Rick Barnes has made a habit of losing players before they graduate. It’s a habit that, with a change to his recruiting philosophy, he’s hoping to break.
But Barnes is counting on guys like Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert and Ioannis Papapetro — all freshmen last season — to not pursue a professional career before their senior years and help the Longhorns make a deep NCAA tournament run soon.
For the first time during Barnes’ 15-year tenure at Texas, he didn’t take the Longhorns to the Big Dance. With Kabongo suspended for 23 games, Texas couldn’t produce a NCAA tournament-worthy resume. Instead, the Longhorns finished this year at 16-18 following a CBI first-round loss to Houston.
“Making the change is painful, but the result of the change is going to be stability,” men’s athletics director DeLoss Dodds told The Daily Texan in February. “The one-and-done, if you have a couple on your squad, that’s fine. But I think to build a squad around that is not good. You’ve got to get kids that want to be at Texas. You’ve got to kids that want a degree, kids that want to get better every year.”
Like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley, Kabongo was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, according to rivals.com, before leaving Texas early. Kentucky, with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the top two picks in last year’s NBA draft, won a national title before losing all five starters and falling to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT this past season.
“You can be really successful like Kentucky was,” Dodds said. “They had five freshmen. That worked for them … But if I were doing that, I wouldn’t feel good about that. I wouldn’t feel good for the university. I wouldn’t feel good for the kids. I wouldn’t feel good for the fans that just barely get to know them before they’re gone.”
Texas signed Demarcus Croaker, Kendal Yancy and Isaiah Taylor, decent guards but not blue-chip prospects, to play next year while missing on in-state five-star prospects Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison. But if Dodds had his way, Barnes would model his program after another perennial contender.
“I like the way [Michigan State head coach Tom] Izzo does it,” Dodds said. “He builds the team and they’re there and he gets them tough. You do not want to play Michigan State.”
Another change Dodds would like to see is college basketball adopting college baseball’s rule of allowing a player to turn pro right out of high school but, if he decides to go to college, mandating that he stay there for three years.
“I like the baseball rule,” Dodds said. “The players association in the NBA caused the rule to be the way it is now. It’s not the players that want the rule. It’s the agents that want the rule. It’s the agents that tell the players how to do their votes. And the agents want one-and-done. The owners probably prefer the baseball rule but it’s a negotiation between agents and the owners.”
Until then, Barnes, with the support of Dodds, will continue recruiting more guys that aren’t done until they’ve been at Texas four years and do his best to limit the early departures, all in an effort to limit the kinds of seasons like the Longhorns had this year.