Shaka Smart came up with a creative analogy for his trio of talented freshmen.
“They’re on a roller coaster ride right now,” the head coach said on Monday. “They don’t have a seatbelt on, and they’re holding on so they don’t get thrown from the roller coaster.”
So far, guards Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis and guard/forward Tevin Mack have done a good job holding on. They haven’t gotten lost in the bright lights of the Big 12, and they’ve shown up multiple times to lift Texas to wins.
If the Longhorns are to make a deep postseason run, the trio will need to keep holding on.
Make no mistake, the Longhorns are led by seniors. They’ve lost just two players over the past two years to graduation and the NBA, and the starting five consistently features upperclassmen.
But Davis, Mack and Roach provide a crucial aspect of the game — energy.
It was Roach’s thunderous dunk against UTA in November that fueled the Texas offense to snag an overtime win, and he scored a career high 22 points last month against TCU. Mack hit five 3-pointers in Saturday’s loss at Iowa State, with many coming in crucial spots to keep the Longhorns in the game. And Tuesday night, Davis stepped up and knocked down all four of his 3-pointers to kick start Texas’ offense en route to a victory over No. 10 West Virginia.
That’s just what the Longhorns need from their freshmen for the rest of the season. They don’t need to take over every single game. They just need to be there to provide that one spark to get things going.
“A lot of freshmen don’t get to play, so I’m fortunate to have an opportunity to play,” Davis said. “[Smart’s] biggest thing is to go out there and have fun and seize your opportunity.”
Junior guard Isaiah Taylor has to come to play every game. Senior center Prince Ibeh has to maintain a defensive presence in the paint — and stay out of foul trouble — every time he takes to the court.
The freshmen don’t have that kind of pressure on them. They don’t have to carry the team to wins, and they don’t need to consistently register double-doubles. Instead, Mack, Davis and Roach just need to be consistent, make shots and provide that spark when the team needs it.
Of course, that brings its own sort of pressure. But the pressure just comes with the territory of playing for a Division I team.
“To who much is given, much is expected,” Smart said.
As the Longhorns gear up for the last five games of the regular season and look for long runs in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, they don’t need their freshmen to be superheroes.
They just need them to keep holding on.