AUSTIN, Texas -- All of this could have been avoided.
Myck Kabongo could be taking part in his first NBA training camp right now and not be the subject of an NCAA investigation into his relationship with a professional agent, which Yahoo! Sports first reported late Wednesday night.
But the Longhorns sophomore point guard didn’t want his last game in a Texas uniform to be a 65-59 loss to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He wanted his legacy in Austin to be much more memorable than that and figured he could make that happen with at least one more season as a Longhorn.
“Personally for me I didn’t want to go out without winning,” Kabongo said recently. “This program deserves to win. They’ve done everything possible from a Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four. They just haven’t gotten to that big stage yet. I just think with the big pieces that we have coming back we could do that.”
The Big 12’s head coaches reminded everyone last week of the expectations he brings with him into the season by naming him to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. But if the findings in the NCAA investigation cause him to miss time this season, those expectations could be tempered a bit.
Kabongo, a 2011-12 All-Big 12 honorable mention, started all 34 games last season as a true freshman. A pass-first point guard, he finished fourth in the league in assists per game (5.2), second on the team in steals (38) and third on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg).
He was expected to be the face of a program whose roster features just two seniors (both walk-ons) and no juniors. He is up to 180 pounds after adding 10 pounds of muscle this summer, and said he felt much better about being able to handle the rigors of an NCAA season.
“I thought I could use another year of college to get stronger,” he said. “Talent-wise I think I was ready to go. But physically and mentally it was a good thing for me to come back, get bigger and stronger, and build a bond with my teammates.”
Despite their youth, the Longhorns figured to flirt with preseason Top 25 polls in large part because of what he brought to the table as perhaps the best floor general in the league.
Kabongo, for one, even doubts that Texas would crack the Top 25.
“Basketball never has an age,” he said. “We love flying under the radar. We are under the radar right now and we like it that way. We probably won’t be in the Top 25 polls. If we are we know that every night someone is going to come after us. We love flying under the radar because I think this team is talented enough to do some special things. We are going to surprise some people.”
The biggest surprise at the beginning of the season could be a Texas team without Kabongo, if the NCAA declares him ineligible for any amount of time.
But if he were to miss an extended amount of time, the Longhonrs would be in a very precarious situation, especially since Sterling Gibbs transferred at season’s end to Seton Hall. He would have been the only true point guard with any college experience at Rick Barnes’ disposal.
Now those duties are going to shift over to freshman Javan Felix, a four-star recruit rated as the No. 72 player in the country and No. 10 point guard overall.
“He can play basketball. He can definitely play basketball,” Kabongo said. “He works hard.”
A native of New Orleans, Felix is a pass-first point guard who has been a part of winning programs his entire life.
He probably won’t be asked to do as much as Kabongo was in 2011-12. Not to say he couldn’t handle that type of responsibility, it’s just that Texas has more talent this season.
The Longhorns have proven scorers on the perimeter in Sheldon McClellan, an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection, and Julien Lewis. They’ve got experienced returning big men in Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond, who despite only being 6-foot-7, earned respect across the league with their play down low as true freshmen last season.
Most importantly, perhaps, is the size of the incoming freshman class. Texas had only one player listed above 6-7 last season, and he’s gone. Now the Longhorns have five listed above 6-7.
The most highly recruited of the bunch is Cameron Ridley, the No. 8 player in the country out of Fort Bend (Texas) Bush. But you never know how freshman big men such as Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert are going to transition to consistently facing like-sized bodies.
That’s where Kabongo’s creativeness would really come in handy. Crafty point guards can mask players' deficiencies and give those weaknesses time to turn into strengths.
“I am 6-foot-2 with a 6-8 wingspan,” Kabongo said. “Cam is big. Prince is big. It disrupts teams when they want to come through our offense. We can really take them out of what they want to do. I can pressure a lot more too.”
The question now becomes: When will he be able to?