Basketball

Texas’ backcourt looks to answer remaining preseason questions

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Texas’ season begins Tuesday versus Northern Colorado, and one of the perceived strengths of Shaka Smart’s 2019-20 Longhorns is the backcourt. Sophomore Courtney Ramey will be the youngest expected contributor joined by upperclassmen (or redshirt sophomore) contributors Matt Coleman, Jase Febres, and Andrew Jones.

Ramey is coming off a strong freshman season. Febres improved in multiple statistical categories in his second year on the Forty Acres. But while there is experience in the backcourt, the first portion of the season will have to answer many of the remaining questions about Texas’ guards the preseason couldn’t address.

Coleman, Smart’s prized point guard recruit in the 2017 class, suffered through a sophomore slump last season. His scoring, assists, and field goal percentage all declined from his freshman averages. Ramey’s solid freshman campaign could be the reason behind some of that statistical regression, but Coleman’s play was hit or miss too often last season.

Smart said Tuesday his team “is going to go as those two guys go” in reference to Ramey and Coleman, but there’s still uncertainty as to what that looks like. Smart explained Monday’s practice was the first time in over a month the two were able to join Febres on the floor together. Ramey sustained a wrist injury several weeks ago, and when he made his return Coleman missed a couple of days with his own bumps and bruises.

“That hasn’t been ideal, but I love the fact that when the ball goes up in the air tomorrow those guys are going to be out there together,” Smart said. “We do need to continue to work on those two guards playing well and being their best together.”

According to Smart, the team emphasis over the past several weeks was carrying over the things drilled in practice into game situations. The opportunity for those two to carry over how they work in practice into games simply has not been there.

They could receive assistance while acclimating to each other’s game with Jones’ presence. Smart said that Jones’ jump shot “certainly didn’t go anywhere” in his absence. He praised his practice effort and physical growth since his last treatment for leukemia in September.

Smart said Jones earned the right to be in Texas’ rotation as a top-six player and when he makes his full-fledged return to the floor, the emotions will run high.

“I think it says a lot about his family, and his upbringing,” Smart said. “When he goes out there and goes in the game tomorrow night, it’s going to be very emotional. It’s going to give a lot of us a feeling of appreciation and just enthusiasm for the fact that he’s back out there doing what he loves.”

The countdown clock to the first game in the Texas facility that Smart said seemed “lightyears away” in the spring is now has zeros on the “days remaining” number. After two closed-door scrimmages versus Ole Miss and UTSA, Texas now will work to sort out remaining preseason kinks and celebrate the full return of a star player in live-action.

ONE INJURY NOTE

Shaka Smart: “Gerald Liddell is recovering from a concussion. He’s in the protocol. He’s not been cleared yet, but we’re hoping to get him back very soon.”