ESPN The Magazine's Elena Bergeron has a fantastic piece about Texas' struggles in 2009-10 in the March 8 issue of the mag. (Heads up: The link is Insider, but you're one of those by now, aren't you?) It covers all the old standbys -- too many minutes for too many guys, too much inconsistency on the wing and at the point, too many fresh faces unused to the rigors of college basketball, and on and on. Where Bergeron's piece differs from the standard gnashing of teeth about Texas' utterly disappointing season is that it also has a dash of the new, the most startling of which is Rick Barnes' admission that he'll gladly sacrifice national titles if it means sending his players to the NBA.
Uh-oh. I have a feeling people aren't going to like this:
"We would love to win a national championship, but we're not obsessed with it because we're obsessed with these guys trying to live their NBA dream," Barnes says, with a nod to their predecessors. "What's happened to Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, T.J. Ford -- I'd give up a national title for all of our guys to be able to live their dream."
That sound you hear is Texas basketball fans uniformly and repeatedly slamming their heads against the wall. Guys! Stop it! You'll hurt yourselves!
You could understand the fervor, though. Rick Barnes has always been a phenomenal recruiter; the knock against the coach is that he's failed to turn any of that talent into a national title team. That, after all, is supposed to be the underlying goal of every college basketball coach at every college basketball program, especially one as big and rich and competitive as Texas. That's what it's all about: a national championship.
Not to Rick Barnes. This is what someone who is fond of using such terms would call a "paradigm shift." Coaches who aren't coaching for titles, but for their players to reach the NBA? Coaches who don't see NBA success as a byproduct of building a winning college basketball program, but instead see building that program as a byproduct of NBA success? Texas fans aren't the only ones who aren't going to be happy about this. Everyone who takes college basketball's title seriously -- too seriously, sometimes -- just had their minds blown. You mean you, you ... don't care about winning the Final Four? What?!
The reality, however, is far less shocking. The bottom line is that many coaches, to varying degrees, believe privately what Barnes just said publicly. They want to win, sure. But first they want to recruit, and this is the way you recruit the best players to your team year after year.
There's also something to be said for actively wanting your players to play in the NBA. Given the inequities in college basketball -- Barnes made millions of dollars this year; All-American forward Damion James got room and board -- this is not an ignoble goal. Barnes wants his guys to make money and do well at the next level -- by next level here, let's be very clear: in the NBA -- more than he wants to win at all costs. That's not the worst thing in the world, is it? Heck, it might be borderline admirable.
Just don't expect Texas fans to agree.