As Texas basketball loses recruits, transfer Max Abmas brings promise

JT Bowen, General Sports Reporter

Coming off the heels of a tumultuous 2022-23 season, Texas basketball will sport a totally new look in the first full year of the Rodney Terry era.

While Terry did an admirable job in not only steering the ship following the midseason firing of former head coach Chris Beard, pushing it further as the remnants of his predecessor have made for an offseason of regrouping.

Gone are the foundational pieces that Texas’s improbable Elite Eight run was built on: seniors Timmy Allen and Christian Bishop and graduate students Sir’Jabari Rice and Marcus Carr will move on with hopes of making it in the pros. Guard Arterio Morris, the heir apparent and clear favorite to replace Carr in the backcourt, recently transferred to Kansas to play under Bill Self.

Along with the departure of Morris came arguably the hardest pill to swallow, the decommitment of Texas’ two prized five-star recruits Duncanville native Ron Holland, a projected 2024 top-10 pick who will play for the NBA’s G-League Ignite program, and guard AJ Johnson, who will play professionally in Australia.

Transfers aside, the only key holdovers from last year’s squad include veterans Dylan Disu and Brock Cunningham, as well as rising junior Tyrese Hunter and rising sophomore Dillon Mitchell, both of whom tested the 2023 NBA Draft waters but ultimately decided to return.

However, Rodney Terry and his staff have worked to restock the cupboards this offseason, landing four transfers — the most prominent of which being Oral Roberts guard Max Abmas.

Abmas is a household name for many college basketball fans, largely due to his 2021 campaign in which he led Division I men’s basketball in scoring and willed the 15th-seed Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16. From Rockwall, Texas, Abmas has averaged 20.8 points per game across four seasons while shooting 38.8% from deep for his collegiate career, and has real believers in a potential future in the NBA.

To put it simply, Abmas is an injection of prolific scoring and efficient shooting into a team that desperately needs it, a piece that should be the face of this year’s Texas team.

Abmas, as the clear best player on the floor in the majority of contests, could be characterized as heliocentric offensively. He averaged almost 16 shots a game in his last season, 9.4 of which came from beyond the arc, and as the clear-cut number one option for Oral Roberts could draw criticism for hunting for low-percentage shots. Alongside better talent though, Abmas may feel less pressure to put the team on his back every night.

Journalist Kelly Hines covered the Golden Eagles during her time with the Tulsa World newspaper, and said that Abmas would benefit from having some time out of the spotlight in order to focus on his game. 

“There were times in games when there was more of a burden, if the team wasn’t playing well, at times you felt like he was forcing it a little bit,” Hines said. “I think that allowing him to just be Max and not feel as much weight to deliver, I think that is going to be so big for him.”

With Texas ideally not relying solely on Abmas as their engine offensively, a diminished role as a shot creator should also help him defensively, an area that’s not necessarily his strong suit. Standing at 6-feet tall, with a 6-foot-2-inch wingspan, combined with his smaller frame and lack of elite athleticism, Abmas isn’t a plus defender, a potential area of concern for Texas as they will presumably trot him out next to Hunter, another 6-footer.

While Abmas might not be the sticky defender Carr was, Hines calls him a good defender, if one with room to grow. What Abmas might leave to be desired defensively, he’ll certainly make up for on offense — and is working to do more than just get buckets. 

Abmas took a step forward as a facilitator last season, his scoring numbers taking a dip but his assist rate rising to the highest of his career at 4.0 per game. Next to Hunter, who averaged just 2.5 assists last year after putting up nearly five his freshman season at Iowa State, there’s a very real chance Abmas steps into a newfound role as a true point guard.

“(He’s) stepping into this situation where he doesn’t have to score 30 points a game for the team to win,” Hines said. “Maybe he has 10 assists per game instead of scoring 20 plus points. Just being able to fit into whatever the team needs, I think he’s going to be able to do that.”

However, the jump from the Summit League to the Big 12 may prove an obstacle for Abmas early on. He got a taste of it last season, in a 45-83 loss against Big 12 newcomer Houston, in which he went 1/13 from the field and was thoroughly shut down by guard Marcus Sasser, who figures to hear his name called in the 2023 NBA Draft.

But playing with real Power 5 talent in a more sound defense and lob threats in players like Dillon Mitchell, Abmas figures to adjust quickly to Terry’s scheme. He’s proven himself on the biggest stage already, eliminating superior competition in the 2021 tournament like Ohio State and Florida.

Hines said Abmas is an unselfish and polite individual who will do whatever it takes for his team. She mentioned a story shared by former ORU coach Paul Mills about Abmas changing his degree plan due to his class schedule interfering with practice. In spite of him finally moving on to greener pastures, he’s beloved by Oral Roberts faithful as the almost-inarguable best ever Golden Eagle.

“He was just such a special player for ORU, and I don’t know many places that would retire the jersey number of a guy who finished their career somewhere else,” Hines said. “But I think that’s what ORU will eventually do because no one blamed him for leaving, it was more like, thank you for staying as long as you did. He just was kind of a generational-type player.”