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Basketball: Smart signs another five-star, fending off G-League for Brown III

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Some things remain normal in Texas’ capital city.

Once again, Texas head coach Shaka Smart’s job status is a hot topic of discussion among Longhorn fans. Once again, UT men’s basketball supporters will be treated to one year of a NBA Draft lottery pick after blue-chip forward Greg Brown III’s decision to play at Texas.

For the third time in his Texas tenure, Smart secured the commitment of a player universally considered to be making a one-year stop on the Forty Acres before he hears his name called early in the first round of the NBA Draft.

It’s the end of a recruiting process longer than any other of Smart’s other high-profile wins. There was one scholarship available in Texas’ 2020 class, and it had Brown III’s name on it in ink.

“Coming into the year having no seniors, we knew on paper at least it was going to be a smaller recruiting class,” Smart said April 27. “Going back quite a few years, Greg’s been our No. 1 priority, really not even close to anybody else in this 2020 class. We’re just really excited and grateful that he decided to join our program.”

Brown III, a 6-foot-9 forward from Vandegrift High School in Austin, chose Texas over appealing options other than the one closest to home. Auburn, Memphis, and Kentucky all made pushes for Brown III, but Texas overcame some of the Southeast’s strongest hoops programs.

More notable than topping Bruce Pearl, Penny Hardaway, and John Calipari for Brown III’s services is the professional arrangement Smart had to overcome. After top prep prospects began to forego college basketball for one year of overseas professional play prior to the NBA Draft, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and G-League commissioner Shareef Abdur-Rahim wanted a way for the Association to keep top draft prospects from heading to places like Australia should they want to begin their professional career.

They devised a system to allow prospects like Jalen Green to “have the opportunity to accelerate his on-court development as he learns NBA-style basketball alongside veterans of the professional game while focusing heavily on life skills development,” without being attached to a specific NBA franchise.

And unlike college basketball, the pay is above water. Green received a six-figure offer to prepare for the 2021 draft, according to ESPN.

Brown reportedly received a similar offer as his decision approached. His preference to announce his decision with Marc J. Spears, one of ESPN’s top NBA reporters, seemed to indicate Brown III would choose a path similar to that of Green.  

But when Brown III turned his visor around during his Instagram Live announcement to reveal a Longhorn logo, an outcome Texas wasn’t certain would take place, it showed that years of work from Smart and assistant coach Jai Lucas paid off handsomely for the son of former All-SWC defensive back Greg Brown Jr.

“(Lucas) and I tried to work together about communicating what we needed to convey, then just being as present as we could be within the rules at Vandegrift and at Greg’s AAU events,” Smart said. “Fortunately his family, especially his dad, they’ve just been awesome with communication.”

Brown III’s commitment is another in the line of five-star talents Smart has attracted to (or helped remain) in Austin. Each recruiting win took different forms. According to Smart, Jared Allen wasn’t a fan of the recruiting process, and Mohamed Bamba wasn’t on Texas’ radar until after Smart coached the Harlem native on the 2016 USA Basketball U18 team.

Smart’s recruitment of Brown III stood out because of how long the process was.

“Greg’s has been the longest just because we’ve been recruiting him for quite some time,” Smart said. “We’ve been aware that he’s a terrific player who would be a great addition to our program for a long, long time. Maybe that’s one thing that makes it unique to compared to all those other ones.”

With the recruitment in the rear-view, Smart’s focus now turns to how Brown III fits on a roster with his presence as the only difference from the 2019-20 roster. Every Longhorn from last season was asked to take on different workloads at various points in the season. That experience plus Brown III gives Smart a roster unlike one he’s had at Texas.

“We’re excited about finally having an older team,” Smart said. “We’re excited about the lessons our guys have learned the past year and previous years for the guys that are upperclassmen. We do think that Greg really adds a significant piece to our program and our team. He adds a level of violence on the court and aggressiveness. He brings a confidence to him that is always a welcome sight. I think he’ll get along really well with our guys because he really wants to win.”

Smart has faced wide criticism for his lack of NCAA Tournament success in Austin. His job security is a constant topic of conversation in Austin because of his inability to approach Texas’ mid-2000s heights. He’ll get a chance to overcome those doubts that have been built up for several seasons. Once again, he’ll have a lottery level player at his disposal.