NCAA BK

No. 3 Texas preps for title run with vets, youth

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP)

The coach talks about his defense. Teammates talk about his dunks. Texas freshman guard Avery Bradley has found a way to impress just about everyone in practice. "I've never seen a guy have that many put-back dunks at 6-foot-3," senior forward Damion James said. Adds coach Rick Barnes: "He guards the basketball as well as anybody you'll ever see." Bradley helped give the Longhorns one of the top freshman classes in the country. Blend the youngsters with a group of talented seniors and No. 3 Texas is among the early favorites to contend for a national championship after last season's 23-12 finish. "The challenge will be how do we bring it all together," said Barnes, who hasn't been to the Final Four since 2003. "We've got guys who can play and we've got to get them out there." Bradley is just a part of what is expected to be an exceptional talent pool in the backcourt. He and freshmen Jordan Hamilton, J'Covan Brown and Shawn Hamilton will be competing with senior Justin Mason and sophomore Varez Ward for playing time. And in mid-December, the Longhorns will add Florida transfer Jai Lucas to the mix. "We're going to have good guard play," Barnes said. "The young players don't understand yet that if you get 10-12 minutes a game, that's going to be hard to get on a team this talented." Barnes has had plenty of talented freshman come through his program for short stays before jumping to the NBA. T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin played just two seasons at Texas. Kevin Durant burned through one season in Austin, winning national player of the year honors in 2006-2007. What makes this season different is that the freshmen also have upperclassmen with experience to lean on. "We haven't had a senior class in I don't know how long," Barnes said. "Those seniors know what it takes to be on the court, and they lead by example. As talented as some of these younger guys are, they are learning that it takes more than talent." James, who can be a prolific scorer and rebounder from the wing and in the post, worked out for NBA teams last spring but decided to return for his senior season. He averaged 15.4 points last season, ranks third in Texas history in career rebounds (968) and has 37 career double-doubles. "It's not like I wasn't going to play in the NBA, but it showed me what it will take to be in the NBA 15 years instead of just two," James said. Also returning is Dexter Pittman, a 6-foot-10 center who has spent four years losing weight to help boost his production. Once listed at 366 pounds, he's now down to about 285. "I need smaller clothes," he said. Pittman became a regular member of Barnes' rotation last season and his points average jumped from 2.8 as a sophomore to 10.1 as a junior. James said he expects bigger things from his slimmed-down teammate this season. "He walks with a swagger: 'I'm Dex, and can't nobody stop me,"' James said. It won't take long for the schedule to put the new talent and Texas' high ranking to the test. In December, Texas plays Southern Cal at home before clashing with North Carolina in Arlington at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium. Promoters are hoping to draw 75,000, which would make it the largest crowd to ever watch a Texas college basketball game. After that, it's back home to play No. 2 Michigan State three days before Christmas. The Longhorns open Big 12 play Jan. 9 against Colorado.
Tagged: Texas

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