Shaka Smart is back on campus, his missions accomplished.
Job One for the Texas basketball coach as coach of USA Basketball’s Under-18 team in the FIBA Americas U18 championship was to win. The team went 5-0 to win gold. As the team is typically stocked with incoming freshmen stars, it wasn’t a challenging task. The USA has won the event four times this decade.
Smart, going into his second season in Austin, was the head coach of an international team for the first time. The added benefit and second part of his mission was to further bond with two members of the U-18 team that will be wearing burnt orange this season.
With Texas having to replace several front court players, freshman Jarrett Allen and James Banks are expected to help carry the load.
Allen stated all five games, averaging 10.6 points and nine rebounds per game. Banks played in four of USA’s five games, averaging 4.5 rebounds and leading the team with seven blocks. He didn’t play in the championship game.
“If I was just down there as the coach from Texas, I would have played those guys both the whole game,” Smart said. “But that’s not the job I was asked to do.”
Smart’s job at Texas is to continue to build the program. Coaching for USA Basketball burnished his already shiny profile. Having two future Longhorns was an added bonus.
“Well, I’ve coached with USA Basketball in the past, but we never had any of our guys even try out for the team, let alone make the team,” Smart said. “It was a really good experience for me and hopefully for those two as well. We got a chance to get to know each other off the court, but also on the court with how we interact.”
Allen, who went to a private school in Austin, was a late signee but his commitment to Texas was a crucial “get.” Smart said that the U-18 practices and games helped build a relationship.
“Jarrett is very intelligent. He’s got a real sense of right and wrong,” Smart said. “What I’ve learned about him is that it’s very important to explain to him in logical terms why A, B, and C goes into D, if D is being successful or winning or whatever that may be. If you can explain that to him, he’ll go after it.”
Banks didn’t start playing basketball until high school and is more of a raw project. A summer of practicing against other top players and the international basketball experience should help accelerate his development.
“I actually told some of the other guys on the USA Basketball team, just wait until you see what James becomes,” Smart said. “He’s going to be very, very special.”
Chris Beard building a roster … again
A year ago when he was coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, Chris Beard brought in 10 new players on a team that had won 13 games the previous season. The new roster clicked and the win total improved by 17 games, including a first-round upset of No. 5 seed Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
Now at Texas Tech, Beard is reshaping a roster in less radical fashion. With most of the front court players returning from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, the Red Raiders needed to replace starting guards Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams.
Beard signed two junior-college All-American guards — Seward County Community College’s Niem Stevenson and Northwest Florida State College’s Shadell Millinghaus. He also snagged two graduate transfers who can play next season — Arkansas State’s Anthony Livingston and Quinnipiac’s Giovanni McLean.
Now, it’s all about mixing the newcomers with the holdovers and creating a team.
“That’s the challenge. That’s our day-to-day work here, just like everybody else in college basketball is putting together a team,” Beard said on the Big 12’s summer teleconference. “The first step is assembling talent in recruiting. We’re in a talent business, we always will be. Now, the next step, is what I really enjoy, is putting the pieces together into a team that can play together.
“I’m not a guy that really has a two-, three- or four-year plan. I’m a guy that tries to win each day.”
Oklahoma State’s Evans back to full speed
Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is participating in the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles. That’s good news for the Cowboys and first-year coach Brad Underwood.
Evans was sidelined for the last 10 games of his freshman season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Even with a truncated season, Evans was selected as the Big 12 freshman of the year. Underwood told me a week ago that that Evans was just beginning to return to playing and full workouts.
“The doctors wouldn’t even let him run while he was recovering,” Underwood said. “It’s been nearly five months since his surgery and he’s just been cleared to go full speed.”
In addition to Evans, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Baylor’s Johnathan Motley are also participating in the Nike camp.