November 23, 2009

4 Texas Longhorns

By Elizabeth McGarr

November 23, 2009

Jai Lucas may be the most talented walk-on in America. Last December the former McDonald's All-American transferred from Florida, where in 2007--08 he started 36 games and made the All-SEC freshman team but became homesick and disgruntled because the Gators were using him more as a shooting guard than at the point.

He came to Texas knowing a scholarship might not be available, and indeed the Longhorns hit the limit in August when guard J'Covan Brown, a top recruit who sat out last season, finally became academically eligible. Lucas, a Texas native and the son of former NBA star John Lucas, will pay his own way, and when he becomes eligible, on Dec. 15, he'll battle for playing time with Brown, top recruit Avery Bradley and holdovers Justin Mason, Dogus Balbay and Varez Ward on what is arguably the deepest team coach Rick Barnes has had in his 12 seasons in Austin. "Our perimeter positions are all interchangeable," says Barnes, who adds that Lucas "understands how to get the ball to the right people at the right time."

That skill was often lacking last season. Barnes has a tradition of bringing in top point guards (T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson and D.J. Augustin), but last year his best guard was senior A.J. Abrams, a natural scorer who struggled as a playmaker. Texas's rhythm often suffered as a result.

That shouldn't be a problem for this year's team, which is just as stacked in the frontcourt thanks to seniors Dexter Pittman and Damion James, who last spring flirted with the NBA draft but withdrew his name. Their presence, along with junior Gary Johnson and five-star recruit Jordan Hamilton, means Texas can give other teams a lot of different looks. "If we have to spread [the floor with perimeter players], we can do that," says Barnes, "and if we need to get into a power game, we can do that too."

Lucas will fit right into that talent-laden rotation, scholarship or no scholarship. Says Lucas, "We all bring different pieces to the puzzle."