Basketball

Texas Basketball: Volatile Chemistry

With last season’s historic collapse of

the Texas men’s basketball team, the offseason focus for head coach

Rick Barnes has been team chemistry. But will this “chemistry”

produce a stable reaction or the explosive meltdown we saw last

season?
“Chemistry” was a popular word last

basketball season.

The term found its way into many

articles about the Texas hoops team because talent was clearly not an

issue for the 2009-2010 Longhorns. Widely acknowledged as one of the

most talented teams in country, Texas entered the season ranked No. 3

in each poll. The Horns quickly proved the pollsters right, dominating

the early competition and moving up into the top slot. Despite this

talent, Texas suddenly reversed course and became the first team to

be ranked No. 1 and then fall out of the polls entirely in the same

season.

If it wasn’t talent, it much have been

chemistry. Of course, writers referred to chemistry in its

figurative sense, meaning the rapport between teammates and their

coaches. But the Longhorns’ season went through an explosive

combustion worthy of literal chemistry.

Chemistry, in its literal

sense, is the science of matter and the changes it undergoes. The Longhorns went through violent changes last season, going 17-0

over the first half of the season and 7-10 over the remainder, ending

with a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Texas seemed to take on a sort of

chemical chaos, kicking off free hydrogens (turnovers) and dissolving

once strong covalent bonds (defensive breakdowns), with free radicals

rampaging amok through what should be an organized system (players

not listening and making poor shot selections).

Two NBA first round picks (Avery

Bradley and Damion James), as well as a second rounder (Dexter

Pittman), are gone from the Texas roster and the Horns are working

with potentially less talent this season, but as the 2010-2011 season

approaches Longhorn coach Rick Barnes believes he’s got the chemistry

of much more stable system.

“I have enjoyed being with this group

as much as any group I have been with for a long time because of they

have really bought into the fact that it is about the team…In terms

of our chemistry, I’m really pleased and happy where we are right now

with our basketball team,” said Barnes.

The operative word is “team”. Texas wasn’t much of a team down the stretch last

season. But the sense of team has been strong this year, according

to Barnes, and a strong indicator is how well the new elements are

mixing the old.

“The older guys have really embraced

(Tristan Thomson) and Cory (Jospeh) and helped them, let them know

what lies ahead as much as they can right now,” said Barnes.

Thompson was a big addition for Texas. Continuing along this pedantic path we’ve taken, he’s a big addition

in both senses, standing at 6-foot-9 and possessing a wingspan of

Durantuan proportions (7-2). But what Barnes is most impressed with

is the attitude he brings to the gym.

“Tristan has really worked extremely

hard, in some regards maybe as hard as anybody on our team,” said

Barnes. “I just think if he will continue with the type of effort

he is putting in right now and with the focus that he’s giving us, he

has got a chance to have an outstanding year.”

The lanky Canuck (Thompson was born in

Brampton, Ontario) is ranked as the No.

10 overall hoops prospect for 2010 by ESPN and could be the most

talented player on the roster, but the new addition who may be the

most important to team chemistry is Joseph.

Point guard is a key to any Rick

Barnes-coached team and Texas lacked consistent play from the

position. Joseph, ranked No. 16 overall in the nation, has the

balanced skill-set necessary to lead a team and make plays happen on

his own. The issue will be how quick he’ll mesh with his teammates,

or if he’ll mesh at all. Regardless, Barnes is happy with the depth

he’ll have at the top of the key.

“With Dogus (Balbay) being able to

get back and with the addition of Cory Joseph, I feel that we are

going to be fine there,” said Barnes.

Barnes is approaching his 300th

win as Texas coach (294-120) and his coaching seat may not be hot,

but an audible clicking of the gas starter can be heard. A repeat of

the tribulations of 2009-2010 and that burner might ignite. Barnes

is aware of the team play necessary to avoid a repeat collapse and

his players are too.

“I think (the players) truly are

making a conscious effort to do everything the way we want it done,”

said Barnes. “And I think they understand that the key for us to

have the kind of season that we have to have is togetherness.”

For Texas to be successful, the Horns

will need to be as the rigid of cast iron and less like the

tumultuous ionized gas of a team the last go-around brought.

…Or perhaps all that is amok is this

metaphor, but based on the chaos of last season, the constituent

elements of the 2010-2011 Horns are less important than how those

elements mix.

For a complete breakdown of the

upcoming season, see Inside

Texas’ 2010-2011 Season Previews:

No.1:

The Offense

No.

2: The Defense

No.

3: The Schedule

No.

4: The Past

No.

5: The Future

No.

6: Jordan Hamilton

No.

7: J’Covan Brown

No.

8: Gary Johnson and Shawn Williams

No.

9: Clint Chapman, Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene

No.

10: Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas