• Texas, Mack Brown still making up for 2003

    Justin Tucker will enter this season as Texas’ do-it-all kicker. The Longhorns have given a scholarship to a kicker every other year since 2006.
    Justin Tucker will enter this season as Texas’ do-it-all kicker. The Longhorns have given a scholarship to a kicker every other year since 2006.

    Texas offered a scholarship to Coppell kicker Nick Jordan on Monday because Mack Brown still remembers 2003.

    That’s the year he didn’t offer Georgetown’s Mason Crosby.

    Colorado got him and for four years (2003-2006), Crosby was the best kicker in the country. He would finish his four-year career in Boulder as a unanimous All American, as Colorado’s all-time leader in points, was named Conference Player of the Week eight times his senior season, and kicked a 60-yard field goal. Of 203 career kickoffs, 138 were touchbacks.

    Brown didn’t think that a scholarship needed to be spent on a kicker, because kickers don’t run or throw or tackle or block. They just kick, and just about all of them do it with the same proficiency.

    So Texas offered Crosby nothing more than walk-on status. Four years later, Brown regretted the decision so much that he sent a handwritten letter to Crosby, apologizing for not offering him a scholarship, calling him the best college kicker he had ever seen, and told him he’d enjoy looking forward to watching him play on Sundays, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

    It never really bit the Longhorns in the butt as much as it could have — Dusty Mangum did hit that 37-yard field goal against Michigan in 2004 — but, it was an oversight that Brown has spent the past five years trying to correct.

    He offered a scholarship in 2006 to Hunter Lawrence, one to Justin Tucker in 2008, one to William Russ in 2010 and now, to Jordan for the 2012 class.

    Lawrence hit the game-winner against Nebraska in 2009, Tucker was the most valuable player on the team last season, Russ should be the heir-apparent once Tucker graduates after this season and Jordan will come after that.

    Jordan, one of the top kickers in the country, wasn’t sure Texas would be able to offer him a scholarship initially, as scholarship numbers were almost at a max limit and he would be the third kicker on the roster (walk-on Ben Pruitt of The Woodlands will join the Longhorns for the 2011 season).

    “They knew they wanted me, but the problem was that they had to come up with a scholarship,” Jordan said.

    Texas came through with the scholarship — Brown’s determined not to make the same mistake twice.  

    Read more in our blogs about Nick Jordan

  • Barnes deserves credit, not criticism for three first-round picks

    Rick Barnes sent three players to the NBA Draft this season, all of whom were first-round picks.
    Rick Barnes sent three players to the NBA Draft this season, all of whom were first-round picks.

    Normally a program producing three first-round picks would be cause for celebration, but it’s cause for concern for some fans who believe Texas should have had a better postseason.

    Rick Barnes took a lot of heat for not making it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March despite having two projected lottery picks and several other respectable players. The fact that three Longhorns — Tristan Thompson (No. 4), Jordan Hamilton (No. 26) and Cory Joseph (No. 29) — heard their names called during the NBA Draft’s first round was a stark reminder for Barnes’ critics that he should have gotten more out of his team last season.

    With that trio of early selections, Texas had more players selected in the first round than any other team (Kansas and Duke each had two). Since 2006, the Longhorns have seen eight of their players picked in the first round, also more than anyone in the country. During that same time span, Barnes’ boys have gotten past the second round twice and gone 9-6 (.600) in the NCAA Tournament.

    This plethora of first-rounders should not be a reason for throwing Barnes under the bus though. That would ignore the fact that Texas had a stellar regular season. Before they lost three of their last five regular-season games, the Longhorns rose as high as No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches poll, won their first 11 conference contests and beat Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in school history.

    Any disapproving remarks about Barnes would also fail to recall the gauntlet Texas faced in the NCAA Tournament. After hopes of a No. 1 seed were squashed by a February skid that saw them fall to three unranked teams in 10 days, the Longhorns found themselves in a No. 4 slot many felt was an error on the Selection Committee’s part. Some experts also felt Texas’ first-round opponent, 13th-seeded Oakland, was also disrespected by its spot in the bracket and even picked the Grizzlies to pull the upset. When the Longhorns squeaked by with an 85-81 win, they were faced with the daunting task of facing Arizona’s Derrick Williams, the eventual No. 2 pick. Had Texas beaten the Wildcats, they would have gone up against the defending champion Duke Blue Devils, who featured the eventual No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, and two more heralded future selections — seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.

    Any claim Barnes is a mastermind of squandering superior talent would also forget the fact that Barnes has talented teams for a reason — he’s a top-notch recruiter and an awesome developer of talent. Thompson, who will join former Longhorn Daniel “Boobie” Gibson on the Cleveland Cavaliers, was the highest-ranked member of the high school class of 2010 when he committed after his sophomore season. But by the time he graduated, he had slipped to No. 10 (No. 17 on Rivals.com). During his short time at Texas, Thompson more than made up for it. He drastically improved on both ends of the floor, becoming a feared offensive threat and an incredible rebounder and shot-blocker.

    Joseph, who played alongside Thompson at Findlay Prep, also made significant strides during his freshman season. He scored 10.4 points per game — fourth on the team — but displayed his ability to come through in the clutch when he hit a game-winning jumper to beat North Carolina in December. Most draft experts thought the San Antonio Spurs reached to make Joseph their first-round selection. But when you consider that the Spurs are a franchise with a heavy emphasis on defense, it’s not much of a surprise they went with a guy that would be a defensive asset.

    Hamilton likely best illustrates Barnes ability to shape elite college basketball players. In his freshman year, the 6-foot-7 swingman showed flashes of brilliance but also displayed horrendous shot selection and proved to be a defensive liability. Hamilton’s sophomore season went much better. He embraced his role as the go-to guy on offense without taking 25 to 30 shots and routinely guarded the other team’s best player. Hamilton also improved as a rebounder and a defender and was rewarded by landing in Denver after Dallas traded him.

    Barnes gets both the blame for falling short in the NCAA tournament with his gifted team without getting any of the credit for having a gifted team in the first place. How else would Thompson have gone from top-20 prospect to top-five draft pick? How else would Hamilton have gone from someone who never met a shot he didn’t like to a pro prospect that a bunch of scouts liked? The answer is short and simple — Rick Barnes.

  • Breaking Down the Draft

    Kyrie Irving, a former Duke basketball player, gestures to the crowd after being selected with the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
    Kyrie Irving, a former Duke basketball player, gestures to the crowd after being selected with the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    A tried-and-true practice, The 2011 NBA Draft Lottery (retro) Diary, with thoughts on the first 14 selections:

    ?First Round
    1. Cleveland (from L.A. Clippers), Kyrie Irving, g, Duke.

    *This is the pick the Cavaliers got in the Baron Davis-Mo Williams trade, and it’s just the Clippers’ luck that it becomes the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

    After a few days of speculation, no surprise here that the Cavaliers take Irving, who was great in his freshman season at Duke, albeit if he only played 11 games because of injury. He’s not as dynamic as recent No. 1 point guards like John Wall and Derrick Rose, but his playmaking abilities have led some to compare him to Chris Paul.

    I’m not sure if Irving will ever be that good, but I don’t think there’s any way he doesn’t become one of the top-10 point guards in the league. This is a step in the right direction for Cleveland, a franchise that desperately needs some hope after last season’s LeBron James hangover.

    Just a side note, this puts the Cavs in position to trade one of the other PGs on the roster — whether it be Baron Davis, Ramon Sessions or former Longhorn Boobie Gibson.

    2. Minnesota, Derrick Williams, f, Arizona.

    It’s really hard not to fall in love with Williams when you watch him play, because he’s so dynamic. If there’s one player in this draft who could become a true superstar, it might be him. Only thing to complain about here is that he’s sort of in a basketball dark hole in Minnesota now — by all accounts, the worst franchise in basketball. And he lands on a roster that already has a glut of talented forwards: Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. There’s also Wesley Johnson, the fourth pick last year. One of those guys will need to be traded to make room for Williams, who projects as a four but could also play the three.

    3. Utah (from New Jersey), Enes Kanter, c, Kentucky/Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey).

    Great pickup for the Jazz. Kanter was set to star at Kentucky before the NCAA ruled him ineligible for all of last season, but he showed some glimpses of his talent at the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit, when he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

    Kanter’s skill set — polished low-post game, soft hands, mobile, good jumper — should complement Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson down low. This gives Utah one of the more formidable frontcourts in the league.

    4. Cleveland, Tristan Thompson, f, Texas.

    Wow. There were some rumblings of this happening in recent mock drafts, but it’s still pretty unbelievable to think about how much Thompson has improved his stock since he officially declared for the draft, when he was a fringe lotto prospect. He might never be a star, but his hustle on both ends of the floor will make him a reliable big man. At Texas, he became known for his defense and his rebounding, but never really got much of a chance to show what he could do offensively, other than put-back dunks and oops. In a NBA offense, and with a really good point guard in Irving, Thompson will have a chance to improve that end of his game in Cleveland.

    5. Toronto, Jonas Valanciunas, c, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania).

    Valanciunas could have gone to Cleveland at No. 4, but there were some worries that his expensive buyout could keep him overseas a bit longer. In any case, he’ll be a really good compliment to Andrea Bargnani whenever he comes to Toronto. Haven’t seen much of the guy (completely forgot to check him out on my most recent trip to Lithuania) but if he’s as solid in the post as the experts say he is, Toronto should have a versatile frontcourt attack.

    6. Washington, Jan Vesely, f, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia).

    This is going to be fun to watch. Vesely plays differently than any European player you have ever seen, with incredible athleticism and the ability to dunk just about anything. YouTube this guy. Then imagine John Wall lobbing oops to him. Vesely won’t be the second or third best guy on a playoff-contending team, but he could make up an exciting piece of the puzzle in D.C.

    7. Sacramento (traded to Charlotte), Bismack Biyombo, f, Fuenlabrada (Spain).

    Two really fun picks back-to-back. Biyombo really won’t be good for anything more than shot-blocking and interior defense, but he’s good enough at both of them to make up for offensive incompetence. He and DeMarcus Cousins would have been scary in Sacramento, but Biyombo was traded shortly afterwards to Charlotte.

    8. Detroit, Brandon Knight, g, Kentucky.

    Knight is an intriguing combo guard who fits well with Detroit, assuming Rodney Stuckey is on his way out. Ideally, he’s a point guard. This is a steal, Knight could have gone in the top five.

    9. Charlotte, Kemba Walker, g, Connecticut.

    I’m a fan of Kemba, but just not on this team. Charlotte got big contributions last year from former Longhorn D.J. Augustin, who scored 14 points and dished out six assists a game. Walker, like Augustin, is a smaller point guard, and a scorer who needs the ball in his hands to be most successful. Not sure what this means for Augustin’s tenure in Charlotte, because the fans (all 200 of them) might favor Walker, the national champion who has developed a cult-like following. Interesting to note that both he and Augustin were picked No. 9 in the draft.

    10. Milwaukee (traded to Sacramento), Jimmer Fredette, g, BYU.

    In the name of Joseph Smith, we couldn’t have gotten Jimmer in a bigger media market? I need to see this guy either in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Miami, Denver or Chicago. The only consolation in this is that the Kings should become one of the more polarizing teams to watch, what with Cousins’ temper tantrums and Tyreke Evans’ style of play — equal parts exciting and selfish. Jimmer will most likely play off the ball in Sacramento, so, assuming Evans ever passes to anybody, he’ll do his damage around the three-point line.

    11. Golden State, Klay Thompson, g, Washington State.

    Thompson led the Pac-10 in scoring this past season, with 21.6 points a game, so it only makes no sense that he’s going to the Warriors, who already have Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry.

    12. Utah, Alec Burks, g, Colorado.

    Another good get for the Jazz. Burks was one of the premier scorers in the Big 12 this season, and he’ll bring some punch to a backcourt that features — yikes — Devin Harris, Gordon Hayward, C.J. Miles and Raja Bell. Burks should start from day one.

    13. Phoenix, Markieff Morris, f, Kansas.

    Big, mean, reasonably talented, tough, experienced, with a good motor.

    14. Houston, Marcus Morris, f, Kansas.

    Twins?! All the above, plus a jump shot.

    Some Local Notes:

    What a wild night for Jordan Hamilton, who was drafted by Dallas then traded to Portland then traded to Denver. The Nuggets got a steal here. He’s no Carmelo (though, with his shot selection, he might think he is) but he’ll pour in anywhere from 10 to 25 points any given night. If you’re wondering why Hamilton, who was projected to be a lottery pick, slipped all the way to No. 26, it’s because Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes apparently told inquiring NBA front offices that Hamilton was “uncoachable.”

    Cory Joseph was not only drafted by the nearby Spurs, but he also served this whole city a whopping plate of crow. Blasted by many when he came out, including myself, Joseph must have put together some really strong workouts for a diligent-scouting team like the Spurs to want him. With George Hill being traded to Indiana tonight, Joseph should be Tony Parker’s backup this season. Good for Cory.

    The Spurs also get SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard, who was picked No. 15 and then traded from Indiana in the Hill trade. Nicknamed "The Human Avatar” by his college teammates because of his huge hands, Leonard will give San Antonio the perimeter defense presence it hasn’t had since Bruce Bowen.

    Who is your steal of the draft? Who might be the biggest bust? 

  • Local man finally sinks birdie putt, beats friend at round of par 3 golf

    Editor's Note: The following game recap is the first in an ongoing series of recreational sports the Daily Texan sports staff and friends will enjoy over the summer.

    It took seven rounds of pitch and putt golf, but recent Texas graduate and software salesman, Trevor Nichols, finally sunk his first birdie.

    “It felt like I was being initiated into a privileged club,” Nichols said after the nine-hole round.

    The ever elusive birdie had pecked at him since he picked up golf two months ago, but at the seventh hole, the second longest hole at Butler Pitch & Putt Golf Course on 201 Lee Barton Rd, Nichols finally pecked back. He shot a 36 on the day.

    The birdie didn’t come easy though. After three straight double bogeys to begin the day, Nichols altered his shot.

    “The minute I teed off at the fourth hole it felt clean, which was nice because I had begun the day horribly,” he said. “When you shank a ball across two holes like I did on the first and second holes, you have to retool. Especially when you’re swing is laughable as is.”

    Nichols credits his swing adjustment to his opponent, Sameer Bhuchar. Bhuchar, who was also playing golf for only the seventh time in his career, and who had joined the “birdie club” way before Nichols, lost the match.

    “I feel like my game took off when he [Bhuchar] pointed out I wasn't getting low enough,” Nichols said.

    And took off it did. Not only did the software salesman score his first birdie yesterday, he also hit his first green. And then did it again and again and again.

    “To hit those four greens in regulation was huge for my confidence,” he said. “When I didn't get on the green on the eighth hole after never getting on the green in all of my trips to the course, seeing my little streak end was sad.”

    Though this was also his first time to shoot under a 40 on this par-3 golf course, Nichols firmly believe yesterday’s round was the turning point in his game.

    “I'd say this is the turning of a leaf,” Nichols said before adding, “in that the more accurate I hit, the less leaves I seemed to cleave off of trees.”

    Bhuchar on the other hand, was all over the place. His tee shots were either erratic or sluggish, and he putted impatiently.

    “I’m really re-evaluating myself as a golfer after today,” Bhuchar said. “It hurts to post a 45 on the scorecard and watch your opponent average a bogey a hole. I’d kill to have averaged a bogey a hole.”

    Bhuchar had chance to achieve his goal of shooting a sub-40 round if it weren’t for that pesky second hole which played venus fly trap to his tee shot. Bhuchar had to take a drop, and in an effort to speed through the hole in order to allow the golfers waiting behind him to play, rushed his drop shot and it landed 16 feet past the hole. From there Bhuchar lost his cool and missed putt after putt before finally posting an eight on the hole. He was really kicking himself.

    Bhuchar said despite his detractors, he plans to work through his poor performance and reemerge as a formidable just-above-average pitch and putt player.

    “I don’t expect very much for myself, but a 45 is embarrassing,” he said. “All I’m asking for is a 37 or so and I’ll be content. A round at Butler's Pitch & Putt is only eight dollars, so I can easily just buy another round and practice some more until I meet my goals.”

    Though it is all trash talk on the links for these fierce rivals, both Nichols and Bhuchar can agree that of the many things to do in Austin over the summer, a round at the pitch and putt course is a must.

    “The beauty of the rolling hills, painted on the earth, amidst the urban jungle is intoxicating,” Nichols said. “Walking the 805 yards of golf course makes me feel as if the city carved out this little oasis just for me.”

    “I definitely recommend anyone, of any skill, playing a round out there, Bhuchar said. “It’s all the glamour of Augusta National, with a B.Y.O.B. rule.” 

  • Road to Omaha: Father’s Day

    I was unable to spend Father’s Day with my Dad, due to the fact that I am currently in Omaha for the College World Series.

    Just like my dad predicted. Let me explain.

    The year is 2003, and I am the starting pitcher on my little league team. I had just thrown a complete-game shutout, scattering three or four hits, in a sixth-grade baseball game. As was the custom, my dad wanted to take me out for a celebratory ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s down the street. We were about done and ready to go home, when he turned to me and, in a serious tone, said something I will never forget.

    “Son,” he said, “I want you to start spending most of your time getting better at baseball. You’re talented. If you keep working hard, well, you may be on your way to the College World Series with Augie Garrido one day.”

    I nearly choked on my waffle cone. My dad was always my biggest fan, a man who seemingly lived and died by the results of my baseball games, sitting right behind home plate, on hand with a yellow Gatorade whenever I needed it. But he was never one to push sports or demand particular greatness, yet there he was suggesting to me that I would one day be good enough to play at the University of Texas.

    A year later, I played my last baseball game. There was no horrific injury — yeah, you know, I had to get Tommy John surgery in sixth grade. I just wasn’t very good at it anymore, and I didn’t love playing it like I used to.

    There would soon be something I enjoyed doing even more: writing. As I have worked my way up the ranks — from some very ridiculous blog posts to my high school news magazine and now The Daily Texan, my dad has been the one person who reads every single article I write, akin to the days when he would miss an important meeting before he missed one of my games.

    My dad was just as supportive of my final athletic endeavor — rec basketball — showing up to every single game. He cheered wildly at each of them, except the final game of my senior “season,” when we were losing to annoying private schoolers by 40 and became belligerent — laying into them with hard fouls and language so offensive it would have made Augie Garrido blush (the refs swallowed the whistle because it was the final game of our high school “careers”).

    Disgusted, my Dad walked out of the gym after I picked up what should have been my ninth foul, a hip-check that sent a pretty boy flying into the scorer’s table. Needless to say, there was no Gatorade after the game.

    I had a nice phone call with my dad on Father’s Day. We talked about my trip — he’s thrilled for me — and how he thinks his Longhorns will do Monday. He didn’t ask or expect a Father’s Day gift — which is good, because I’m still deciding what to get him.

    Maybe we can just get ice cream.