A versatile star is thinking big now that he's getting to play small again
When he returned to Austin in June to take classes in the College ofEducation, former Longhorns star Kevin Durant needed a partner for his workouts.So the newly minted NBA Rookie of the Year asked junior forward Damion James togo shoot with him -- at 6:30 a.m. Word spread quickly to the rest of theLonghorns, who despite the early start, soon joined Durant for his summerschedule of workout, class, workout. "By the end of June, Kevin had the entireteam in there working," says Texas coach Rick Barnes. "He is still part of thisteam."
The seven-man recruiting class that arrived in 2006 included Durant; pointguard D.J. Augustin, who led Texas with 19.2 points per game as a sophomoreand then followed Durant to the NBA; and James, who is most likely the nextLonghorns star -- no disrespect to senior A.J. Abrams, the top returningscorer in the Big 12.
Although he played on the perimeter at Nacogdoches (Texas) High, the6' 7", 222-pound James was asked to play center as a Longhorns freshman andpower forward as a sophomore. He more than held his own against biggerplayers -- James is one of only six returning players in the nation who averaged adouble double in 2007-08 -- but he's eager to make the transition fromundersized post to oversized wing. "I feel like I'm back at home," says James."And Kevin coming back elevated my game to another level."
Durant helped him with his shooting technique and tips on defending aslashing wing. "Damion is an athletic guy, so [by] moving out to the three, he'sgoing to bother some guys with his length," says senior center Connor Atchley.
Abrams will also assume a new role this season. He excelled as a shooter inthe Longhorns' three-guard offense last season, setting a school record with 284three-pointers (at 39.9% accuracy), but with Augustin now gone, Abrams will bepart of what he calls a "point guard by committee." He'll share the role withjunior Justin Mason and sophomore Dogus Balbay, who despite missing last seasonwith a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, is the Longhorns' fastest playerwith the ball. The basic offensive scheme will remain the same, says Barnes, but"each of those guys is going to run it a little differently."
The top scorer is gone, but the next nine are back, with Atchley, sophomoreGary Johnson, junior Dexter Pittman and sophomore Clint Chapman rotating throughthe post. "We haven't had this much depth since our Final Four team [in 2003],"says Barnes. With that comes even higher expectations for a team that reachedthe Elite Eight last March. Says James, "Anything less than the Final Four is afailure for the TexasLonghorns." -- Joe Lemire
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.