KANSAS CITY -- A few days ago, Texas coach Rick Barnes turned to one of his assistants in practice and made a bold prediction about the 2011-12 season.
Well, kind of.
"We're going to be good at something -- at least one thing," Barnes told him. "I'm just not sure what it is yet."
There are indeed plenty of questions surrounding a Longhorns team that had three players -- Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph -- selected in the first round of last summer's NBA draft. Six of the nine recruited scholarship players on Texas' roster are freshmen, and there appears to be a serious lack of depth in the paint.
Still, if Barnes is searching for a team strength, it may be a safe bet to look in the backcourt, where highly touted freshman point guard Myck Kabongo will team with junior J'Covan Brown, who is easily the team's top returning player.
Barnes said Kabongo has all the tools to become the next great point guard for a program that has produced standouts such as T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin.
"He's somewhere in between those two," Barnes said of Kabongo. "He's extremely fast like T.J., but T.J. would pace his game. Myck is a more full throttle. Forget the cruise control. He'd be great this weekend at Talledega. He can beat everyone down the floor with the ball, but he's going to learn to change his pace from time to time so our team can get into a flow."
As much as he needs him to excel with the ball in his hands, Barnes is also counting on Kabongo to assume a leaderhip role for a squad that also lost senior forward Gary Johnson along with the three draft picks.
That's fine with Kabongo, who played high school ball for hard-nosed coach Dan Hurley at St. Benedict's Prep.
"He got me ready, mentally," Kabongo said of Hurley. "Some of these [freshmen] have never been at schools where coaches are going to get after them every day. That's what Coach Barnes does. I just let the young guys know, ‘You can't take it personal. It's part of the game. You've got to be coachable. You can't let what he says on the court affect you off the court.'"
Barnes couldn't say enough good things about Kabongo's attitude -- "I've never seen him in a bad mood," the coach doted -- and work ethic. Apparently some of it has rubbed off on Brown, who has battled consistency issues since arriving at UT two years ago.
Last season, for instance, Brown scored 23 points in a come-from-behind victory at Kansas, but only had three points in the Longhorns' next game against Oklahoma State.
"[Kabongo] is going to impact me big time and get my motor going," said Brown, who averaged 9.8 points last season. "I've got to be consistent every night, no matter who we're playing.
"Sometimes, when we're playing teams that aren't as competitive, I'll get lost in the shuffle. I'll tell myself, ‘I just want to be a defender today and not a scorer.' When it's a big game, I tell my teammates, ‘If you need me, just let me know.' I've got to have the mindset that it's a big game no matter who we're playing."
If Brown doesn't, it could be a tough season for Texas, which has finished no worse than fourth in the Big 12 five of the last six years. The Horns placed second last season with a league record of 13-3.
"We've always set the bar high at Texas," Barnes said. "We're not going to change that."