Following the addition of Oak Hill (VA) point guard Matt Coleman, who officially signed with Texas this past Wednesday, head coach Shaka Smart called Coleman’s addition part of “an important stretch of days for us.” Coleman joins the 2017 class, but Smart is not through recruiting this spring as the Longhorns are in the mix for elite recruit Mohamed Bamba.
The official addition of Coleman, who joins Houston Westfield guard Jase Febres, Aldine Davis forward Royce Hamm and Minneapolis (MN) Cristo Rey Jesuit forward Jericho Simms in the 2017 class, brings a bona fide ball handler to Texas, something they sorely missed during the Longhorns’ recent 11-22 season.
“Really, really excited about the signing of Matt Coleman today as an addition to our 2017 class,” Smart said. “We now have four guys coming in that we’re very, very excited about.”
There are two more additions, one assured and one possible, to Texas’ 2017 class. In Smart’s eyes, junior transfer Dylan Osetkowski is part of this class as the upcoming season will be his first while eligible at Texas. Smart said he worked out with Osetkowski before every game last season in order to keep both of them fresh and engaged.
Osetkowski, a 6-foot-9, 250 pound forward from Tulane, has been the topic of conversation a lot during his time at Texas even though he never left the bench this past year. A strong performance in an open scrimmage last fall showed a lot of promise that Texas would have to wait one year to see on the court.
“With those four plus Dylan, plus some others that we may add as the spring goes on, really excited about what our team’s going to look like and very, very excited about the look of the way that our guys have approached this offseason,” Smart said. “When you combine the new with the returning guys, looking forward to seeing how that is.”
After the departure of Isaiah Taylor last spring, Texas was left without a true point guard during the 2017-2018 season. The ball handling duties were thrown on sophomores Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach, and freshman Andrew Jones.
Over the course of the season, the lack of familiarity those three had with the position became glaring. Texas struggled to get its offense going because the ball handlers seemed like they could never get into a groove and were constantly bothered out of their comfort zone.
With a true point guard joining the roster, Smart knows expectations will be high for the Virginia freshman. He also knows he has the capability to do well in his first year.
“Matt becomes one of the perimeter players on our team that is really going to drive the success that we want to have,” Smart said. “Matt Coleman is a pure point guard. He orchestrates offense, he gets other guys shots, he makes everyone around him better. He’s one of those guys when he’s on the floor, anyone else playing with him takes a step forward.”
Coleman headlines the class, but he is joined by three others who signed during the fall signing period.
Febres, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, chose Texas over Stanford, Baylor and Texas A&M. Smart complimented both his shooting ability and athletic ability. He also added Febres had a “terrific mind” and came from a very athletic background. Hamm is a 6-foot-8 forward Smart described as “tough and physical.” Simms is a 6-foot-9 forward who Smart said can “really play a variety of positions.” Smart stressed that Simms would be able to do “some terrific things” once he adjusts to the speed of the college game.
The other aforementioned addition that Texas could make in the 2017 class is Westtown School (PA) forward Mohamed Bamba. Bamba hails from New York City, but attends the small Eastern Pennsylvania prep school.
With the departure of Jarrett Allen, Smart now looks to add one one-and-done to replace another. Texas is competing against college basketball heavyweights for Bamba’s signature, including Michigan, Kentucky and Duke.
Smart has a relationship with Bamba not only from the recruiting process, but also through being Bamba’s head coach with the USA Basketball U18 National Team along with Coleman, Allen and current Longhorn James Banks.
By NCAA rule, Smart is not allowed to comment on Bamba, an unsigned prospect. He was asked, however, what Texas is looking to add with that last spot in the Texas 2017 class that is assuredly reserved for the NYC big man.
“We’re looking for a big that can really fit who we want to be on and off the court,” Smart said. “It’s the same thing we look for at any position. We’re excited about the returning bigs we have here, James and Dylan, we’re excited about. As I mentioned, Jericho and Royce are coming in at 6’8” and 6’9”. With losing Jarrett there is a spot there. We’re going to continue to recruit, and we feel like we have a lot to offer.”
Smart used his departing big man as an example other one-and-done big men could look to at Texas. “We feel like Jarrett is a really, really good testament to what happens if you come in here and you work hard, you develop, you grow, you follow our plan, and we’re going to keep working at it,” Smart said.
In addition to losing Allen and courting Bamba, Smart is also preparing for the possibility he will be without freshman guard Andrew Jones next season. Jones declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft but did not hire an agent, leaving open the possibility he could return next year.
Although Jones is preparing for NBA Draft workouts, Smart has maintained a strong relationship with the Irving native, communicating with Andrew and his father constantly.
“He’s been in Cooley every day working out with our guys, working out with (strength and conditioning) coach (Daniel) Roose and the strength coach,” Smart said. “He’s lifting weights right now as we speak. He’s very engaged with our team and our guys. We’ve put certain things in place just as a team to move forward off the court. He’s been really good about that.”
Though Smart has to prepare like he will have Jones next season, he’s not denying the possibility of not having him.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to coach him next year,” Smart said. “Obviously, at the end of the day, like anyone else, it’s up to a young man and his family what they do. I think he really wants to see where he stacks up and get some great experience from some workouts with some NBA teams.”
The challenge in recruiting elite one-and-done players is one Smart said he expected to deal with at a place like Texas. He wants and often needs them, but also wants to make sure he recruits players who will stay in the program for three to four years and help build his program. Either way, Smart said he wants to build his players to meet program and personal goals.
“I think one of the things that you have to understand is when you recruit these types of guys that have that type of talent, what goes along with that is they’re also going to have aspirations to be highly successful even beyond college,” Smart said. “I think it’s unrealistic to want one without the other, so what you try to do is you try to help them become the very best players they can in the time that they’re with you.”
It’s a challenge and something Smart admitted is much different than what he had to deal with at VCU. It’s caused him to create a new plan, considering he only had one player at VCU leave early for the NBA.
“I think you have to recruit a mix, Smart said. “You’ve got to recruit some guys that have the talent and aspirations where they won’t probably be with you for much longer than a year or two. Then, you also want to recruit some guys that hopefully you have for four years, but even those guys, sometimes when they come in, have the aspirations of leaving college early.”