As the entire sports world watches Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder inch closer to a possible NBA title, one can’t help but think what could have been if Durant had extended his brief stint with the Texas Longhorns.
Like many players before him, Durant decided to play just one season of collegiate basketball before making a career move to the NBA, where he has quickly become a very wealthy man. Even with all the endorsement deals and elevated media coverage that comes with being one of the world’s best professional basketball players, Durant has remained humble.
Maybe its the backpack he wears on occasion to press conferences, or the fact that none of his tattoos are visible on a basketball court, but there’s something different about Durant. He’s never been one to guarantee a win or throw a teammate under the bus just to get attention. In a league where there are plenty of characters and outspoken players that ruffle feathers wherever they land, Durant has carved a niche for himself among the quiet, yet powerful players of the league. Durant embodies what the NBA is all about: he is an electrifying player that sells out arenas and stays out of trouble.
Fans that have followed Texas basketball in recent years may be a bit reluctant to credit Rick Barnes with any bit of success, but Barnes has played a part in Durant’s achievements in the NBA. After all, Barnes and assistant coach Russell Springmann did somehow persuade from attending Connecticut, Kentucky and North Carolina during the recruiting process. Whereas schools like UNC and Kentucky haul in players near Durant’s caliber nearly every recruiting cycle, his signed letter of intent was a huge gain for Texas at the time. Barnes has yet to cultivate his talent efficiently while Durant was under his watch, but he does have a knack for sending players to the league.
Durant’s relationship with the University of Texas could have ended after his freshman year, but he has continued to make trips back to Austin to hold basketball camps for kids, as well as offering advice to current and prospective Texas athletes.
During his lone season as a Longhorn in 2006, Durant scored his fair share of points and helped Texas to the NCAA Tournament, but his impact will continue to be felt long after his sure-to-be NBA Hall of Fame career is over.
Besides being named the Associated Press Player of the Year and winning the Naismith Award as a freshman, Durant laid a foundation at Texas that has helped the Longhorns continually pull in some of the nation’s best recruiting classes every year. Had Durant stuck around for his senior season, which would have been in 2009, he would have shared the court with an exciting group. Damion James, Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton were all mainstays on the Texas roster in 2009, and Durant could have been the key piece to lead the Longhorns deep into the NCAA Tournament. This is all speculation of course, but it’s hard to imagine that lineup losing too many games, even with Dogus Balbay running the offense.
Now in the final stages of his fifth season in the NBA, Durant has become one of the most recognizable faces in the NBA, and has cemented his status among the league’s elite. He is the reigning three-time league scoring champion with an average of 28.6 points per game over the past three regular seasons. He may be nothing more than a fleeting memory to many fans of Texas basketball, but Durant‘s time at Texas will always be one of the most important years in the history of the program. Players with the skill and attitude of Durant don’t come along very often, and the Longhorns can’t be any more proud to call him one of their own.