Big 12 Tidbits: Durant's Departure

By David Scott - October 17, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Before we get into some of what we gathered during one-on-ones, we can't let the bizarre story out of Syracuse go without some mention.

Months ago it was reported that Mike Hopkins, a long-time Jim Boeheim assistant and former Orange player, would be the next in line to succeed Boeheim when (if) the coach decides to ride off into the sunset. A story from The Associated Press on Tuesday indicated that the deal had been formalized and put in writing.

But now, SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross is denying that a written agreement has been reached and saying his words were taken out of context.

Perplexed? Yeah. So are we. Hopkins deserves the security of knowing he will be the next Orange head man and Gross's hesitation to formalize the deal is nothing short of an insult. Plenty of these agreements have come about in recent years (i.e. Pat Knight at Texas Tech for his dad, Bob Knight) and the result is both continuity for the program and security for the young coaches. Let's hope Hopkins gets the deal signed and Gross quits his messing around.

Now, back to the Big 12...

Before Texas basketball can move forward with this season, there is still the matter of just how special last season was with the human highlight film that was Kevin Durant. Durant, the number two overall pick in the NBA Draft (to Seattle) left an indelible mark on the Longhorn program and head coach Rick Barnes knows it.

"I''m not sure we've had a guy, recruiting-wise, that has ever helped us more than Kevin. He opened recruiting doors for us," said Barnes. "I think he will continue to have an impact on us because of the way we allowed him to be who he was and do what he does. A lot of coaches talk about that (letting a guy play his game), it's obvious that it happened at Texas where we let a guy come in and do what he can do."

"Like I've been telling everybody, we can't replace Kevin," said Texas sophomore D.J. Augustin. "He was a great guy - if we get guys like that, just his character, to come every year, Texas will be agreat school. It's not just his basketball ability, it's the kind of person he was and you need people like that in every day life. He's a great person."

"You can't look past what he did," said junior A.J. Abrams. "He put together a great freshman year and you always have to remember that. I think our team is ready to get on the floor and just show that we can play without Kevin and do just as well."

But before they do, his ex-coach and teammates still reach out the big fella every now and again.

"I talk to him like every other day," said Augustin. "He's doing good, he's enjoying the NBA life. He told me the other day about the travel, because he hasn't been home in like two weeks."

"I talked to him just a couple of nights ago," said Barnes. "He still needs coaching he just doesn't need it from me. He loves Texas, loves this team. He called day before practice started and wished us well. He always say I miss you guys, love you guys. But it was time for him to go after what he dreamed of doing. What he did for us a year ago was truly remarkable when you think about having to be with so many young players to do it. He's on his way and in a couple of years, he'll be one of the best players in that league, if not the best."

Horns Hooked on Defense

A big theme for Barnes is the need to step up the defensive intensity and consistency of his squad.

"We can be a great team if we just step up and play defense and rebound," said Augustin. "That was our weak spots last year and that's what we're focusing on right now in practice. Our defensive rebounding and defense hurt us last year . If we had stepped up on that end last year, we'd have won a lot more games than we did. We're trying to focus on that now so we don't have to go through that this year."

Even for a team that was fourth in the league in field goal percentage defense and fifth in rebounding margin, Barnes expects better out of his players.

"Defense and rebounding - that's all we do in practice," said Abrams. "I'm surprised Coach hasn't put the little bubble over the goal so we can't even make a shot and only rebound. I think that will be coming soon. That's fine with me, for our team to get where we want to be, we're going to have defend, maybe full court pressure, get more possessions on the offensive end and rebound on the defensive end."

Barnes Ponders What If

He doesn't do it often, but Barnes did admit to playing the "What If..." game on more than a few occassions.

"Every year you start over - even if (Durant)were here, we'd be a different team," said Barnes. "I probably think more about a year ago, when we could have DJ at the point, (Cleveland Cavalier Daniel) Gibson at the off-guard and Kevin at the three with (2006 NBA Draft pick) P.J. Tucker and (Portland Trailblazer) LeMarcus Aldridge - that's not a bad team. I've thought about that - that's the nature of the game now though. These guys come to chase their dream and I'm not going to stop them and I certainly don't hold anything against them."

. . . We've run short on time here, so we may just get in one final post before we head to the airport for the trip back to Loserville (a.k.a. the Home of the Choking Boston Red Sox) - but do be on the lookout for the Bob Knight column which we'll hope to post on Thursday.

Posted by David Scott at 03:32 PM on October 17, 2007

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