After Winning Gold in Chile, Smart Has Eyes Back on Texas

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When USA Basketball won gold this weekend in the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 championship against Canada, UT’s Shaka Smart—also the newly named head coach of the U18 USA team—had a little extra incentive. Two of his incoming freshmen, James Banks and Jarrett Allen (who is No. 15 on ESPN’s Top 100), joined the second-year Longhorn men’s coach in Chile as Texas went undefeated, capping off the tournament with a 99-84 win over Canada.

But the Fro Bros—as they’ve come to call themselves—are the first members of a Smart-led college team to play for him on the national level. When Smart was still head coach at VCU, he assisted on staff at the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 and the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships. He says getting early in-game looks at players who look to be immediate contributors to his Longhorn team were beneficial.

“We never had any of our guys ever try out for the team, let alone make the team,” Smart said at a press conference on Tuesday morning. “We got a chance to know each other off the court as well as on the court. How do they like to interact with teammates? With officials?”

Smart said that Banks and Allen immediately bonded, and that despite their different personalities, they have a high level of respect for each other. Allen led the team with 119 total minutes played during the five-game tournament, including 33 in the final. The homegrown power forward from St. Stephens Episcopal in Austin averaged 10.6 points and 9 rebounds.

As for Banks, his minutes were limited, and he didn’t get into Saturday’s championship game. When asked, Smart praised Banks’ development this summer.

“He did a phenomenal job carving out a niche that showed he was different,” Smart said. “I think it’s a great development step for him.”

Smart also acknowledged that being around some of the best high school basketball players in the country can be a boon to recruiting, but it also comes with a potential downside.

“It’s actually in some ways a negative, because if guys get cut they blame you. If guys don’t play as much, they blame you,” Smart said. “The benefit is you’re around guys that you’re typically not given the chance to be around.”

Smart was also asked if he was relieved to stay planted on American soil this November. In Smart’s inaugural season at Texas, the Longhorns began the season against Washington in Shanghai, China. Then came one home game before three straight in the Bahamas during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. To start the 2016-17 season, the Longhorns’ schedule includes a slate of three in a row at the Frank Erwin Center.

“I just went out of the country, so I’m good for a while,” Smart said, smiling. “I’m really excited about being able to start in a more traditional way.”

Between this week and August 12, however, the entire Longhorn team will be together every day. Smack in the middle of summer session, Smart says the team will “just work,” except for, for example, when recently he took the entire team bowling.

“Andrew had the best score out of anyone,” Smart said. “James [Banks] is the worst. He’s got such long arms—like a 7’5″ wingspan—and he would let go of the ball too early so it would slam into the floor. I was worried he was going to break the floor.”

 

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