Storylines for Year Four of the Shaka Era

Steve Helwick

Year four of the Shaka Smart era begins next November, and mixed expectations surround a team with very little player turnover from the previous year.

Will the Longhorns have any NBA talent? 

Each of the three years during Smart’s tenure, Texas has enjoyed one NBA-caliber player on the roster. Isaiah Taylor, currently with the Atlanta Hawks, served as the team’s point guard and leading scorer in Smart’s inaugural year. Then, one-and-done gems Jarrett Allen (Brooklyn Nets) and Mo Bamba used Texas as a brief passageway to the NBA, providing the Longhorns excellent defensive contributions during their short-lived careers. Bamba was the focal point of the 2017–18 Texas defense, ranking among the nation’s elite shot blockers and proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the paint offensively.

But headed into 2018–2019, there is no certainty that this type of player currently resides in the facilities in Austin. There is a chance, however, that Matt Coleman can develop into one. Coleman was greeted with high expectations coming out of high school as a 4-star recruit targeted by Duke and Kansas. The point guard is entering his sophomore season after experiencing plenty of growth during his first year in Austin. Coleman’s play in 2018 climaxed in Nashville during March Madness, scoring a career-high 25 points while draining 4-of-5 shots beyond the arc. 

The floor general was often relied upon in crunch-time situations as a 20-year-old freshman, with his floater in the paint, served as Texas’ go-to shot in close contests. The 6-foot-2 Norfolk, Virginia native will play at least one more year on campus, and if he can show flashes of NBA potential next season, the Longhorns won’t suffer too much from the loss of Bamba.

Andrew Jones’ status

One question that college basketball fans are constantly raising this offseason: Will Andrew Jones be on a basketball court in the near future?

Jones received devastating news back in mid-January when it was announced he had been diagnosed with leukemia. On Feb. 24, Jones was released from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, issuing a statement that claimed he would continue receiving treatment as an outpatient. Since, Jones has posted videos of his progress on social media, including clips of him practicing crossovers and pull-up jumpers. He has remained positive through this difficult time, tweeting “Getting back to my grind. Can’t take my love of this game away from me. #iwillbeback” on April 11.

Jones’ determination is unmatched, and there are two things Jones, Smart, Texas fans and the entire basketball community would like to see this offseason: Jones beating the disease and lacing up the high tops in the Frank Erwin Center come November.

What are expectations? 

Mo Bamba is gone. Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach II (although he has yet to hire an agent) have declared for the NBA draft. James Banks and Jacob Young elected to transfer. The Longhorns will replace this mass exodus of talent with a handful of 4-star recruits, finishing with the eighth-ranked recruiting class according to 247Sports.

So far, the Smart era has been characterized with heartbreaking first round exits in the NCAA Tournament, falling on a half-court buzzer beater to Northern Iowa in 2016 and blowing a 14-point second half lead to Nevada last March. Sandwiched in between was an 11–22 record, finishing in the cellar of the Big 12.

Whether Coleman, shooting guard Jase Febres and power forwards Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims will lead this program back to March Madness or reiterate the unpleasant result of the 2016–17 season is a burning question at the moment.