The Texas men’s basketball team touched down in Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday and practiced Sunday morning in preparation for the 2020 Maui Invitational.
While North Carolina is no Maui, the tournament will still bring a competitive three-game stretch of basketball for the Longhorns, who open the tournament Monday against Davidson at 11 a.m. The winner will play the victor of the Indiana-Providence game on Tuesday. All games on the bracket, win or lose, will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2.
“What we talked about in the summer was winning as many championships as we can,” junior guard Courtney Ramey said. “This is our first opportunity to win a championship, and this would be a great resume builder, just to go out there and play well.”
Here’s four things to know about Texas before the team kicks off three games in three days:
The big man rotation just got smaller
In the team’s practice after the win against UT-Rio Grande Valley, head coach Shaka Smart said sophomore center Will Baker let him know he intended to transfer.
“He's a great kid and he's a very talented player who has a lot of really, really good things inside him as a player and as a person,” Smart said. “But it was his decision and as a coach, you want what's best for our guy, and you want him to be able to follow what he feels is right.”
Last Wednesday, Texas started senior Jericho Sims and sophomore Kai Jones as the team’s two big men. Senior Royce Hamm Jr. was the first and only big off the bench. With the departure of Baker, that figures to be the Longhorns’ rotation going forward.
Andrew Jones is back
Senior guard Andrew Jones is on track to make his debut Monday against Davidson. Jones sat out of Wednesday’s game due to a cough, and Big 12 COVID-19 protocols mandate that players showing certain symptoms must be held out.
The guard tested negative the day before the game and announced Saturday that he tested negative once again and is ready to play this week.
Unofficial Redshirt for Hepa
Before the NCAA announced this year would not count toward athletes’ eligibility, junior forward Kamaka Hepa planned to redshirt, Smart said.
Because playing won’t affect his eligibility, Hepa is available this season. The forward won’t see much of the court this season, but his impact is still being felt on the bench.
“You should see him at practice,” Ramey said. “Sometimes I tell him to shut up, like, ‘Come on, bro, please just settle down.’ But he’s a great guy, and he bought into his role … He’s there for us every day in practice, and we can always count on his voice and his leadership.”
Good fortune needed for tournament safety
Cancelations have already wreaked havoc on the college basketball landscape, but Texas is yet to be affected heading into this week’s tournament.
“The decisions on what to do are ultimately decided by the medical folks,” Smart said. “They really feel like the folks that run the Maui tournament have gone above and beyond with just their level of detail with protocols and safety. With that being said, we all know things can happen.”
Smart said the hotel the team is staying in technically is not a full-fledged bubble but was “pretty locked down” and that the team would not be doing much outside of the hotel and court.
“I always defer to the medical folks, and we’ve had Zoom calls every week and I ask them every week, ‘How do you feel about this,’” Smart said. “They feel good about it, and some of it is just going to require some good fortune.”