For the 10th season in a row, the Longhorns have started the season 2-0. After two convincing home wins, Texas now heads to East Rutherford, N.J., to compete in the championship rounds of the TicketCity Legends Classic. Texas will play Oregon State on Saturday evening in the IZOD Center, the former home of the New Jersey Nets. Since Texas was selected as a regional host for the tournament, it will automatically advance no matter the result against the Beavers. North Carolina State and Vanderbilt also played host and will advance as well. This will be the sixth meeting between the Longhorns and Beavers, with Texas holding a 4-1 series lead.
The Longhorns’ quick start can be largely accredited to the play of the six new freshmen, two of which have experience playing on the Eastern seaboard.
Point guards Myck Kabongo and Sterling Gibbs both spent time in high school around the New Jersey area. Kabongo played at St. Benedict’s Prep for a year before transferring to Findlay Prep, another prestigious basketball school located in Las Vegas. Essentially New Jersey is Kabongo’s third home, after his hometown of Ontario, then Las Vegas.
The tournament will be a homecoming of sorts for Gibbs. He was born in Scotch Plains, N.J., and played his high school basketball in nearby West Orange, N.J. In his senior season, Gibbs averaged 21 points, four assists and two steals per game. He’s very familiar with the area and is excited to play near his old stomping grounds.
“I’m expecting family [in New Jersey]. And friends. Hopefully, I’ll get some good playing time in front of them but that doesn’t matter so much as we bring the trophy back with us,” Gibbs said.
“I’ve never played in the IZOD Center, played in Prudential Center but not that one.”
Senior forward Alexis Wangmene also has ties to the area. After playing for two years at Central Catholic in San Antonio, he spent his senior season at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J. Former Longhorn and current assistant also attended Blair Academy. Wangmene holds the honor of being one of the most experienced players on the team, and he knows the importance of early season tournaments such as the Legends Classic.
“These are the kind of games that get you ready for the Big 12,” Wangmene said. “It’s such a pleasure to go back to New Jersey.”
This will be the first road test for the six Texas freshmen. Playing under the lights of the IZOD Center will be an eye-opening experience for the young players.
“I’m anxious, if anything,” Gibbs said. “Going to the airport, getting out of class early, spending the weekend with your teammates. We have a really strong bond.”
Gibbs has averaged almost 12 minutes of playing time through the first two games of the season, but he knows he could be called upon at any time to produce for his team.
“I’m still learning the game,” Gibbs said. “All coaches expect things from freshmen, so I have to work on some things.”
With J’Covan Brown’s recent point-surge, Gibbs may not have to become a star just yet, but the talent is certainly there — it’s just a matter of him harnessing it.
“Sterling is a very, very good shooter,” said assistant coach Rob Lanier. “With all the young guys, the challenge is to stay on the floor so that you can shoot with confidence, so he needs to get better at some other things so he can stay on the floor.”
Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Freshmen prepare for road trip