James Banks, Jarrett Allen get head start on relationship with Shaka Smart at Team USA training camp

Aaron Torres

HOUSTON – James Banks and Jarrett Allen received a gift.

NBA superstar Kevin Durant, who left his footprint at Texas during his freshman year in 2006-2007, gave Banks and Allen each a pair of his KD 9 basketball shoes. Here’s Durant handing two UT freshmen big men size 18 and 19 shoes, a tool so Banks and Allen can leave their own footprints at Texas.

The gift from Durant is nice, but the first step took place in Colorado last month and in Houston last week, where Banks and Allen participated in the Team USA U18 training camp. The two were among the 12 players chosen for a spot on the U18 team, which will compete in the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, held July 19-23 in Valdivia, Chile.

UT head coach Shaka Smart is the head coach of the U18 team, making this one of the few times a college coach is coaching two of his players in real-game situations before the start of the college basketball season. Smart can start to build the highly important relationship between player and coach.

“It’s a great thing in that I’m just getting a chance to coach these guys at practice and at games,” Smart said. “That’s something that we would typically have other than our workouts on campus, and they’re new to Texas so that means that we’re new to each other.”

During the summer, college coaches are limited to how much they can practice and coach their team on a weekly basis. With Allen and Banks on Team USA, they and Smart have a head start.

“You get to learn a lot about him, just what he likes,” Banks said. “The way he wants to play fast, the way he wants to play defense. So you start to get a feel for him. Me getting a feel for what he wants me to do on the offensive and defensive end of the floor.”

Smart is getting an early look at Banks’ and Allens’ strengths and weaknesses. The big-men will be called upon to replace graduated centers Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh in the Texas front court. Working with Smart now allows them to get comfortable with his style. 

“So hopefully this will accelerate [the process] a little bit,” Smart said.  

Team USA lets Banks and Allen, self-nicknamed “fro-bros” because each sports an afro, bond as teammates. They are learning what each is like on the court as well as off.

“Over here it’s more of a basketball bond,” Allen said, “but on campus you always see us together.”

Skills are furnished, but bonds are built between the two and Smart.

After all, that’s the first step.