Myles Turner seemed at ease as he took a seat in his high school gym in Euless, Texas, on Wednesday and absorbed the crackling atmosphere of a nationally televised college decision. The nation’s top uncommitted recruit spoke with poise and eloquence about the journey and the people that brought him to this moment. Then his little sister, Mya, handed him a black box from which Turner pulled a burnt orange fisherman’s hat that gave Texas faithful good reason to cheer.
The short list of national title contenders got one team longer Wednesday when Turner announced he would be a Longhorn. He is a skilled 7-footer with both a polished post game and the ability to stretch a defense while offering top-notch rim protection at the other end. The nation’s consensus No. 4 overall recruit also offers a remarkably clean fit with the personnel Texas returns for 2014-15. In fact, as a team that returned all of its players from last season, the Longhorns figured to be on the fringes of the country’s best teams anyway.
Cameron Ridley is a former five-star prospect who will be the back-to-the-basket center after a breakthrough sophomore year in which he averaged 11.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Turner is a natural at power forward, but he'll be an ideal fit for spelling the 285-pound Ridley, too. Jonathan Holmes, who spent time at both 3 and 4 last season while posting a team-best 12.8 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting might even be more comfortable sliding into a full-time role at small forward.
The starting backcourt of Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix also returns intact, after having combined for 24.3 points per game a year ago. Now, in Turner, they'll have a perfect screen-and-roll partner on the offensive end and a shot-eraser that should give them the confidence to gamble on the defensive end. Take a chance on the perimeter, and Ridley and/or Turner can clean up that mess.
It's an incredible dynamic: A Texas team blessed with quality returning talent welcomes a difference-making player who might be in the NBA lottery in a year. And besides one starter having to accept a sixth-man role -- likely guard Demarcus Holland -- the Longhorns won't have many adjustments to make.
The result is that Texas now charges into the conversation about the nation's best teams, though it isn't guaranteed to be the favorite in its own league. Kansas lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the NBA draft, but it refurbished its roster with top recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre to go with returnees Wayne Selden, Jr. and Perry Ellis, among others. Turner's presence, though, shrinks the talent gap significantly between two top Big 12 contenders.
Just as the Longhorns drew closer to their in-league rival, they also closed on teams like Kentucky and Duke that figure to be among the nation’s best next season.Thanks to surprise returnees like the Harrison twins and another stellar recruiting haul, the Wildcats will boast nine McDonald's All-Americans after making the national title game. That’s firepower Texas wasn’t going to be able to match – until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Rick Barnes rehabilitation tour continues. You may recall Texas' coach was all but fired before his team played a game last season, a year in which the Longhorns earned that NCAA berth while Barnes earned conference coach of the year honors. Now Barnes and his staff have scoreda titanic recruiting win with an elite prospect, ideally infusing confidence in other recruits about the long-range viability of their program. The short-range effect, though, is exponentially enhanced pressure. Barnes will be tasked with making this work. And that doesn't mean just grinding to another NCAA tournament appearance. The acquisition of Turner, and the way his abundant talent complements everyone around him, means a championship goal is realistic.