DJ's decision, Texas will have plenty of hope going into next season. A look at each position and their status for next year ('09 class in parenthesis):

Point Guard - Obviously, if DJ (Jr) returns, we're in great shape. But if he does go, look for Justin Mason (Jr) and AJ Abrams (Sr) to split time here. I would love to see AJ embrace this role and use his quickness as a scorer and a passer. There is no one that can stay in front of him if he's trying to get in the lane. Also, Justin Mason loses some of his effectiveness as a rebounder/all around hustler if he is burdened with the disciplined responsibilities of the point guard position. Dogus Balbay (Fr) will contend to be a backup at the point guard position, coming off an ACL injury this year. He's said to be extremely quick and a pass first point guard from Turkey. Also Harrison Smith (Jr) is a darkhorse candidate to contribute, but attitude and desire have kept him out of the rotation his first two years in the program.

Shooting Guard - AJ Abrams and Justin Mason will both be back with another year under their belts. Mason had a breakout last half of the season as he plays larger than his 6'2" height, and is the defensive stallwort of this team. He also is amazing on the boards and the confidence of what is a decent outside shot returned. He plays under control and is aggressive and smart in the lane. He underwent a transformation the last half of the season and it was a pleasure to watch. Also, incoming freshman J'Covan Brown is a highly touted scorer and will certainly get some minutes in his first season.

Small Forward - If DJ returns, Justin Mason will continue to see time in the three guard lineup. But if DJ moves on, look for Damion James (Jr) to return to his more natural position at small forward. It would give Texas a more traditional look and improve the rebounding and toughness immeadiately. James is about the only small forward we have on the roster as Gary Johnson (So) is more ably suited for power forward, but he could see some time there to allow the Longhorns to go very big inside.

Power Forward - This is where the Longhorns of 2009 will begin to look different. All the big men played well in the tournament and with their freshman campaign under their belts, they will be more involved offensively in 2009. Gary Johnson could start the season off as the starter, but if Dexter Pittman's tournament play was a sign of things to come, Connor Atchley (Sr) could slide into his more natural power forward position. Alexis Wangmene (So), Matt Hill who will return from injury (So), and Clint Chapman (So) will also be heavily involved in what will be an incredibly deep front line. Whoever makes the biggest strides during the offseason will likely move to the front of the line in the rotation. But every post will get his chance to prove himself.

Center - Connor Atchley will most likely start his senior campaign as the center, but Dexter Pittman (Jr) closed with an outstanding tournament and he could show up next season ready to be the anchor for this team offensively and defensively. Either way the front court will be in great shape as Clint Chapman and Matt Hill have the length to play center as well. Texas has the potential to dominate inside and be one of the most physical teams in the country next season.

This season was a great one as the Longhorns matured and improved throughout the year. The team was a little bit one-dimensional due to the youth of the front line forcing Damion and Connor to play out of position. But next season the Longhorns look primed to be a different team, that looks a little bit more like those teams that featured Brad Buckman, Brian Boddicker, James Thomas, and Jason Klotz, and a whole lot of physical play. If the Longhorns can incorporate their post game and allow Damion and Connor to play their more natural positions, DJ Augustin will either be running one of the deepest and most complete teams in the country, or AJ Abrams and Justin Mason will step in to run a team that could have a completely overhauled offensive strategy. Either way, it was an enjoyable experience to watch this team learn, grow, and succeed.

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