'Getting to Know You' could be theme song for menís hoops in 2006-07
"Who's at point guard, What's at small forward, and I Don't Know is in the post."
Not that Men's Basketball coach Rick Barnes found anything funny last spring when he lost his entire starting team to graduation and early-entry in the NBA Draft.
Gone were seniors Brad Buckman, Kenton Paulino, and off to the NBA went P.J. Tucker, Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge.
"We knew going into last year that we could lose the entire (starting) team," said Barnes, who this month begins his ninth season as head man at Texas and his 20th season as a college head coach.
Enter freshmen Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, and Damion James -- all probable starters.
Matt Hill, Justin Mason, Harrison Smith and Dexter Pittman round out the newcomers on a roster that has 11 scholarship players -- nine of them freshmen and sophomores.
"We're young and we'll have some growing pains," Barnes said. "We'll take what we have and mold them into the best team we can. We'll coach them as we have coached all of our teams, adjusting what we do to the players we have."
Still, Barnes, the owner of a great dry wit, appreciates that he might be the only coach in Division I who had to wear a "Hi, my name is..." tag when practice began in mid-October.
Instead of beginning workouts with a team meeting, Barnes might have considered a meet-and-greet for his 2006-07 team.
"That is the model of what top programs do (reloading)," Barnes said. "The best ones are there every year. Our whole deal will be that by the end of the year, we should be able to compete with anybody."
Barnes knows to move the team in that direction he will need contributions early on of returnees A.J. Abrams, Connor Atchley, Craig Winder and J.D. Lewis.
"A.J. has been more vocal and I like the way he's matured," Barnes said. "We'll need his leadership. Connor also has worked hard during the spring and he's playing with more confidence.
"Craig and J.D., we need them to be leaders and to accept their roles.
"We'll ask all of them to help the freshmen learn how you have to play hard on every possession to be successful at this level."
Barnes welcomes the challenge of this season.
"It's different than the past couple of years," he said. "But if you are going to recruit certain players, you obviously know that you could lose them. You want to recruit players who are going to be here for the long haul, but if you get certain players there is a real possibility that they are going to leave early."
One such is Durant, a 6-foot-9 guard/forward (a 7-foot, 5-1/2-inch wingspan) from Montrose Christian High School who led his team to a 20-2 record last season and earned co-MVP honors in the McDonald's All-American game last spring.
He was chosen Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year and already has been projected in some circles as the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft next June.
"There's not a spot on the floor he can't play," Barnes said. "There is not a place on the court he can't score from. I think we'll play him all over the floor. People throw around the words 'great' and 'special' a little too much probably. I think he's a guy who is a terrific talent and I would say that he is the most talented player we've coached.
"People talk about the 'it' thing. You know when a guy has got 'it.' I can tell you Kevin has got 'it.'"
Ditto for Barnes, whose Longhorns teams have won almost 24 games per year in his first eight seasons in Austin. Texas also is only one of six programs to reach the "Elite Eight" of the NCAA Tournament in two of the past four seasons and one of three programs to earn a spot in the "Sweet 16" in four of the last five seasons.
Barnes knows with the success of his freshmen, especially Durant, he will continue to draw questions about the small window available for this Texas team to win the NCAA Championship.
"If you don't recruit the best players, you are going to be playing against them," Barnes said. "I don't fault any player for leaving early. If the opportunity is right for them and they can pursue their dream, then the decision is right for them.
"I don't worry about next year's team or last year's team. I'm only concerned with this year's team."