Top 5 recruiting class may get Texas back to the NCAA Tournament after 11-22 season
With Andrew Jones also returning, the Longhorns could be one of the top four teams in the Big 12
It's been interesting to take in the reaction of Mohamed Bamba's pledge to Texas. The Longhorns, somewhat surprisingly,. In doing so, Shaka Smart beat out John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski for Bamba, obviously amounting to the biggest recruiting victory of Smart's life.
It's rare for Calipari and Krzyzewski to lose out on a recruit to anyone not named Calipari or Krzyzewski, so I get the relative shock in that regard. And Bamba is the highest-rated recruit for Texas since some guy named "Durant." Labeling this as a "boon" is underselling the significance of the commitment.
But it's not as though Texas is a common power-conference school. We: Texas finished in the top five.
In the business, among ADs and coaches, Texas basketball is a royalty job despite fact it lacks historical supremacy. UT got more votes (and we polled more than 100 coaches) than bluebloods UCLA, Indiana and Louisville. The job is highly coveted, and even though football has always and will always be first, second, third and fourth on the priority list at UT, the basketball operation is grade-A. It should to land elite prospects.
So this idea that Texas landing Bamba is some massive upset is overblown. Check here if you need proof that the program regularly gets top-10 players. I think the reaction to Bamba's Texas pick speaks more to the recruiting influence and expectation Kentucky and Duke have. But still, it's a fun twist for the sport and needed jolt for that program, particularly on the heels of its worst season in decades.
Smart has the fourth-ranked class in 2017, and now just one decision looms for the the Longhorns, a choice that could be the deciding factor in UT making the NCAA Tournament next season. I'll get to that in just a minute.
Here's how Texas' incoming class sets up. Bamba is the crown jewel (and a pivotal replacement for one-and-done Jarrett Allen, who will be a lottery pick, and who's decision to leave could have been the clincher for catching Bamba), while Matt Coleman is a critical four-star point guard who will see the floor immediately.
Hometown (High School/Previous School)
Harlem, N.Y. (Westtown School [Pa.])
Norfolk, Va. (Oak Hill Academy)
Houston, Texas (Westfield HS)
Royce Hamm Jr.
Houston, Texas (Aldine Davis HS)
Elijah Long *
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Minneapolis, Minn. (Cristo Rey Jesuit HS)
Five of those six names will play next season. Elijah Long will have to sit out, as he's an incoming transfer. But the other five comprise the best class at Texas in a long time. Febres, Hamm and Sims are all rated as four-star players. UT will be young but should be good and certainly watchable.
Because the tail end of the Rick Barnes era was forgettable, and because Texas hasn't been noteworthy, nationally, in Smart's first two years, the program has drifted off the radar.
Yet Smart has managed to win big on the recruiting trail after having the worst season of his career, an 11-22 finish. This after being ranked in the preseason AP poll. In that regard, no team was a bigger letdown last season than Texas.
Next season, Texas could flirt with cracking the national rankings. What will decide that? The forthcoming decision of Andrew Jones. The expectation is that the 6-foot-4 combo guard is going to come back. He's still going through the NBA Draft process (the deadline for all NCAA players is May 24), but is not projected as a 2017 pick.
Update: Jones has announced he's coming back.
Texas will have Kerwin Roach (athletic freak), Eric Davis and Jacob Young joining him. Bamba is such a game-changing player, I have to believe this roster constitutes a top-four team in the Big 12 and a borderline top-30 team in college hoops. This past season was the first time ever Smart, an eight-year veteran as a head coach, didn't win 20 games. That doesn't seem likely to happen again, even in a robust Big 12.
Once Jones makes his pick, and presuming it's a return to Austin, Smart will be staring down a year of big promise and certain pressures. With five top-100 players coming in, one of them being perhaps the best defensive player in college basketball next season, Texas is in the unusually great position of having immediate roster fixes but also gets set up for the future because four-star talents who stay three or four years are the best way to buoy your program.
Below, a look at Bamba. He's approximately 7 feet tall and has a 7-9 wingspan, which is mutant territory (no player in the NBA currently has a wingspan that long). Barring injury, he is a lock to be a top-five pick in 2018 based on his physical attributes alone. Making him even more tempting: his incredible perimeter defense and capability to shoot from distance. Here's the guy who could change the trajectory of Smart's Texas career.
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