March is my favorite time of year: the end of winter, spring break and, of course, March Madness. I am a college basketball junkie. I used to play myself and I love the excitement, the team play, the win-or-go-home attitude and the frequent upsets. (Virginia’s loss on Sunday destroys my bracket!)
This seems an appropriate moment to reflect on student-athletes — the talented college students who are performing for us on the court throughout the NCAA tournament. These young men are extraordinary athletes, playing under enormous pressure. They have trained hard all season, they have won games against great odds, and they have pushed themselves beyond usual physical and mental limits. They represent their universities with pride, and we take great pride in their accomplishments — even when they lose tough games, as happened with the University of Texas basketball team Thursday against Butler.
As I enjoy the games, I also feel a sense of remorse. Most of the players we watch will never make it into the NBA. Most will never earn a dime for their play. What will they do? Are they getting a quality education that prepares them to succeed as non-athletes in our society? What do they get for their performances on the court? What have we encouraged them to expect?
I am a deep believer in the ideal of the well-rounded citizen, and for that reason I view athletics as central to university excellence. The best students should be intellectually sharp, musically adept and athletically skilled. Great universities support greatness in all areas.
My concern is that college athletics no longer fits that ideal. What we are watching on our television screens are players who see themselves as full-time athletes and part-time students, at best. Their studies are really only an afterthought. The quarterback for the national champion Ohio State football team was unique only in his willingness to admit, in a widely circulated tweet, that he viewed classes as a waste of his time. Too many college athletes are encouraged to feel the same way. Classes are required to qualify them to play — which is what they really think they are supposed to do at university.
The fault is not entirely or even primarily with the athletes. All of us, as spectators, are comfortable watching these great players, suspending our concerns about their work in the classroom. We learn their names during the NCAA tournament, but we rarely, if ever, ask about what they study or what they intend to do after their brief moments of March Madness fame pass away. We are content to cheer their athletic performances and then forget them when they no longer entertain us. They really do lose and then go home, and for many college athletes, home is not a pretty place.
I want our sports programs at the University of Texas to improve, and I want to continue watching better college athletes perform at the highest level. They make me proud and I enjoy seeing them do their stuff, especially when they crush Big 12 opponents. My concern is that we address, head-on, the true challenges of educating college athletes. How can we make sure they get a serious education while they are in college? How can we make sure they are prepared for post-athletic careers?
During the 14 years that I have been a professor at two leading college sports campuses, I have seen overwhelming evidence that we are not educating our college athletes as we should. Reports from recent scandals at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Syracuse University reinforce this observation.
College athletes receive extensive tutoring, but they are consistently encouraged to stay away from difficult majors and challenging classes. College athletes are told they must attend class, but they have practice and game schedules that often make it virtually impossible for them to show up. When they do show up, especially near the end of the semester, their bodies are broken down. I have had football and basketball players come to class who can barely walk and hold their heads up in November and March. Their goal, echoing the advice they receive from their tutors, is to “just get through.”
That should not be enough for great universities. My dream is for the University of Texas to become an even greater athletic powerhouse with true student-athletes who play hard and study hard. I want our athletes to model, for all students, what it means to be a successful person: balancing studies, athletics, relationships and health. This will never happen if we do not acknowledge the imbalances today and act to address them.
The University of Texas is the largest college athletic program in the country. It is time we step up and lead, showing how we can truly educate the best student-athletes of our time, showing their stuff in the classroom as well as on the playing field. We should have a plan for all-around excellence and nothing less. We should start now, and everyone on campus should be a part of it.
Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History. Follow Suri on Twitter @JeremiSuri.
When Rick Barnes and Mack Brown were introduced as head coaches for men’s basketball and football, respectively, their careers were somewhat destined to be compared.
In the 1996–1997 season, then-men’s basketball coach Tom Penders led the Longhorns to the Sweet 16, and then-football coach John Mackovic won the Big 12 Championship game over heavily favored Nebraska.
Both coaches followed that up with losing seasons in their 1997–1998 campaigns, leaving Barnes and Brown to turn the programs around after achieving success in the ACC.
The majority of their tenures were filled with victories.
Barnes’ teams qualified for the NCAA tournament in the first 15 of his 16 seasons coaching Texas men’s basketball, whereas Brown won 10 or more games every season from 2001–2009.
Barnes led the Longhorns to the Sweet 16 or better five times in a seven season stretch from 2002–2008, including the school’s first Final Four appearance since 1947. Brown coached the Longhorns to their first national title since 1970 in 2005 and almost won a second title in 2009.
But the programs’ success hasn’t carried over into this decade.
Much like Brown’s tenure ended, Barnes has struggled to bring Texas basketball back to the level of success he set the bar to in the mid-2000s. In each coaches’ last four years, their numbers are eerily similar — and not in a good way for Texas.
Both coaches had similar winning percentages in this time period. Brown posted a 30–21 record (58.82 percent), and Barnes sits at 79–55 (58.96 percent). In the first three quarters of their tenures, both coaches won at a much higher rate; Brown won 82.58 percent in his first 12 seasons, and Barnes won 72.12 percent in his first 13.
Barnes’ teams compiled a poor record against teams that made the NCAA tournament, similar to Brown’s struggles against teams that went bowling.
Using Lunardi’s projections, which are bracket projections, to fill in the 2015 tournament field, Texas is 21–45 against opponents that make the Big Dance, including 13–35 against conference foes. Brown, on the other hand, went 16–19 against teams that played in bowls, including 11–16 in conference play.
Likewise, both coaches’ records against teams in the AP top 25 are comparable. Brown went 4–15, and Barnes posted a record of 10–32 — both winning percentages of under
From the 2011–2012 season to the present, the basketball team is 35–37 in regular season conference play under Barnes, but it is only 22–36 when excluding Texas Tech and TCU, the perennial cellar dwellers from the record. From 2010–2013, Brown went 18–17 in conference play but was only 12–16 when excluding Kansas and Iowa State, the two worst teams in the Big 12 over this stretch.
In addition, the two times Brown and Barnes each finished below .500 in conference play occurred in their past four seasons.
If Barnes continues to follow Brown’s decline, he may end up with the
In late January, against a highly ranked Baylor team, senior forward Nneka Enemkpali drove to the basket and jumped near the hoop for an offensive rebound. On her way back down, she fell awkwardly, collapsing in excruciating pain as she suffered a serious knee injury. Immediately, associate athletic trainer Lisa Stalans rushed to her on the court.
What came next was the hardest part.
Soon, Stalans had the task of telling Enemkpali her college basketball career was over.
“It was heartbreaking for me to say that,” Stalans said.
It was something Stalans had done before and will most likely do again in the future. As an athletic trainer for the women’s basketball team, Stalans is in charge of the health and rehabilitation of the athletes. She evaluates them, tends to them and even delivers heartbreaking news — like she had to do with Enemkpali.
“It’s part of my job,” Stalans said. “I try to keep them calm and say, ‘You know, we’ll see what happens.’ It’s been stressful. When an athlete gets hurt, your biggest thing is getting them back on the court as soon as possible, but they just can’t go out there when they’re 50 percent.”
However, Stalans’ job also gives her the opportunity to deliver the good news when an athlete can return.
In December, freshman guard Ariel Atkins was out indefinitely after an ankle injury. But on Jan. 16, Stalans announced Atkins could return to the court. This week, Atkins won the Phillips 66 Big 12 Freshman of the Week honor for a third time this season. Stalans said it’s those moments when the athletes’ hard work in rehabilitation pays off that make her love her job.
“I try to get them back better than they were before the injury,” Stalans said. “That is my challenge to myself — to make an athlete better than they were.”
Currently in her 14th season at Texas, Stalans has been with the women’s basketball team since 2009, longer than current head coach Karen Aston. Before that, Stalans spent nine years with the Texas soccer and women’s tennis teams after she arrived in Austin in 2000.
Texas has kept Stalans busy this season. Nine longhorns have missed at least one game because of injuries. But, fortunately for Texas, the injuries didn’t happen all at once.
“I do feel like one got hurt, and then I get that person back, and then I’d lose another one the next week,” Stalans said.
Her main concern is getting her athletes ready for their next step, which in most cases is just getting ready for the next game.
“We got back at three this morning from West Virginia, so today was all about ice baths,” Stalans said. “I tell them to think of it like a spa.”
With hopes of an NCAA tournament berth hanging in the balance, Texas men’s basketball came close to pulling off an improbable victory in college basketball’s toughest road venue Saturday.
But, as it almost always seems to do, No. 8 Kansas once again found a way to win in front of its home crowd.
Now, with just two games remaining on the schedule, Texas finds itself in jeopardy of missing the tournament for the second time in three seasons.
The Longhorns will fight Monday to keep their postseason hopes alive when they return home to face Baylor, which handed them their worst loss of the season last month in Waco. For a chance at redemption versus the Bears, Texas will need to quickly put Saturday’s tough loss in Lawrence, Kansas behind it.
The Longhorns led well into the second half in the 69–64 loss to the Jayhawks, leading by as many as 6 points with under 10 minutes remaining. But Kansas got hot from the field and the free throw line late, closing the game out with a 16–10 run in the final 6:52 to ice the victory.
Kansas junior forward Perry Ellis was at the forefront of that second-half surge, scoring 12 points in the final 9:30 of the second half. He finished the game with 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. It marked the third consecutive 20-point game for Ellis, who has emerged as a front-runner for Big 12 Player of the Year.
Texas missed on a couple of opportunities late to tie the game. With Texas trailing 66–64 with 48.3 seconds remaining, sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then, with the score the same and 6.1 seconds remaining, Taylor missed an off-balance layup attempt on a play in which he appeared to be fouled — though the referees didn’t call it.
Taylor led the Longhorns with 17 points and eight assists to go along with six rebounds, but the final minute didn’t go as hoped.
Despite Ellis’ impressive game, the Longhorns turned in one of their better defensive performances of the season. They held Kansas to just 36.2 percent shooting from the field and, remarkably, limited the sweet-shooting Jayhawks to just one made 3-pointer in eight attempts.
Texas’ interior defense was especially impressive. Freshman forward Myles Turner racked up five blocks in the game, while junior center Prince Ibeh had four. Texas had 14 blocks in the game.
With the victory, Kansas improved to a perfect 15–0 at home this season. The Jayhawks have now won 24 consecutive home games, and improved to a remarkable 189–9 at Allen Fieldhouse under head coach Bill Self.
The Longhorns dropped to 17–12 on the season and 6–10 in conference play with the loss. A victory would’ve greatly improved their résumé as they try to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, and now, with just two games remaining, they’re very much on the bubble to make the Big Dance.
A win over Baylor might at least keep Texas in the discussion for a NCAA tournament berth. A loss at home to the Bears, however, would damage their postseason hopes even further.
After spending seven weeks ranked 10th or better in AP rankings, the men’s basketball team is on the brink of missing the NCAA tournament. Before Tuesday’s loss to No. 20 West Virginia, bracketology expert Joe Lunardi had Texas entering the tournament as a No. 9 seed but said there were no guarantees that they would make the tournament. After Tuesday’s loss, Lunardi has the Longhorns as one of the last four teams to make the NCAA tournament. Even if the men’s team had won Tuesday night, Lunardi said the Longhorns would still have some work to do. Lunardi predicted that the Longhorns would go at least .500 for the rest of their games and just sneak into the tourney. But with the loss to No. 8 Kansas and No. 20 West Virginia, Texas needs to win their final two games against No. 19 Baylor and Kansas State.
Obviously, the men can ill afford to lose. But with Kansas State’s recent upset of Kansas, Lunardi says the Longhorn’s final game against the Wildcats could potentially be a bubble game for both teams. In a perfect world, the Longhorns end their four-game losing streak with a two-game winning streak and finish 9-9 in conference play. Anything short of that places the Longhorns below .500, which means if they were admitted into the NCAA tourney, they would be just the second Big 12 team to go to the Big Dance with a losing conference record.
While things have been less than stellar for the men’s team, the women’s team seems to be headed in the right direction. As of Feb. 23, bracketology expert Charlie Creme had the women’s team entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed before splitting the week’s games. Similar to the men’s team, the Lady Longhorns spent 11 weeks ranked at least tenth in AP rankings and even spent five weeks ranked third. But the team hasn’t been the same since senior forward Nneka Enemkpali suffered a torn ACL on Jan. 19 in a loss to Baylor. Since her injury, the Lady Longhorns are 5-5. They had lost four of the first five games following the season-ending injury before turning things around with a four-game winning streak. Since Enemkpali’s injury, junior center Imani McGee-Stafford has averaged 11.4 points per game. Prior to the injury, McGee-Stafford averaged 3.75 points per game.
Why don’t I care about the Pro Bowl?
This may be the million-dollar question. The Pro Bowl is the NFL equivalent of the All-Star Game, but it fails compared to the MLB and the NBA ones.
Now, what is the reason for this? It can’t be because baseball and basketball are better than football; now that’s just ludicrous.
Maybe it’s the lack of value in the game. The MLB All Star Game actually matters. The winning division gets home field advantage in the World Series.
This could be a great thing for the NFL to adopt, but then they would have to have the Pro Bowl during the season.
The recent reformatting of the Pro Bowl has only made it worse. Firstly, they moved it to be before the Super Bowl, which excluded some of the best players each year. I mean, that’s obvious, they made it to the Super Bowl after all.
Secondly, it is no longer NFC versus AFC. This has really led to the demise of the Pro Bowl, not that it was ever great, but it was better than this. This year, for example, it was Team Irvin versus Team Carter. Each coach “drafted” players that were selected to the Pro Bowl by voting.
Now let’s be frank, this is just unnecessary. They are trying to model a pickup game of football. Why are you ruining something that could honestly be so great?
Think about it. A game where Aaron Rodgers is throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. Does that sound awesome or does that sound awesome?
On paper, it should be. In reality, it is similar to watching paint dry.
So, why can’t we have the Pro Bowl midseason like the NBA and MLB do?
Maybe the reason the NFL is opposed to this is because of the physicality of the sport.
However, the NFL plays the fewest games per season compared to these sports. Yes, I understand football is literally running into someone and getting hit. But playing 82 basketball games a season probably isn’t too easy either.
Regardless of the levels of physicality, you play any sport at a professional level that often, your body will feel it.
I’m not asking for the NFL to play 50 games. I’m asking for one more game halfway through the season, I’m asking for 17 games. Give these guys an All Star break.
There won’t be any defense until the fourth quarter. It will just be exciting and electrifying plays for the fans. That’s all they really want.
Does anyone watch the NBA All-Star Game for a good matchup? No. We watch it to see a dream team that will never exist elsewhere. We watch it to see Chris Paul lob the ball to James Harden. We watch it to see LeBron throw the ball to the perimeter for Carmelo to shoot a three.
Why can’t we have this in football?
I want to live in a world where I can see Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy in the backfield together for one game a year.
Am I really asking for that much? No, no I am not.
So please, give me an NFL All-Star Game that everyone will watch.
Millions tune in to watch the NBA All Star Weekend. Millions tune in to watch the MLB All Star Game. Let’s add the NFL to that list.
There won’t be a dunk contest, but there could be a 40-yard dash contest, a one-handed catch contest, and a throwing contest.
Basically, it could be a casual combine. I mean, why not?
Do it for the fans. Bring the Pro Bowl back to life. Honestly, the NFL could use all the good press it can get right now.
With hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth hanging in the balance, Texas men’s basketball came close to pulling off an improbable victory in college basketball’s toughest road venue Saturday.
But, as it almost always seems to do, No. 8 Kansas once again found a way to win in front of its home crowd.
The Longhorns led well into the second half in the 69-64 loss to the Jayhawks, leading by as many as six points with under 10 minutes remaining. But Kansas got hot from the field and the free throw line late, closing the game out on a 16-10 run to ice the victory.
Junior forward Perry Ellis was at the forefront of that late surge, scoring 12 points in the final 9:30 of the second half. He finished the game with 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. It marked the third consecutive 20-point game for Ellis, who has emerged as a front-runner for Big 12 Player of the Year.
Texas missed out on a couple of opportunities to tie the game late. With Texas trailing 66-64 and 48.3 seconds remaining, sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then, with the same score and 6.1 seconds remaining, Taylor missed an off-balance lay-up attempt on a play where he appeared to be fouled, but the referees didn’t call it.
Taylor led the Longhorns with 17 points and eight assists to go along with six rebounds, but he wasn't able to finish the game the way he hoped.
Despite Ellis’ impressive game, the Longhorns turned in one of their better defensive performances of the season. They held Kansas to just 36.2 percent shooting from the field and surprisingly limited the sweet-shooting Jayhawks to just one made three-pointer in eight attempts.
Texas’ interior defense was especially impressive. Freshman forward Myles Turner racked up five blocks in the game, while junior center Prince Ibeh had four. Texas as a whole had 14 blocks in the game.
The Jayhawks managed to overcome their struggles from the field with a strong day at the free throw line. They finished the game 26-of-32 from the line, where the Longhorns went just 12-of-18.
With the victory, Kansas improved to a perfect 15-0 at home this season. The Jayhawks have now won 24 consecutive road games, and they improved to a remarkable 189-9 at Allen Fieldhouse under head coach Bill Self.
The Longhorns dropped to 17-12 on the season and 6-10 in conference play with the loss. A victory would’ve greatly improved their resume as they try to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but now, with just two games remaining, they’re very much on the bubble to make the Big Dance.
They appeared close to finally earning a season-changing signature victory, but once again, they learned why many refer to Allen Fieldhouse as “the best home field advantage in sports.”
T.J. Ford spent only two seasons in Austin.
In that short span of time, the young point guard managed to lead Texas to a Final Four appearance while earning himself the Naismith Trophy for college player of the year.
The NBA Draft selected Ford as No. 8 overall after he spent the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons as a Longhorn. He faced high expectations, but some grisly injuries — combined with a spinal condition that made paralysis a real threat — meant ultimately, Ford could only play off and on for nine years. Still, he never lacked in heart and talent.
“His work ethic was incredible,” said Ronnie Courtney, Ford’s high school coach. “His heart is probably as large as any heart you are ever going to find, in terms of wanting to be the best at what he was doing.”
Although he retired in 2012, Ford hasn’t stayed away from basketball. Now, instead of dishing out passes, Ford dishes out advice on ways to succeed on the court and beyond.
Today, Ford runs the TJ Ford Basketball Academy and an Amateur Athletic Union Program in Houston, his hometown. Ford works alongside Courtney and other Houston area coaches to help Houston-area children improve at
basketball and, hopefully, land college scholarships. But Ford said his academy is about much more than the game.
“Basketball’s just a vehicle for us to get things that we’re trying to get across to the kids,” Ford said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to help a lot of different kids from a lot of different ethnic groups and just show them what a family environment feels like. Every kid’s home situation is different.”
Working with kids and running an AAU team was not Ford’s original plan when he first retired from the NBA.
“I was focusing more on NBA guys that I was training, that worked out with me for four to five years,” Ford said. “We had a couple high school kids that would come in and train with us and had great seasons, and it kind of just took off from there.”
Ford’s program already boasts a strong track record. and he is as good at working with seven-year-olds as he is working alongside NBA players. Twelve of his players already gone on to earn college scholarships.
Texas head coach Rick Barnes said nothing about Ford’s successes is surprising.
“He had a great knack at knowing how to … put [his teammates] in a position to be good,” Barnes said. “[T.J. was] a ‘people person,’ and he always wanted to learn.”
Soon after he retired, Ford was offered NBA coaching opportunities — but the allure of returning to basketball played at the highest level could not outweigh the thought of coaching the game at its very roots.
“I love working with kids,” Ford said. “Teaching the game is teaching the game, and I enjoy doing it with any age level.”
In addition, the love of teaching has called Ford back to the 40 Acres, where he is taking classes to complete his education degree. Ford, who hopes to complete his degree in the next year and a half, still heads back to Houston on the weekends to coach.
“This is an unbelievable place [where] I had some great experiences,” Ford said. “For me, it’s pretty fun just being back and walking the campus and actually just being a regular student.”
What a difference a month has made for the Longhorns.
On Jan. 4, hopes were extremely high for a team many expected to compete for a conference crown. They had just defeated Texas Tech 70–61 in Lubbock to bounce back into the top-10, despite sluggish play from sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor in the star guard’s first game since breaking his wrist in late November. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected the Longhorns to be a three seed in the NCAA tournament.
Now Taylor is playing some of his best basketball, but the Longhorns are slipping, dropping five of its final seven January contests to enter the month of February alone in eighth place in the conference standings. Lunardi now projects them as an eight seed, and they continue to slide.
After Taylor’s injury, it wasn’t hard to predict the problems the Longhorns would face on offense. Junior guard Javan Felix filled in for Taylor to the best of his abilities, but the contrasting skill set between the two guards was apparent — especially when the Longhorns faced serious competition.
In their 12-point loss to No. 1 Kentucky, the Longhorns turned the ball over a season-high 22 times. Texas was within five points of the Wildcats until they pulled away in the final minute, leading fans to wonder what the result would have been with a healthy Taylor in the lineup.
But over the past eight games — the last three in particular — the team has shown that its struggles are beyond anything Taylor can patch up by himself. During the team’s current three-game losing skid, the sophomore has played, arguably, his best basketball since coming to the 40 Acres.
Taylor’s 56 points over the stretch tie for the second most he has ever scored over three consecutive games in burnt orange, while his 19 assists over the same span marks the second-highest assist rate of his career.
His 19 dimes include a career-high 10 in Saturday’s 83–60 loss to Baylor. Taylor also scored 16 points for the losing team, marking the first double-double of his collegiate career. In those three games, Taylor turned the ball over only twice, making for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 9.5:1 — by far the best of his career.
Still, while Taylor is playing at an extremely high level, he is not getting to the foul line nearly as often as an 83-percent free throw shooter should. He has attempted just over 28 free throws per 100 field goal attempts since returning from his injury, approximately half as often as he did during his freshman year.
Taylor’s numbers would almost certainly be significantly better if he got himself to the charity stripe at the rate he did before his injury. And if he starts to do so, the Longhorns might see the benefit in the win column.