Shaka Smart’s New Longhorns Pump Up the Energy

Texas Men's Basketball Is Going to China

On Tuesday, Texas men’s basketball opened its last half-hour of practice to the media. What we saw was a drastically different Longhorn basketball team, helmed by new coach Shaka Smart and injected with a new dose of energy.

The first drill in Cooley Pavilion, at the east end of the Frank Erwin Center, was a shooting drill in which the team was split into three groups. There was a group at the far-end basket, one at the basket at mid-court, and one at the basket near where the reporters were standing. The players practiced their shots with a coach standing by to offer corrections and encouragement.

The players were on the clock and knew when to switch to the next drill, running to the right basket and getting their feet set immediately. As they jumped from drill to drill, shots went in and shots bounced out; players celebrated and got frustrated. Coaches jumped in during to provide some defense. They practiced shooting, blocking, passing, and yelling—yes, yelling.

One drill called, “30 Baskets,” might as well be known as “The Yelling Drill.” To an onlooker, it looked like a chaotic drill where the players shot and yelled in no specific order. But there was a method to the madness. The players split into two teams, each with five men on the perimeter while the others rebounded. They took aim until they made five shots, then rotated, competing to see who could get to 30 shot firsts. Meanwhile, their teammates cheered and yelled incessantly. It is meant to be a uptempo, fun drill, like the rest of Shaka’s practices. The theory is that more support means more baskets. In his few months at Texas, Smart has gotten a reputation for being energetic and enthusiastic, and that shone through in every drill, but his Longhorns never looked so energized as they did during the influx of screaming in “30 Baskets.”

Another drill broke the team up by class. Kerwin Roach, who gained some social media fame with a recent viral video, showed off his vertical in person. Eric Davis and Tevin Mack drained baskets from all over the court. In all, Smart said he has been very impressed by the three freshmen. Smart said Mack is shooting the ball the best so far, but if you ask the players, you’ll get a different answer.

“If you ask these guys, about six of them will raise their hand,” Smart said after practice. “Eric Davis thinks he is. Jordan Barnett thinks he is. Tevin Mack. Javan … Javan definitely thinks he is. He thinks he’s taller than me, but he’s not.”

The  seniors at the end of the court stood out because of their size—Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert—but Smart said Demarcus Holland is also someone to watch, and that he has emerged as a team leader. The senior Ridley practiced his jump shot, his form vastly improved since he arrived on the Forty Acres. Ibeh dunked dozens of times, showing why he was such a crowd favorite last season. Smart praised the big men, saying that Texas’ new system thrives off tall players like Lammert shooting the ball, and that Ibeh is effective when he’s engaged.

Last but not least, Isaiah Taylor is expected to have a huge year after opting to return for his junior season. Smart said Taylor and Roach are two of the quickest guards in college basketball. Maryland transfer Shaq Cleare is someone who Smart is eager to use, though he mentioned that he wants Cleare to be nastier on the court because right now he is “too nice.”

Smart stressed the importance of the team’s identity. Before they work on the style of play, they need to be united. Just as the idiosyncratic drills gave Texas a different look, Smart said the on-court product this season will be virtually unrecognizable to Longhorn basketball fans.

“Our style of play is not going to be identical to anything that you’ve seen from our teams in the past,” Smart said. “It’s going to be the 2015-16 version of Texas.”

The team will have an open scrimmage on Wednesday, Oct. 21 in Gregory Gym before its exhibition game against Tarleton State on November 6.

Photo courtesy Texas Athletics


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