My road trip through Texas continued on Friday as I made my way south from Waco to Austin to see the University of Texas practice.
Chris Bird His second season begins at the helm of the program. His arrival and instant success in the transfer gate sparked extreme expectations for last pre-season, including a first overall ranking from a single national outlet.
Although those predictions were wildly unfair, Texas State still had a successful first season as they finished in the KenPom Top 15, started and finished the year in the top 25 nationally, and won their first NCAA Championship game Since 2014.
The plan at Austin is to take another step forward this season. With a new arena and training facility about to open and a move to SEC on the horizon, there’s no doubt plenty for sale, and building a fan base is just as important as the program’s other tenants.
Here are five notes from watching the team’s training.
1. Culture is the calling card
Culture is undoubtedly the calling card in many college basketball programs these days. In Texas, they take that to another level as they weave it into their brand, equipment, and facilities.
From the outside looking in, my impression of their culture was this – they are competitive with a defining feature of theirs, yet still manage to enjoy it. Beard is the example with this. His intensity is palpable and relentless, but he’s also more than willing to decipher a joke in time, blend humor into team video work, or celebrate with a big play.
2. Austin is a selling point
The knockout blow to the Texans prior to Bird’s arrival was their lack of massive fan support. Well, nobody is better at developing that than Beard, and his time at Texas Tech is proof of that.
What isn’t talked about enough is how much of a selling point a city could be, especially given the university’s location directly within it. Austin is a young and promising city with a growing national reputation. They have good weather and a lot to do. The fact that the new facility will also host several concerts and shows, only adds to all that is going on in the area. All of this should be a selling point for recruits.
3. Experience matters
Texans are not satisfied with returning their top scorers from last season in Timmy Allen And the Marcus Karbut also three other players in rotation in Christian BishopAnd the Dylan DessauAnd the Brooke Cunningham. Then they added Therese Hunter And the Sir Jabri rice from Iowa and New Mexico, respectively. That’s a total of seven players who all won at least one NCAA game last year, not to mention a core group that carried that culture one to two years out.
It has to be tried on paper, acted upon as something else, and Texas practices like a veteran team. They compete, pay attention to detail, and communicate.
Carr and Hunter’s back area was solid from start to finish. Allen was doing all the little things – moving his feet, spinning defensively, being a good teammate – all while showing off his unique offensive versatility. Cunningham is as dependable a veteran as you will find.
4. Young talent raises the bar
While the VIPs know what it takes to win college basketball games, Texas has also brought in one of the best hiring classes in the country with Dillon MitchellAnd the Artrio MorrisAnd the Rowan Brombowhich will collectively increase the absolute talent, at least relative to the long-term prospectus, in the program.
Mitchell in particular looked very good. His intense vertical blast is well known since his high school days, but he uses it in all the right areas, while at the same time expanding his game without trying to do much (mostly). He was on the attacking glass, cut well, showed a headshot with his shot in the face, and was consistent with his card.
5. Depth to withstand adversity
With five returnees, two influential transfers, and three prospective students in nationally ranked high schools, Texas can now delve deeper into the decade. This means that there will be an internal competition for the minutes, but also, they have the depth to overcome adversity, whether it is in the form of injuries or bad problems.
While I expect the quartet of Allen, Mitchell, Hunter, and Carr to be the core of the lineup, this is a team that had six different players averaging seven to twelve points per game last year, and it should be very well balanced. On the offensive again this year.