In the heart of the campus at Gregory Gym, Texas Athletics manufactured quite the production.
Showcasing food trucks, a silent disco and a dunk contest, the Longhorns put forth their best effort to entice the student body and local fans to watch the dawn of a new season of Texas basketball at the fourth annual Texas Tip-Off.
“It’s our first meeting with fans this year,” sophomore point guard Matt Coleman said. “Our freshmen got their little jitters out. It was sloppy at times, but we saw the potential that we have and how good we actually can be.”
Even more important than the return of basketball was the presence of point guard Andrew Jones in the building. The junior, diagnosed with leukemia last January, was the lone player on the roster to receive a standing ovation from the audience during introductions. Head coach Shaka Smart began his pregame address to the crowd by recognizing Jones’ return, promising he’ll return to the hardwood once he overcomes a toe injury.
“It’s moving. In seven months, his life has changed,” Coleman said. “He was in the hospital. He wasn’t out there with us. Seeing him back with a smile on his face, him bringing joy, him maturing and growing up — it’s moving.”
Before the Longhorns tipped off, the night began in NBA All-Star weekend fashion with a 3-point shootout and dunk contest. Coleman took home the 3-point champion title, while Royce Hamm Jr. triumphed in the dunk contest by jumping over three teammates and finishing with a one-handed, emphatic flush. There were strong showings by Hamm’s competitors, senior Kerwin Roach and newcomer Jaxson Hayes, who both displayed promising athleticism.
Hayes, a 3-star power forward recruit from Cincinnati, does not have the same hype that No. 6 overall draft pick Mo Bamba did heading into last season. But the athletic 6’11” freshman has already raised plenty of eyebrows in practice from Smart and teammates.
“The one thing about him that’s really good is he doesn’t really try to do anything outside of what he does well,” Smart said. “He runs and he rebounds, blocks shots. He’s very good at finishing at the rim on the lobs. He’s still at the very, very infant stages of his development, but he learns fast.”
After the 3-point and dunk festivities concluded, a brief 12-minute intrasquad scrimmage commenced. The orange squad, equipped with the potent backcourt duo of Roach and Coleman, dominated the white squad, 31-19, behind the veterans’ offensive playmaking.
“I let Jericho (Sims) pick the teams and he picked the two best guards (together),” Smart said. “In this league, the teams with the best guards typically win. In the games where we’ve come up short, our guards at times have been outplayed, so we need to continue growing those guys and helping the younger guards improve.”
Coleman, Roach and the rest of the Longhorns launch the upcoming season Nov. 6 at the Frank Erwin Center against Eastern Illinois.