The day after his Longhorns lost to Xavier in the third round of last season's NCAA tournament, Texas coach Rick Barnes offered his 6'5" freshman power forward, P.J. Tucker, a road map to his NBA future. "Let's analyze this," Barnes told Tucker. "If you want to go to the next level, you're not going to get there being a power forward at your height."
So began Tucker's conversion from an undersized power forward into a wing player. Over the past six months Tucker has made Cooley Pavilion, where the Longhorns practice, his second home, taking more than 500 shots a day, six days a week. Barnes says that he doesn't expect Tucker to match the long-range marksmanship of departed shooting guard Brandon Mouton, but the coach does want Tucker to become a consistent scorer from midrange in addition to taking the ball to the basket, as he did when he went he went coast-to-coast to beat Providence at the buzzer last season. "I've always been able to knock down shots, but being consistent is the major thing," says Tucker, who averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds as a freshman. "I want to be great. And I want to go to the next level."
Texas has a chance to go to another level over the next three years thanks to a recruiting haul that would make football coach Mack Brown blush. Barnes landed three McDonald's AllAmericans (forward LaMarcus Aldridge, point guard Daniel Gibson and forward Mike Williams) as part of a five-man freshman class (forward Dion Dowell and center Connor Atchley are the other prized newcomers) that many experts have tabbed as the nation's best.
Gibson's development could determine Texas' postseason success, and Tucker has taken him under his wing. "When Daniel came here, I told him that he'd better hook up real quick with P.J.," says Barnes. The two have played one-on-one nearly every day since Gibson, who's from Houston, arrived on campus in June. Tucker says that Gibson, the preseason Big 12 Conference freshman of the year, has lived up to his press clippings--and so have his classmates. "The freshmen will be ready, and they'll make us deeper," says Tucker. "Maybe we don't have as much experience as we did last year, but I promise you, we'll have just as much talent." --R.D.
2003-04 RECORD: 25-8 (12-4, T2 in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Xavier in Sweet 16
The Longhorns' youngsters are rarin' to run, with Gibson pushing and Aldridge finishing.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"I saw Daniel Gibson in high school and really liked him. He shot when he was open and passed when he wasn't. He's really smart. But he's a freshman, so he's definitely going to struggle at times.... I like Jason Klotz. He's tougher than Brad Buckman, and he shoots well.... LaMarcus Aldridge is a very good athlete and is really active around the basket.... It's hard to lose four key seniors and not take a step back. Those guys were program guys and knew coach Barnes's system.... Texas is going to play rough and tough, so if you're a soft team, you'll get exposed when you play them."