Coach Barnes’ intensity and dedication to excellence is the cornerstone of UT basketball.
By Steve Habel
To many, the perception of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes is that he has lucked into the best job in college basketball. They opine that Barnes is able to coach a top-tier, history-filled program loaded with the best facilities without being under the microscope because Texas is considered a football school first. Basketball on the 40 Acres is, well, way down the line, maybe behind baseball or even swimming on the success meter of Longhorn athletic programs.
Detractors question Barnes’ ability to coach a team to a championship, and point to the fact that the Longhorns have earned just one trip to the Final Four in Barnes’ 16 seasons on the bench, despite coaching 16 players that were drafted by the NBA and producing two national players of the year in T.J. Ford (2003) and Kevin Durant (2007). Some say Barnes saved his job last season by leading the Horns to a 24-11 record and a tie for third in the Big 12 Conference with an 11-7 league mark.
Texas beat Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Michigan. The successful campaign came a year after Texas missed the tournament for the first time in Barnes’ tenure, a season that placed the iconic coach on the win-or-else hot seat. It was never publicly stated that Barnes’ job was in jeopardy, but with the program’s lofty goals and expectations, losing is never an option and a sustained period of failure is unacceptable.
“Whenever he has a team he can actually coach, [Barnes] can actually do his job,” says Jonathan Holmes, Texas senior forward. “[In the 2012-2013 season], he was trying to see where everyone’s head was at every day and was more of a therapist than a coach.”
“You can’t coach effort every single day,” Barnes told USA Today last season. “You can’t coach it when guys are concerned with only themselves. We were managing instead of coaching. Guys had their own agendas.”
Texas enters the 2014-2015 campaign with high expectations and nothing but positive buzz. The Longhorns return all but one player from last year’s team and have added superstar recruit Myles Turner to the mix this season. The Euless Trinity prospect was the highest-rated commitment for the program since Durant. The Longhorns were picked to finish second in the loaded Big 12 and were ranked 10th in the season’s first poll by The Associated Press. The troubles of the spring of 2013 are in the rearview mirror and all but forgotten.
“We went to 14 straight tournaments and were fortunate to do so,” Barnes says. “In March 2013, we didn’t make the NCAAs, but we moved forward and did the things we needed to do to get back to the tournament.”
“We have a group of guys that really care about each other. The expectations are different from a year ago, but we are always driven by the expectations within the program, not from those outside it.”
Barnes was named 2014 National Association of Basketball Coaches UPS District 8 Coach of the Year, an award voted on by member coaches of the NABC. District 8 encompasses all 10 member institutions of the Big 12 Conference. With the program back on track, he had two years added to his contract, which now runs through the 2018-2019 season and will remain at $2.5 million annually, following his $75,000 increase that kicks in next season. It would be easy to say Barnes is like a cat that always lands on his feet. But his success is more about hard work and adherence to strict guidelines and expectations than happenstance.
A Calm Countenance
Barnes remains as cool as a cucumber for those who only see him on the sidelines during games, normally togged in a sharp , tailored suit and tie and shiny dress shoes, a uniform that would be welcome in the boardroom as easily as on the edges of the court. He spends most of the games in his chair near the scorer’s table, getting up only to make a specific point to his players or bend the ear of an official who’s missed a call on the floor.
He occassionally gulps a swallow or two of water from a bottle stationed beneath his chair, usually when his team is on offense. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve the way some of his peers do, but the fire burns inside. Barnes does the bulk of his coaching—and he gets pretty vocal about it—in the Longhorns’ demanding practices. He expects the team to adhere to what he and his staff have instilled when the ball goes up at game time.
“I’ve never gone into a game not thinking we can beat anybody we play if we play the way we know we can,” Barnes says. “This group will compete. People have been impressed about how hard and long they can go in practice. Once last season was over, our guys went right back to work. We’ve been very physical as the team. We’ve got the size, and there’s a lot of competition for spots.”
The Longhorns are one of four Big 12 teams selected in the Top 25. Kansas is ranked No. 5, while Iowa State is No. 14 and Oklahoma is No. 19. UT will face at least two opponents in its non-conference schedule that are ranked in the AP preseason Top 25: No. 1 Kentucky (Dec. 5 in Lexington) and No. 17 Connecticut (Nov. 30 in Storrs).
“We have to keep an edge because everyone is coming after us,” Barnes says. “I’ve always believed that if you’re not getting better, then you are getting worse. There’s been a lot of attention given to individuals, but we are more focused on being a team and working together. We are one of a lot of schools that want to win, but the more you talk about it, the more you lose sight of that goal. It’s great that people are talking so nice about us, but our business is all about what we’ve done lately. I always say, ‘A peacock today is a feather-duster tomorrow.’”
Rockin’ the Erwin Center
Texas men’s team is deep and good and poised for success.
The Texas basketball team will be scary good in the 2014-2015 season, and many pundits have predicted a Sweet 16 or better finish for the Horns, a squad with just one senior on scholarship and one of the country’s most ballyhooed freshmen trying to find playing time on a deep roster. The key to the season will be how Texas Coach Rick Barnes utilizes his talent to the fullest while keeping the team’s star players satisfied to be winners instead of just standouts.
Barnes’ team-first approach worked last season, as the Horns snuck up on some teams and beat four consecutive opponents ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history. Finding the right mix is Barnes’ forte, even more so when he has the team like he has this season.
“To do what we want to do, we are going to need a lot of people, and our depth is as good as it’s been in a long time,” Barnes says. “It’s important that we get good production off the bench. We are more prepared to move to some different lineups, if it’s needed, than we’ve been in awhile.”
Jonathan Holmes, last year’s leading scorer (12.8 points per game), is the only senior on the team. At a slimmed-down and ripped 6-foot-8, Holmes can play inside (7.2 rebounds per game) and force defenders to follow him out to the arc, where he hit 28 three-pointers last season, the second most on the team.
Center Cameron Ridley comes off an All-Big 12 third-team season in which he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Ridley also recorded at least four blocks in seven games while averaging 2.2 blocks per game.
Junior forwards Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh play important roles in different ways. At 6-foot-9, Lammert can work inside (5.2 rebounds per game) and outside (18 three-pointers last season), while Ibeh protects the rim; he had at least three blocked shots in six games last season.
Isaiah Taylor emerged as the Horns’ leader at the point last season, replacing streaky shooter Javan Felix as the one running things in the final minutes of Texas’ close games.
Taylor, who’s also excellent from the free-throw line, proved capable of breaking down the defense of most any team, whether against man-to-man (23 points versus Kansas) or zone (27 points versus Baylor). He should only get better in his second season of college basketball.
Felix continues to play an important role as the team’s biggest threat from long range. He made 61 three-pointers and shot .343 from beyond the arc last season.
Demarcus Holland, who held Big 12 scorers Juwan Staten of West Virginia and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas well below their averages, will defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player. And backup guards Demarcus Croaker and Kendal Yancy should be able to contribute and provide quality depth.
And then there are the newcomers, led by five-star big man Myles Turner, who arrives on the 40 Acres fresh off a record-setting performance for blocked shots on the gold-medal winning Under-18 U.S. National team. Coach Barnes says Turner will have to be defended from the three-point line because his range extends beyond 20 feet.
“I like the fact that there’s buzz about this team, and that started last November and the way we played last season,” Barnes says. “We want that to continue to climb and to make the Erwin Center one of the great places in the nation to play.”
Barnes loves the chemistry of the group and says his team’s expectations “will be higher than what anybody else says.” Texas has a nice combination of size and speed, experience and depth, and the addition of Turner could make this a special season for the Longhorns.
Texas Men’s Hall of Honor
On Nov. 8, Coach Rick Barnes was inducted into the Texas Men’s Hall of Honor, along with eight other distinguished and decorated former Longhorn student athletes and staff members. Barnes has led the men’s basketball program to national prominence, guiding the Longhorns to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 16 years at the helm. He became the all-time winningest coach in Texas history during the 2006-2007 season, and has registered a 382-166 (.697) mark, an average of nearly 24 victories per year. Barnes has led Texas to five Sweet 16 appearances in the last 13 years, including a trip to the 2003 Final Four, and three Big 12 conference titles.