The lack of attention had grown unbearable for Texas senior
guard Reggie Freeman. Anxiously, he dialed the number to coach
Tom Penders's office and waited for the pickup. "This is Tom
Pend--" Freeman couldn't contain himself. "Hey, it's Reggie," he
interrupted. "I was late for a study hall."
This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1996 issue
Penders thanked him for the notice and hung up the phone as a
proud grin stretched across his face. This sense of
responsibility is exactly what Penders had been trying to
instill in Freeman, the player he is counting on to lead the
Longhorns to their eighth NCAA tournament appearance in nine
"Reggie didn't have to call me, but he just couldn't stand it
that I hadn't gotten on his case about something for almost two
days," Penders says. "I was in his face so much his first years
here that now he can't stand it when he doesn't hear from me."
Freeman's flash of insecurity might seem unwarranted. With 22.4
points per game, he is the fourth-best returning scorer in the
nation and unquestionably the top gun on a talented squad that
is expected to breeze through the Big 12 South. But the guard's
slight case of anxiety is understandable when you consider that
he wasn't even the best player on his high school team.
At Rice High in the Bronx, the spotlight belonged to Felipe
Lopez and Jerry McCullough, two New York City schoolboy legends
who signed with St. John's and Pitt, respectively. Then when
Freeman came to Austin, he found himself stuck in the rotation
behind guards B.J. Tyler, Roderick Anderson and Terrence Rencher
for two seasons.
Last year was the breakthrough. Freeman directed the Longhorns
to a 21-10 mark and a near upset of Wake Forest in the second
round of the Midwest Regional. He paced the team in steals (2.3
per game) and finished with the third-best single-season point
total in school history. "Now it's a dead issue," says Freeman
of his low-man status. "I used to think about it all the time,
but I learned from playing behind all those people. Hopefully
I've proved myself."
Games at Arizona, Utah and Kansas--just part of the Longhorns'
torturous schedule--will serve as the perfect testing ground.
Freeman shares the backcourt duties with sophomore guards Kris
Clack and DeJuan Vazquez. Clack, an underrated shot blocker who
can play four positions, averaged 9.4 points per game last year
and came on strong in the postseason, scoring 16.0 points and
6.5 rebounds a game in the NCAA tournament.
Senior center Dennis Jordan showed promise by holding Demon
Deacons All-America center Tim Duncan to 13 points in Milwaukee.
The rest of the inside duties will go to senior Sheldon Quarles,
although 6'7", 230-pound Gabe Muoneke, a true freshman with a
39-inch vertical leap, will make a run for the starting power
Says Freeman, "We're a better team than we were last season, and
a lot of us feel we can go far in the NCAA tournament." At last,
spoken like a born leader. --RICHARD DEUTSCH
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Tom Penders
Career record: 446-290 (25 seasons)
Record at Texas: 176-81 (eight seasons)
1995-96 record: 21-10 (final ranking: none)
SWC record: 10-4 (third)
PG *DeJuan Vazquez 6'4", Soph.
Started 25 games as true freshman
SG *Reggie Freeman 6'6", Sr.
Made top 10 in seven SWC categories
SF *Kris Clack, 6'5", Soph.
Had eight double doubles in '95-96
PF Sheldon Quarles 6'10", Sr.
Saw eight minutes a game off bench
C Dennis Jordan 6'9", Sr.
Dropped 40 pounds to get to 270
Dec. 21 at Utah
Texas blew 13-point lead in loss to Utes last year
Jan. 6 at Kansas
Jayhawks' mighty frontcourt is tough matchup
Feb. 3 vs. Texas Tech
Horns lost to Tech three times last season
Feb. 19 vs. Iowa State
Victory could push Texas into NCAA field
March 1 at Colorado
UT last beat Buffs in 1981