The Texas Tip-Off serves as Texas men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart’s way to introduce his team to the fans for the upcoming season. That introduction will be brief this year as Smart’s team will scrimmage for 12 minutes following a 10 minute scrimmage from Karen Aston’s women’s team.
Though the introduction will be shorter this year than in year’s past, it might be the perfect amount of time. Most of the players expected to contribute the majority of the minutes aren’t first year players.
“We’re going to have a little scrimmage, which is good for us as coaches to get a chance to evaluate and see where our guys are in a short sample size,” Smart said Monday. “Over the course of practice, we’ve practiced 10 days so far since the beginning of practice, one of the things we’ve really tried to emphasize is just building a mentality of grit and toughness because as we know in our game, you’re going to hit adversity at times.”
That mentality and grit may have been lacking last year, as the Longhorns let several close games, including their first round NCAA Tournament game, slip away over the final minutes of the game.
Where Smart might be teaching those two facets, most of the players returning have solid games for him and the rest of his staff to work with. Senior contributors like Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, juniors looking to re-contribute in Andrew Jones and Elijah Mitrou-Long, and talented sophomores in Jericho Sims and Matt Coleman will make up a large part of the minutes this year.
Freshman like Courtney Ramey and Kamaka Hepa will be asked to contribute, but the load most likely won’t be placed upon their shoulders as has happened to other first-year players in Smart’s previous seasons.
Smart will be able to rely on experience for the first time since his first season in Austin. Regarding Osetkowski, Coleman, Mitrou-Long, and Roach, “those would be the guys I say our guys look to more than anyone.”
Osetkowski is playing at 252 pounds. Toward the end of the year, it appeared as if problems from the shoulders up were affecting the Tulane transfer as much as problems from the shoulders down. Smart has tried to drill a new attitude in his utility forward.
“We want Dylan to be a guy that plays to go after something as opposed to playing with avoidance,” Smart said. “I think early in the year last year everything was new and he was going to do that.”
After mental and physical hurdles for the Californian last year, Smart praised the work Osetkowski did in the offseason.
“He’s done a good job in the offseason really taking an intentional approach toward exactly what he needs to do on and off the court to have his body in the best place,” Smart said. “Now the biggest key is his body during the season and making sure that continues to move in the right direction during the season. He’s really done a phenomenal job with it in the offseason.”
From Coleman, he wants see continued development in the multi-faceted role a point guard takes on for any team.
“He needs to understand that what his teammates need to hear from him is not always sugary and nice,” Smart said. “It might need to be the opposite of that in certain moments.”
Roach garnered the description of Smart’s “most accomplished player” on the Texas roster. After Roach tested NBA Draft waters last year, Smart and Roach have placed a high expectation on the season for the senior.
“He wants to come back and be the best two-way player he can be in the country,” Smart said. “I’ve challenged him to be as good as anyone in that area.”
Long was forced to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He was able to practice last year with the team, and Smart noted Monday “he’s shot the ball really well recently.”
After drawing one-and-done players like Jarrett Allen and Mohamed Bamba in his previous recruiting classes, no one in Texas’ class of 2018 fits the role of a player destined for the NBA Draft after this season.
That is different for Texas basketball, and while it likely reduces the expectations laid upon the freshman class in their first year, the goals for Hepa, Ramey, Brock Cunningham, and Jaxson Hayes are still high despite not being “world beaters.”
“The positive of that sometimes is that means you’ll have them a little bit longer in your program,” Smart said. “Another positive of it is there’s not this unrealistic thought that on game one they’re going to have it all figured out, but we do need those guys to come in and help our team.”
With only a 12 minute scrimmage Wednesday evening, information to be gleaned for the upcoming season will be small. However, Smart emphasized that on offense they want to play faster and in transition more often.
On defense, because it’s his call and due to improved roster-building, there will be more pressing. “You’ll see us doing it more than we did last year as long as we’re able to maintain the depth that we have,” Smart said.
The Tip-Off is Wednesday night with doors opening at 6 p.m. at Gregory Gym. A dunk and three-point contest will fill the intermission time between scrimmages. Admission is free, as is parking at the Brazos Garage.