The Longhorns ushered in the 2017-18 season on Wednesday night with a format that looked to mirror NBA All-Star Weekend. The actual intrasquad scrimmage was not the only spectacle of the night at the Texas Tip-Off, as Longhorn players competed in dance battles, dunk contests and a three-point shootout.
“We were really trying to get a couple things accomplished tonight,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We did some of those contests to have some fun early for the fans, but also compete and play. I think you saw glimpses of potential that our guys have.”
The 24-minute game would commence after nearly an hour of skills competitions, and all eyes were cast upon Texas’ star freshman recruit Mohamed Bamba. On the center’s first touch, he turned the ball over, and Jones cashed in the steal for a dunk on the other end.
Bamba quickly recovered with two blocks of his own, maintaining a stranglehold on the paint for the orange team. The freshman phenom finished with a 17-point, 11-rebound performance while shooting 6-13 from the field. The lone blemish on his stat sheet? Bamba shot just 1-4 from three-point range.
College basketball’s embrace of the three-point shot was on full display in Gregory Gym. Out of the first 31 shots, 15 of them were launched from beyond the arc. Texas shot a three-point percentage of .292 a season ago, but found three pointers to be a focal point of the offense on Wednesday night. The teams combined a 12-29 (.414) from the three-point stripe — a definite improvement from the 2016-17 season’s mark.
“We didn’t hit a lot last year, but that was one of our focus points this summer,” junior guard Eric Davis Jr. said. “Just getting in the lab and working on our game. We want to keep being consistent with it and staying in the lab.”
The team is loaded with several capable three-point shooters. Returning guards Davis, Kerwin Roach and Andrew Jones led the charge from beyond the arc and showed increased confidence in their shooting abilities in the scrimmage.
But along with the shooting was increased aggressiveness. New Longhorns power forwards Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims had their hustle on full display, fighting for rebounds and playing with fire in the paint. Osetkowski — a transfer from Tulane — posted eight points and five rebounds, while Sims — the freshman from Minneapolis — contributed 11 and three.
“Part of the reason I chose Texas is because of Dylan,” Bamba said. “Dylan can play up high, down low and anywhere. I think this summer Dylan’s really helped bring my game to new heights as far as popping out and hitting and in the deep post. Same deal with Jericho. Jericho is super, super, super athletic, so you’ll see a lot big-to-big action down there.”
After an 11–22 season in 2016-17, Texas’ worst record since 1983-84, the Longhorns now field a roster that combines plenty of new talent eager to enter the world of college basketball along with returning veterans who are focused on bringing Texas back to prominence.
“This year we’re going to be really confident,” Jones said. “We have that underdog mentality. Everybody’s not dwelling on last year, but using that as motivation to improve this year.”