Freshman guard Jase Febres moved with purpose in a mostly empty gym, putting up extra shots before a recent practice.
He caught and fired each shot in a single, fluid motion before sliding around the arc ready for the next ball. Around the semicircle he went, the net barely moving as the shots passed through the rim.
Out of 100 3-point attempts, the guard made 89. But that wasn’t enough.
“I need to hit 90,” Febres said.
The youngest player on the Longhorns’ roster recently found himself thrust into a larger role and, with that, a new level of expectations.
Texas was rocked to its core early in conference play when sophomore guard Andrew Jones received a season-ending leukemia diagnosis that threatened to derail the Longhorns’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Texas was left without one of its best playmakers, and head coach Shaka Smart was forced to call upon one of his younger, inexperienced reserves.
Smart chose Febres.
“When Andrew got diagnosed, and we found out he wasn’t going to be able to come back, I knew I had to step in and add some scoring,” Febres said. “Because I am a scorer. And me being a freshman, at first I wasn’t playing very much. And then I ended up starting that next game.”
Febres jumped from the eighth man off the bench to playing 30 minutes a night in the span of less than a week, filling in for the player who many had thought would be leading the charge for Texas.
Against a long and athletic Baylor team on Jan. 6, Texas’ shorthanded roster needed a strong performance from its newest starter.
“The day before Baylor, I was telling myself, ‘You are going to have a good game. Just let it fly,’” Febres said. “When I started, the butterflies went away, and I started to get into the rhythm of the game. Then I let (the ball) go — I knew it was money after that. And when I see it go in one time I know it’s going to be good for the rest of the day.”
That day in Waco, Febres had the game of his career. Shot after shot found the bottom of the net as he scored a blistering 18 points in the opening half of his first collegiate start. But the Longhorns lost, 69-60, as the rest of his teammates struggled to create offense.
“I think a lot of individual guys went home and thought about it and knew they needed to step up,” junior guard Eric Davis Jr. said.
Since then, Febres has been a steady contributor to the Longhorns’ offense. Most recently the sharpshooter torched Ole Miss during the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday, hitting four shots from deep on 50 percent shooting.
Smart sees the potential in his young guard, although it hasn’t come without some serious growing pains. An increased role means bigger responsibilities on both ends of the floor. But with the season already over halfway done, Smart is pushing Febres even harder to get him caught up.
“I’ve been on Jase,” Smart said. “Because he is such a great kid and a laid-back guy, I’ve been on him saying you’ve got to be more assertive and more aggressive on the court. And you’ve got to demonstrate to all those around you that you have a passion for this game and you really want to be good.”
Febres has welcomed the challenge. He knows the weight of being moved into a starting role ahead of older players like Davis and sophomore guard Jacob Young.
“Every practice coach demands more,” Febres said. “And I love that about him. You get frustrated during practice — ‘Why is he always on me?’ But afterwards you know he wants me to do great. And I’m always doing extra reps on defense.”
Febres knows he can be great. With 10 games remaining in a tough Big 12 schedule, the freshman is working twice as hard to get to where he needs to be.
But he knows he’ll get there.
“I’m on a steady pace, getting better,” Febres said. “Anywhere I go, I’ve learned that I start off kind of slow, and I start to pick things up fast — and then I skyrocket from there.”