Myck Kabongo declares for the NBA. Is this the start of bigger changes at Texas?
On Friday morning, word came down that Texas point guard Myck Kabongo was declaring for the NBA draft. Kabongo played only the final eight regular-season games for the Longhorns (11 total) this year after the NCAA suspended him the first 23 games for receiving improper benefits and lying about them to university officials during the course of an investigation.
The news prompted SI colleague Seth Davis to tweet the following: “Per release from Texas Myck Kabongo has declared for the NBA draft. Longhorns are going to be reeeeealllly bad next year.”
As things currently stand, Seth likely is correct. The Longhorns, mostly sans Kabongo, won just 16 games this season — and things may not get any better next year.
While Kabongo’s decision to leave the program with two seasons of eligibility remaining sparks questions about his NBA potential — his draft status is all over the map and a lot of people aren’t sold on him as a pro prospect — Davis’ tweet is fuel for a larger-scale discussion of the Texas program. Namely, what’s the future look like for head coach Rick Barnes?
College hoops junkies like to joke about Barnes, especially when it comes to nuances with X’s and O’s, but there’s no arguing that he’s had a very successful tenure in Austin. Barnes just completed his 15th season in charge of the Longhorns, and his accomplishments speak for themselves: He’s made a Final Four and two other Elite Eights, won 30 or more games in two different seasons and won 25 or more games seven different times. This past season was the first time since Barnes’ debut campaign in Austin that he didn’t win at least 20 games. Given Texas basketball’s relative standing in relation to the football program, in terms of both administration and fan interest, this is a more than acceptable performance.
That said, the program is definitely trending the wrong way, as the departures of numerous assistants and some questionable early entry decisions have started to grease the skids toward mediocrity. The Longhorns have won a total of two NCAA tournament games in the past five years, and they’re looking squarely at back-to-back missed NCAA tournament berths in 2013-14.
More problematically, there’s no reason that Texas, with its incredible bounty of in-state prospects, should be reliant on a Canadian pipeline to import talent. ESPN’s top 100 prospect list for 2013 includes nine players from the state of Texas, and only one of them — point guard Kendal Yancy-Harris, No. 87 overall — is committed to the Longhorns. Both SMU and TCU picked up higher-ranked recruits. And, of course, Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, all three of whom are considered consensus top-10 players in this year’s class, are headed to Kentucky.
This shortcoming may ultimately cost Barnes his job, perhaps sooner rather than later. His program’s connnection with dicey Canadian talent supplier Ro Russell helped him land players like Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson (as well as Kabongo), but those guys all bailed on the Longhorns very quickly to go pro, leaving significant holes on the roster that Barnes hasn’t adequately been able to fill.
It begs the question: Facing another season of diminishing success and fan interest, will football-focused AD DeLoss Dodds finally reach a breaking point with the basketball program? Because if so, there’s a very, very obvious target to go after: Marquette’s Buzz Williams.
Williams is a Texas native who got his Master’s degree at Texas A&M-Kingville and has worked as an assistant coach at three different programs in the state. He led the Golden Eagles to three straight Sweet 16s and just made the Elite Eight this season. Moreover, he’s an excellent coach with an energy and style that can re-energize the Longhorn program; for the right price, he’s almost certainly gettable for Dodds.
It doesn’t appear that this season’s coaching carousel will include another major opening, so maybe Dodds can gamble that Williams will still be at Marquette a year from now, when he could be facing a real dilemma regarding his future head coach. An aggressive basketball-oriented athletic director might decide to pull the trigger right now, before things slide even further, but that doesn’t feel like Dodds’ style. Barnes has probably earned one more season to see if he can right the ship, but that’s not the way big-boy college athletics often work.
If Dodds decides he cares at all about his basketball program, he probably should make that call now. If not — and if things progress the way they seem to be heading — it’s a call that looks very likely to come by this time next spring.