Guided by team-first approach, Longhorns look to impress in season opener

Robert Larkin

The Longhorns will enter Tuesday night’s season opener in a different position than its previous two campaigns. There are no heralded big men or one-and-done prospects on the roster. No Mo Bambas, no Jarrett Allens.

And while Texas’ freshman class ranked eighth in the country, it doesn’t possess the game-changing prospect that
demands headlines.

It’s a different dynamic for a team that’s benefited from the luxury of playing with two future NBA lottery picks for the last two seasons. Without a player like Bamba or Allen, who can save possessions on both ends of the floor, the Longhorns are shifting into a team grounded in teamwork and cohesion even more so than last season.    

“The biggest thing this year is just how connected we are,” guard Matt Coleman said. “We don’t have a Mo, so … we have to be good in order to win.”   

That connectedness and emphasis on a team identity will be imperative on offense — an area where the Longhorns have struggled immensely. Specifically, they want to find quality shots within the first seven seconds of the shot clock.

Since Texas no longer has a player with the talent to run an entire offense through, players understand it’s going to require an increased amount of energy, ball movement and selflessness to make the necessary offensive jump as a team.

“Last year’s team there was a lot of talent, but one thing we can fix is sharing the ball and moving the ball more,” guard Elijah Mitrou-Long said. “There’s not a player that’s projected to go high in the draft, so I feel like knowing we have to be unselfish to win is going to surprise people.”

Talk of increased team unity among those on the Texas roster isn’t by accident. It’s been a consistent selling point from head coach Shaka Smart all offseason. Smart will continue to emphasize his team’s growth, but he’s been impressed by what the Longhorns have shown so far in offseason practice.

“Chemistry is something that we’ve felt has been really good in the offseason,” Smart said. “Right now, our guys like each other, like playing with each other, like being around each other. That’s going to be very important.”

On Tuesday night, the Longhorns will get their first chance to see what their team-first approach looks like in game action. If they can implement that approach and its results from practice, there’s an optimism  that Texas can secure a 1–0 start.

“Even though it’s the first team coming in to play us, it’s no excuse to let up,” forward Jericho Sims said. “I think that if we play and compete like we have in practice, then we will definitely have a good chance at winning.”