Shaka Smart met with the media on Monday to talk about Jarrett Allen’s future, the team’s play recently, what the team needs to do in the last stretch of conference play, closing out games, Eric Davis’ improvement, and postseason aspirations.
On what he liked against Georgia: I thought after the first three or four minutes of the game, our guys really settled in and played with good poise for the rest of the first half. We changed some defenses. I thought our guys did a good job of that, and then we finished the half really, really strong. Obviously, the start of the second half, you know, just looking back on the game, you can certainly look at that as a big difference in the game. Georgia did what good teams do at home, they came back and really attacked, were aggressive. They got the ball to their best player. He was tough to handle really for the majority of the game.
On how he wants to see James Banks’ offensive game evolve: He’s got a really bright future. You’re talking about a guy who just started playing basketball as a freshman in high school, and doesn’t have the same depth of experience that even some of his freshman teammates have, just from a standpoint of playing games and practices. We talk all the time with him about needing to get his 10,000 hours and 10,000 reps. He’s a hard worker. He gets extra workouts and extra lifts than almost anyone on the team. In terms of his role offensively, I think he’s getting better. You don’t always see it in the game, but he’s making a lot of progress with the work that he’s put in. He’s gotten better shooting the ball. I think he can become a very reliable mid-range shooter. I think he can become a good free throw shooter. He’s a guy that, I think right now, the game, like with most freshman, the game gets going fast. Sometimes, the best thing for him is to be able to slow down and be able to do whatever is next before you do the next thing after that. I was really enthused by the way that he approached the game on Saturday. He had a lot of family and friends there, being from Atlanta. For him to play a career-high in minutes, I thought was really big. He had a big and-1 for us, a three point play, in the second half. Then with Shaq [Cleare] fouling out, that was new for James, being in the game down the stretch in a close game.
On Andrew Jones’ aggressiveness: Andrew, he’s really made strides and made a lot of progress in the last three weeks. We’ve been spending a lot of time watching tape together. We watch all his pick and rolls, all the reads that he makes. We watch, in transition, some of the things that he’s been doing. He’s also been able to create some offense with defense. These are all things we saw him do with regularity in high school and AAU. Obviously, when a guy gets to college, there’s an adjustment period. There’s a transition. He’s just playing with such a clear mind, and his aggressiveness and confidence have really ramped up over the last three weeks or so. We really want him to continue to grow.
On if Jones has settled into Texas: He gets a lot of extra work in. Andrew’s a worker. That’s one thing we learned about him in the recruiting process. He would have practice with his high school team. We might give him a call at 9 o’clock at night, 10 o’clock at night, he’d be over there working on his game. The thing with freshman is they get hit with it being a lot. It’s a lot in terms of the school, the adjustment, the off the court part of it, and then what’s thrown at them physically. He’s done a good job as he’s kind of settled in, making sure he’s getting extra work in.
On what he wants to see from his team during close games: First is trying to continue to get better with making sure that we value each possession on offense, and that we get a good opportunity out of that possession. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to make every shot. We have to minimize empty possessions because in close games, that’s less to your detriment if you have a lot of those. Then on the defensive end, I think the flip-side of that is taking away anything easy that the other team gets. That’s not just at the end of the game, that’s throughout the game. A lot of times that happens in transition. Just making sure you do a good job in transition defense. Making sure you take away some of those opportunities. Then, if you can make them earn everything you get, you have a much better chance to win. Then the last thing is, we’ve always said this with every team that you’ve had, there’s three keys to a six minute game in terms of what you can control. That is be solid on defense, which goes hand in hand with what we just talked about, take care of the ball, which goes hand in hand with the first thing we talked about, the third being make your free throws. Be solid on D, take care of the ball, make your free throws. Really, if you watch any close game at any level, the team that does that best usually wins.
On if the second half sets up better for the team: I think what’s more important is us making strides in the different areas of the game. A lot of times it’s when you play a team, and the context of maybe the games that they’re coming off, or what they have coming up, and again, the same thing with your team. We can’t control the opponent but we can control ourselves. We can control our progress. We can control our execution, our effort. The practices we have going into the game are very, very important. Our level of connectivity is important. Obviously, we’re a different team now than when conference play started in terms of personnel. So, our guys just continuing to learn how to be the best we can be with who we have on the floor.
On if Smart is sometimes looking ahead to the promise of next year: that’s a good question. It’s part of your job, all the time, to have a view of the future, no matter what your record is at the current time. Obviously with recruiting, with what you’re doing to plan long term, you have to have an understanding of that. At the same time, we always tell players this time of year, particularly young players, to try to fight urge or the tendency to say “next year I’m going to do this. I’m going to be this much better with a whole offseason in the weight room.” Those things can all come true and can be true, but we play Texas Tech on Wednesday. We want to focus on that. I think I’ve said a couple of times, some really good advice I got form my friend Ryan Holliday is focus on the very, very short term and then the long term. My focus is on practice today, helping our guys get better. When I leave here I’m going to go watch tape with Kerwin Roach and get connected with him on a few things. We’ve got two days to prepare. Wednesday’s game is a really big one for us, but certainly we’re looking at the makeup of our team next year. I think any time you’re coaching at this level, you have to have an awareness of all the moving parts and different things, different contingencies, things like that. You’ve got to be thinking about that.
On Eric Davis’ improvement during conference play: I think both for him and Snoop, but more so for Eric, there’s probably a little bit of a thought going into the year that sophomore year was just going to be this unbelievable launching pad after a really solid freshman year. Sometimes that happens with sophomores. I try to help those guys understand going in that you’ve still got a lot of ground to gain to get to the point where you want to be on the same level as this guy, or that guy. Look around our league, there’s so many great guards. For Eric, a lot of November and December was trying to work through ‘whoa.’ He was almost like a boxer that got hit with a bad combination. He’s just trying to regain his balance. I do think in Big 12 play, to some extent, he’s regained that. I don’t think he all the way yet understand the only way for him to be the best player he can possibly be is for him to, on every single play, give max, max effort. Going as hard as he possibly can, be in the best stance he possibly can be in, sprint the floor as hard as he possibly can. That’s a learning experience for any young player. He’s made strides with that. We’ve had times in practice where we’ve gone round and round. There’s been times where I’ve had to hit him with the hard truth. I think he’s made progress. He’s realized, particularly over these last five games, the team needs him more than ever.
On what Allen’s future plans might be: Jarrett’s such an in the moment guy that I don’t even know if that would be a valuable conversation now. We’re coming up on the end of January, the beginning of February, we just have so much basketball left to play. When I sat down with Jarrett at the beginning of the year, I asked him ‘what do you want out of your freshman year? How do you want this year to go?’ He said ‘I want to have the very best freshman year I can have.’ That’s really where his focus has been and our focus has been as coaches working with him. We just want to help him grow. He’s coming off a challenging game last time out against Georgia. Jarrett’s a motivated guy. He wants to get better and improve. I understand why you bring that up. The thing is in our sport, which is really unlike any other in college sports, you just don’t know some of those things. That’s the reality of it. That’s what we all, as coaches, signed up for. I think you do the best job you can trying to help guys get better. The one thing, I’ll tell you for sure about recruiting, is those kids are paying attention to see ‘are your guys improving? Are guys getting better, are they making strides?’ If you’re a guard that fits a similar mold of an Andrew Jones and you see what he’s doing, and you say ‘hey, that guys really made strides and made gains.’ If you look at Jarrett, he’s come a long, long way since he got here in June. I think the most important thing for us, right now and also long term, is to help these guys grow, and after the season you asses where guys are.
On Texas Tech: I think they have really good versatility as a team. One of the things, when those guys are playing well, is they have different guys coming at you in different ways. They’ve got bigs who can step out on the perimeter and hurt you from the perimeter. They’ve got some bigger perimeter players that can go around the basket and do things there. When they have that really good synergy together as a team, they’ve been terrific. I think they’ve had a really good season so far. They have an older team, so they play with good poise and I think Coach Beard has done a good job coming in there, getting to know their older guys, and getting them to buy in to what he wants them to do.
On if the NCAA tournament is realistic: I’m just focusing on Wednesday. The way that college basketball works, it’s always realistic because of conference tournaments. I think, for us, we have to do less worrying about that and more focusing on the last question, the answer to that. I’ll tell you this, if we’re able to do that stuff (finish in the last five minutes), then it’s a lot more realistic.