Texas will be without the services of two of its more explosive players when it faces Fresno State Friday. Point guard Myck Kabongo has been held out of the season opener because of an ongoing NCAA investigation regarding a summer training session with a former teammate, and Jaylen Bond will sit out due to injury. It might not seem like the ideal situation to be in at the start of the season, but Texas is more than equipped to handle the Bulldogs, even if that means being a bit shorthanded.
In years past, this scenario would have drastically altered the Longhorns’ plan of action, but this time around the team is prepared for any sudden change that may present itself. The Longhorns’ roster is chock-full of wirey playmakers that are ready to return the program to one of the best in the nation. Rick Barnes’ class of six freshmen will all likely see plenty of playing time as the year progresses and have a chance to be one of the most productive freshman classes in the nation. Texas also returns five sophomores from last year’s equally impressive freshman class.
Freshman Javan Felix has already made his presence felt at the point and is ready to take Kabongo’s place in running the Texas offense. He also knows he may be called upon at any time should Kabongo go down or is held out of any more games.
“Javan is a very crafty player with a great feel for the game,” Barnes said. “He will tell you that as a coaching staff we’ve been a bit hard on him, but I want him out of his comfort zone.”
Felix isn’t the only new face that is primed to break out in his first collegiate game against the Bulldogs.
High school teammates at Garland Naaman Forest, Demarcus Holland and Prince Ibeh will also suit up for the first time and are sure to make their presence felt sooner rather than later. The pair have played on the same team since their sophomore year at Naaman Forest, and after Ibeh was certain he would become a Longhorn, it was only a matter of time before Holland followed and decided to sign with Texas as well.
“We had always talked about going to the same school,” Holland said. “It was always the goal to play together, and when I finally signed I thought it must have been destiny.”
It may take some time to get to know all of the new Longhorns, but they have already grown close as a team after spending time together in the offseason preparing for what is shaping up to be an exciting season. Barnes isn’t letting any of the talk about Kabongo, or anthing else for that matter, get in the way of this team’s goals.
“We’ve gone real hard without him at the point,” Barnes said. “From the beginning of the summer, we said that we were going to have a system that was flexible and interchangeable enough so that we can play a lot of different ways with this group.”
The Bulldogs aren’t your average cupcake and may pose a mild threat to the Longhorns, but any chance at an upset will be greatly altered by the fact that this game is being played in Austin. The series between the two teams is knotted at one win apiece after a pair of home-and-home matchups in the 1990s, with each home team winning. Fresno State went an uninspiring 13-20 last year under first-year head coach Rodney Terry, who also happens to be a longtime Barnes assistant. Terry was a part of the Texas coaching staff for nine years before heading west to coach the Bulldogs, and after playing in the Big West Conference last season, the Bulldogs will now compete in the Mountain West.
The top two scorers from a year ago return for Fresno State, and Terry will no doubt be in search of a win against his former superior, but Texas should have no issue in sending the Bulldogs back to Fresno with a loss. Junior Kevin Olekaibe averaged 17.8 points per game in 2011 and is the biggest threat to score in bunches, while senior guard Jonathan Wills averaged 10.3 points per contest last year. Besides Olekaibe and Wills, the Bulldogs don’t return any double-digit scorers and could be overwhelmed with the Longhorns’ size inside.
Texas may sputter in the opening stages against the Bulldogs, and perhaps the season’s first few games, but with a group of young players eager to prove their worth, this team should have no problem finding its way before the schedule picks up. If Felix is forced to lead the Longhorns for an extended period of time, he’s ready, and the rest of the team is prepared to get off to a strong start.
“Coach Barnes has been preaching to all of us to be ready to go at all times,” Felix said.
Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Kabongo out as NCAA probes, Bond sidelined with hurt ankle