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Archive for Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sorrentino: Barnes revitalizes program

March 5, 2008

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Big 12 Spotlight 03-05-08 ( .PDF )

There's a reason Texas men's basketball coach Rick Barnes is locked into a contract that would keep him in Austin until 2017.

Simply put, he's the best basketball coach in the history of the program.

Texas' nine straight tournament appearances in Barnes' first nine seasons - a school record - would have been considered exceptional in the eras before Barnes arrived.

Now, it's just expected.

When Barnes took the UT job to start the 1998-1999 season, he didn't inherit a program that had much success or tradition.

The farthest Texas had advanced in the NCAA Tournament was the Final Four, but that was in 1947. The most recent success Texas had in the tournament was the Elite Eight in 1990.

This season will make Barnes a perfect 10-for-10 in tournament appearances. In UT's previous 58 seasons, it made the tournament only 16 times.

It's baffling to think before Barnes arrived, the UT player with the most NBA success was former Kings/Pacers forward LaSalle Thompson, who averaged near eight points and seven boards in his 15-year pro career.

Barnes, who coached for six years at Providence and four years at Clemson, recruited talent the UT basketball program never had witnessed.

Barnes brought in athletes like Chris Owens, T.J. Ford, Royal Ivey, LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, Daniel Gibson, Kevin Durant, A.J. Abrams, D.J. Augustin and Connor Atchley.

The obvious reason not a single coach in this year's preseason poll picked Texas to win the conference was because of the departure of Durant, who was selected No. 2 overall in last year's NBA Draft.

It's tough to picture this group actually better after losing Durant, but that is the direction Barnes has led Texas. Despite several key players darting early to the NBA in the Barnes era, he has provided enough stability to make a deep tournament run several years (Sweet 16 in 2001-02, Final Four in 2002-03, Sweet 16 in 2003-2004, Elite Eight in 2005-2006).

Few other teams in the Big 12 other than Kansas and Texas have this type of stability. Try picturing Kansas State without Michael Beasley and Bill Walker next year. A bit of a different team.

Recently, Barnes has done an impressive job keeping Texas near the top of the conference with Kansas, which has dominated the Big 12 with seven conference titles in 11 years.

In the realm of Big 12 Conference history, Texas clearly isn't Kansas. But the Longhorns (134-56, .705) are currently second to the Jayhawks (156-34, .821) in conference winning percentage since the Big 12 Conference started in 1997.

None of it would be possible for UT without the program Barnes has built.

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