Over his first half-dozen years as coach at Texas, Shaka Smart has worked with three prospects who wound up in the category of “one-and-done” college players: Jaxson Hayes became the eighth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft; Mohamed Bamba went sixth the previous year; Jarrett Allen was chosen 22nd in 2017 and has started 169 games over three seasons. So it has turned out great for the players involved.
For the Longhorns? Those three players produced one NCAA appearance combined and zero tournament wins.
With top-10 prospect Greg Brown III committing Friday to stay home and join the Longhorns for the 2020-21 season, the plan obviously is to accomplish more during his one (expected) season in Austin. To that end, Smart says, it’s important to simplify the demands and expectations for such a player in order to maximize his and the team’s success.
And, perhaps most important, the player must understand his college team’s success will flatter him in the eyes of NBA scouts.
“You can make a mistake of trying to get a guy to be a more evolved, sophisticated guy, in terms of asking him to do two-dozen different things, and sometimes there’s a point of diminishing returns,” Smart told reporters on a Monday conference call. “When the reality is, if there are three or four things that a guy can go out there on the floor and do — and do well, and do confidently — he can be really successful.
“I think getting the young man to understand the better we do as a team, the better it’s going to reflect him, and the No. 1 thing on that is his teammates, the nature of the relationships with some of the older guys.”
The 2019-20 Longhorns featured five players who averaged at least nine points per game and 11 who partly because of how injuries adjusted the rotation played double-figure minutes. So it’s not like there’s a huge vacancy for Brown to fill next season. The Horns will make room for him, obviously.
Brown might also give the Longhorns something they lacked even during the time when they had Allen, Bamba and Hayes: None of them was an elite scorer, the sort of No. 1 offensive option who could undo opposing gameplans. Allen’s 13.4 points per game was the highest scoring average of the three.
Under Smart, Texas has not had a player average more than 15 points per game. It is not essential for a contending team to have a top-level scorer on its side. But it never hurts.
Incorporating a single one-and-done player on a college roster is something that has not been a smashing success in many places. LSU missed the NCAA Tournament with Ben Simmons in 2016, and Indiana with Romeo Langford last season. Washington was a disaster with Markelle Fultz in 2017. N.C. State was such a disappointment with Dennis Smith that same year the administration chose to dismiss coach Mark Gottfried in mid-February.
Texas’ average record in its three seasons under Smart with one-and-dones is two games under .500. It only gets a little better if you add in the 2014-15 season under Rick Barnes, when Myles Turner helped the Horns to finish 20-14.
“That’s something, to be honest, coming into coaching at Texas I had no experience with, even as an assistant coach, and I’ve learned quite a bit about,” Smart said. “I think every situation is different. Probably the No. 1 consideration in each situation is the other guys around that young man.
“There are going to be certain similarities in terms of the challenges and the adversity that guys go through as a freshman — even if they end up being a very high pick in the NBA Draft. And those are conversations we have on the front with guys during the recruiting process, and obviously throughout their freshman year.”
Smart said he expects Brown’s arrival to intensify competition for playing time, but that the current UT players were among those excited about signing him to join the program.
A 6-9, 190-pound forward ranked No. 9 in the 2020 recruiting class by 247Sports’ Composite rankings, Brown averaged 26.1 points for Vandegrift High in Austin. Smart said several of the Longhorns had been communicating with him previously.
“Our guys have really been excited about Greg for a long time,” Smart said.
Led by guards Matt Coleman and Andrew Jones, the Longhorns closed the 2019-20 regular season with five victories in their final six games. They needed that late surge to remedy what was becoming a lost season, largely because of colossal injury issues that were ignored in a media rush to assign blame to Smart. Of the 11 players on the roster who earned regular playing time, only two appeared in every game and two more on top of that missed a single game. Six players missed between four and 15 games with injuries.
They did not get the opportunity to capitalize on their momentum by competing in the Big 12 or NCAA tournaments, as each was canceled. Recruiting continued, though, and the Longhorns won big there.
The trick now is to turn that into victories when the games resume.