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Great Players, No Legacy

Three first round draft picks and nothing to show for it: Texas basketball's NBA dilemma

Austin Photo: Author_kevin_benz

As surprising as the Longhorn basketball team's early exit from March Madness 2011 was, it is mind-blowing for a Texas sports fan to tune into a professional draft and see three — yes three — UT players go in the first round.

Tristan Thompson went fourth to the Cavaliers, Jordan Hamilton went 26th to the Mavs and Cory Joseph 29th to the Spurs in the NBA Draft Thursday night. There it was for all the world to see: The University of Texas won the battle for most first-round draft picks.

So how is it that a team with three players chosen by the professional experts to be immediate game-changers in the NBA can only manage one win in the NCAA tournament. Oh sure, there was that horrible in-bounds pass call against Arizona, but let's not blame a ref for that loss/

The game should never have been that close. Texas had it well in hand until the wheels came off in the last minute.

Perhaps the most significant issue keeping Texas basketball fans from the land of plenty is this ... the Longhorns can't keep their great players on the team for more than a year or two. They come into the 40 acres with all the hype a national prep superstar should get. They play a couple years, and then they leave for the beckoning millions of dollars being waved under their noses from the very start.

 It's nearly impossible to coach a group of guys who barely have time to learn each other's names into a team in which every player knows what the other is thinking. 

T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin are now joined by Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph. All left within two years of walking into the Erwin Center as a Longhorn.

Give Rick Barnes credit, he has a knack for getting great players, but it's nearly impossible to coach a group of guys who barely have time to learn each other's names into a team in which every player knows what the other is thinking. Consequently we get one and done in the NCAA tournament.

Don't get me wrong, the Rick Barnes era has been the best ever. At least we can be confident Texas will get there every year (the Longhorns have made the tourney every year since 1999), and every once in a while the team makes our hearts sing. But Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Kansas are all arguably doing as well or better despite not getting all the McDonald's All-American players Texas keeps recruiting.

So the question becomes is Rick Barnes' recruiting philosophy working or should Texas perhaps be going for players who are really good but not first round NBA prospects straight out of high school ?

It seems crazy to suggest Texas NOT recruit the best players in the land, but what has eight first-round NBA draft picks gotten the program? Since the 2004 Final Four appearance, the Longhorns have advanced to the Sweet 16 only three times, the Elite Eight only twice.

Here's one silver lining, at least Texas sports fans will get to root for these guys. Jordan Hamilton hit a monster trey in getting traded from the deep world champ Mavericks to the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets on draft night, and Cory Joseph will be playing right down the road in San Antonio. Thompson becomes the third highest pick in Texas basketball history behind Durant and Aldridge who were taken second overall in their respective draft years.

No doubt, it's fun to watch the Texas kids rock the NBA, Durant in particular, and maybe Thompson soon. It would also be kinda fun to watch them rock the NCAA tournament once in awhile.

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