For Rick Barnes, the end of the year means putting a 16-18 record behind them and shifting focus to the future. It also means figuring out who’s going to be on his team.
Thursday night at the Longhorns’ basketball banquet, Barnes addressed the state of flux around the status of Myck Kabongo, who says he hasn’t decided whether to return for his junior season or head to the NBA.
“Our whole feeling was, in [Myck’s] mind, he wanted this to be his last year,” Barnes said before Thursday night’s team banquet. “He might be decided. Who knows, he might have decided a long time ago.”
Barnes will have a lighter load on hand for offseason workouts after Jaylen Bond and Sheldon McClellan both announced plans to transfer. Julien Lewis, a junior in the fall, is still contemplating his future. Should Lewis stay with the Longhorns, rather than transfer or test his game overseas, he’d likely be the top scorer.
“I think I can be that go-to guy and play more of my game,” Lewis said. “I just need to be more aggressive, attack the rim more and not settle for jump shots.”
Teammate Ioannis Papapetrou is counting on Lewis to return.
“Julien is a great guy, and his decision is about what’s best for him and his family,” Papapetrou said. “Right now he’s just thinking and sometimes he’s not with us in practice but I’m confident he will be with us next year.”
If Lewis does not return to Texas for his junior season, the Longhorns are left with seven returning scholarship players. It’s not starting from scratch, but Texas faces another uphill battle in order to finish among the Big 12’s best. Texas finished seventh in the conference this year with a 7-11 record in the Big 12.
“Next year won’t get here soon enough,” Barnes said. “There wasn’t any momentum or consistency this year, but I can tell you there has been a lot more energy surrounding practices and workouts this spring.”
The player who might make a big jump forward is point guard Javan Felix, who logged a healthy amount of minutes as a freshman in place of the suspended Kabongo. Next year he’s expected to get more reps and to produce better results.
“When Javan came in for Myck at the beginning of the year he didn’t know left from right,” Barnes said. “Even though he’s a tough kid, he felt the weight of the world.”
Felix remains firm in his belief that this Texas team can make a return to the NCAA Tournament, which he admitted was a tough event to watch from home rather than competing in.
“We owe it to all the guys that came before us,” Felix said. “Coach Barnes wants me to work on getting my shot up quicker, to play better defense and just be a better point guard. This year there were times when we thought we were working hard, but you look back and realize it wasn’t hard enough. That’s what we’re going to be able to tell the new guys coming in this off-season — work harder than you ever have before.”