Smart talks Andrew Jones’ return, emerging leaders ahead of Texas Tip-Off

Robert Larkin

Before the Longhorns make their public debut for the 2018–19 season at the Texas Tip-Off on Wednesday night, head coach Shaka Smart addressed the media with updates on Andrew Jones’ injury status, what areas Texas needs to improve in and which players have emerged as leaders during offseason practice.

Here’s what Smart had to say at his press conference:

Injury update

Combo guard Andrew Jones has spent the majority of the past few months fighting his way back onto the court. After being diagnosed with Leukemia less than a year ago, Jones defied odds by returning to practice in late September.

But Jones’ journey suffered a setback two weeks ago when he injured his toe during practice on Oct. 4. While Texas originally gave the junior guard an indefinite timeline to return — usually an ominous sign — Smart seemed optimistic about Jones making his way back soon.

“He doesn’t let any obstacle take away from his enthusiasm for working to grow and get better,” Smart said. “We don’t have an exact timetable, but hopefully in the next few weeks, we’ll be able to get him back on the court.”

Smart also added that senior guard Kerwin Roach is “full go” after undergoing surgery on a torn meniscus earlier this offseason.   

No Mo Bamba

With the departure of Mo Bamba to the NBA, the Longhorns enter this season lacking a dominant player anchoring the post.

“You have to be more sound as a team with your help defense, as opposed to counting on one guy in Mo to erase mistakes,” Smart said.

The absence will also carry over to the offensive end of the floor. According to Smart, Texas will have to rely even more on its guards in improving its scoring output after ranking 204th in points per game last season.     

“We want to continue to elevate our guards,” Smart said. “If you look at our conference, the teams that end up at, or near, the top have really, really good guards. And those guards control the game.”

Texas finding leaders in practice

Three weeks remain before the Longhorns host their first game of the season, but Smart mentioned he’s seen a handful of players take on leadership roles during offseason practice. The fourth-year head coach pointed to Roach, Dylan Osetkowski, Matt Coleman and Elijah Mitrou-Long as players who have stood out to him thus far.

While Smart emphasized leadership will be a collective effort, he wants to see Coleman, his starting point guard, undertake a stronger role as the season progresses.

“Matt’s still too nice,” Smart said. “He needs to understand that what his teammates need to hear from him is not necessarily always all sugary and nice. It might need to be the opposite of that in certain moments.”