Texas prepares for exhibition game against Tarleton State

Akshay Mirchandani

Shaka Smart was named the Texas men’s basketball coach April 3.

Seven months, two scrimmages, a Navy SEAL training session and countless practices later, the new-look Longhorns are ready for their final tune-up before the regular season.

“We’ve been here seven months and [the] guys have been very receptive,” Smart said. “As I said a few times at media day, I think receptivity is the first step to buy in, but the next step is those guys taking complete ownership of what we want to do.”

Texas will get its first chance to take ownership on Friday when D-II Tarleton State visits the Frank Erwin Center for an exhibition game at 5 p.m.

The Longhorns played an open intrasqaud scrimmage at Gregory Gym on Oct. 21 and a closed scrimmage against Stephen F. Austin on Oct. 31. But Friday is the first time Texas will publicly play an opposing team on the Frank Erwin Center floor.

Smart said Tarleton State is a good matchup to see where Texas stands. Tarleton State went 31-4 and reached the Final Four of the NCAA D-II Men’s Basketball Tournament last season.

“Our opponent is really good,” Smart said. “I mean, they’re No. 1 in preseason for Division II. One thing that we’ve been talking a lot about in the past week or so is just the decision on the part of our players in how we want to approach our opponents.”

The open intrasquad scrimmage gave Texas a chance to play in front of a crowd in a game-like setting. The closed scrimmage against Stephen F. Austin allowed the Longhorns to play a different team and practice different in-game situations.

Friday’s game will combine those elements.

“It’s been a simple transition for us because [Smart] coaches us on things we can control,” senior guard Demarcus Holland said after the Oct. 21 scrimmage. “Like, you know, our attitude, being coachable, effort.”

Part of the transition involved a long off-season, which junior guard Isaiah Taylor said was the hardest he has been through.

“I think we had our first weightlifting session, our first conditioning session and it was me, Jordan [Barnett] and Danny [Newsome],” Taylor said at Big 12 media day. “That was probably the hardest workout I had ever been through in my life.”
Smart said he hasn’t decided a starting lineup and rotation but Friday’s lineup is subject to change.

“I think the ‘rotation’ and who’s playing and how many minutes, that’s really going to be up in the air for some time now I would say over the next several weeks,” Smart said.

Texas has a quick turnaround after the game. The Longhorns fly to China on Saturday for their season opener with Washington on Nov. 13 in Shanghai. Friday will be a benchmark.

“If we can be better in November than we were in October, then that’s a victory,” Smart said. “But then we’ve got to be better in December than we were in November.”