|Augustin takes over role as Texas leader in post-Durant era|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 02 November 2007 11:37|
Kevin Durant, the soft-spoken freshman with the spindly arms and devastating shot, has gone to the NBA, taking his 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds per game and the identity of the Texas program with him.
So now what? Good question.
The role of Longhorns leader falls squarely on the short shoulders of 6-foot sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin who, had it not been for Durant's brilliant single season in college, might have been the Big 12 freshman of the year. He averaged 38 minutes and 15.5 points and led the Big 12 with 6.7 assists per game.
``I'm stronger, faster and smarter,'' said Augustin, voted by coaches as the Big 12's preseason player of the year.
He's probably also a little more comfortable with the nuances of the game, not just running the offense but providing the leadership to get his team through the tough games.
Augustin spent a month over the summer working out with and learning from former Longhorn point guard T.J. Ford, who guided Texas to the Final Four in 2003.
One of the most important things Augustin learned was the art of communication. He was too quiet at the point last season for coach Rick Barnes, who has tried to get him to open up and take vocal command when he's on the court.
``I think D.J. realized that T.J. talks all the time on the court,'' Barnes said. ``D.J. is totally different than he was a year ago. When you walk in the gym right now, you have no doubt who the leader is. ... He's established himself as one of the best point guards in the country.''
Ford also tutored him on developing a shot he can depend on when games are close. When Ford was at Texas, he could drive to the basket for layups or draw fouls for free throws just about any time he wanted.
``T.J. said that I needed to come up with a go-to shot. I tried to improve on my offense, but I'm still going to be a passer,'' Augustin said. ``I worked on a couple of them, but it's going to be a surprise.''
Leadership may get a team to play hard, but there's also the matter of replacing Durant's points and rebounds and ability to take over games. Durant was an electrifying scorer who could produce points from anywhere on the court.
The Longhorns, ranked No. 15 in the preseason Top 25, return four starters from a squad that finished 25-10 last season, 12-4 in the Big 12, and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
``Losing Kevin, I don't think it will hurt us,'' guard A.J. Abrams said. ``It will just make us change our game plan.''
It was easy to stand back and watch Durant at times last season. The national player of the year scored at least 30 points a Big 12-record 11 times. He was the second Longhorn to be drafted No. 2 overall, following LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006.
``Every night you could count on double-doubles from him and he could do so many different things on the court,'' Barnes said.
``With him, we all knew we had a chance every time out. What we hope happens this year is that the returning guys become more aggressive,'' Barnes said.
Texas' best offensive weapons will be Augustin and Abrams, a 3-point specialist. Both players shot better than 42 percent from long range and Abrams hit a team-high and Big 12-record 120 3-pointers last season.
``We need a big season out of him (Abrams) and there's no reason for us not to get it,'' Barnes said.
Texas also should be maturing. The Longhorns started four freshmen last season and it took time to learn how to play the physical brand of ball common in the Big 12.
Now Texas will be looking for more consistent production from Justin Mason, the defensive stopper at guard, and forward Damion James, a tough rebounder and shot blocker. Texas also hopes to get more minutes out of forward Dexter Pittman, who hovered around 300 pounds most of last season and proved he could be effective when stamina wasn't an issue, which it usually was.
As for the newcomers, the Longhorns have run into problems.
Top recruit Gary Johnson was diagnosed with an unspecified heart condition last May and the team has been slowly bringing him along. The 6-foot-7 forward was cleared to play in the first exhibition game but his status for the Nov. 12 opener against Texas-San Antonio will be evaluated later.
``We have great confidence in our doctors. We wouldn't put him in a situation that we didn't think he could handle,'' Barnes said.
Freshman point guard Dogus Balbay is out indefinitely after an injury in a pickup game required surgery on his right knee. Balbay led Turkey to a seventh-place finish at the Under-19 World Championships during the summer.