Don’t Mess With Texas
Throughout the past several decades, the University of Texas has been known predominantly as a football school. While the world was fixated by the Longhorns’ ups and downs on the gridiron, the basketball program flew relatively under the radar. In the last decade, however, coach Rick Barnes’ team has managed to earn some serious attention as strong teams led by TJ Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant have propelled Texas into basketball’s spotlight. And while none of those squads managed to win a national championship, they did enough to finally label Texas as a club to watch out for. As fate would have it, the national title hopes of this year’s team from the Deep South might be decided by the play of two young stars from The Great White North. It’s been a great year for buying tickets to Manchester City maches on www.footballticketnet.com for the fans who attend.
Canucks in a Cowboy State
Rick Barnes officially managed to make the entire NCAA red with envy when he successfully recruited Canadian hoop stars Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. Thompson, from Brampton, and Joseph, from Pickering, were hotly pursued by almost every legitimate NCAA powerhouse before committing to Texas.
No strangers to success, Thompson and Joseph were prep school teammates at Findlay Prep in Nevada, where they helped their club become the top school in America. Their chemistry and winning ways have quickly translated on the college level, where they have helped lead Texas to an impressive 25-6 record, making the Longhorns a season-long Top 10 team. Currently, Texas is looking at possibly being slotted as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given the calibre of their two Canadian freshmen, it hardly seems surprising.
A 6’8 power forward with great athleticism and tremendous length, Thompson has all the makings of a future NBA star. As a rookie in the ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference, Thompson has averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block per game, while being named the Conference Rookie of the Year, as well as being named to the All-Conference Defensive Team. The scary part is that Thompson is still working hard to polish his post game and add muscle to his frame. If this is what he’s capable of as a 19-year-old freshman, then the sky is truly the limit. Thompson will be heavily counted on to stabilize the Texas front court as it looks to be the last team standing in the NCAA Tournament.
A 6’3 combo guard, Cory Joseph has few weaknesses in his game from a pure-skill standpoint. A lethal shooter, Joseph can punish teams by consistently nailing threes or mid-range jumpers. He is also a smooth customer when handling the ball, and has solid passing skills. Joseph has averaged 10 points and three assists per contest this year, while hitting an impressive 40% of his shots from downtown. He is also a hard-worker on the defensive end, bringing an edge to the Texas backcourt that could prove to be a difference-maker in the upcoming tournaments. Currently projected as a future first-round NBA draft pick, Joseph is continually developing his IQ as a point guard to add to his already impressive skill set.
The burning question now is how these two future pros will handle the pressure of playing for all the marbles in March. Given the way they’ve handled their transitions so far, there is no doubt that they have the ability to finally lead Texas to the Promised Land, and maybe, just maybe, bring the basketball program to the forefront of Texas U’s athletics.
The Future is Even Brighter
If the Longhorns are undoubtedly a top-10 team at this moment, then they might end up being crowned #1 next year when another Canadian star comes to town. Despite his diminutive stature at 6’1 and only 160 pounds, Kabongo is a dynamic playmaker who has pundits all over the world drooling at his potential.
Of course, I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself here. First of all, the Longhorns need to focus on the task at hand this year. And after that, they have to hope that both Thompson and Joseph will stick around for another year instead of riding off for the bright lights and big paycheques of NBA life.
But in the mean time, Canadians can be excited as the Texas Longhorns establish a championship calibre program using Canadian talent as its core. And surely we don’t mind lending our guys to the country next door. After all, that’s what good neighbours do, right?
PHOTO COUTRESY: STATESMAN.COM