Commentary

Barnes' tough approach works

Tough approach molds young Longhorns into tourney team

Updated: March 15, 2012, 4:47 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Three months into the season, two hours into the practice, Rick Barnes was pushing his players to quit.

[+] EnlargeRick Barnes
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesRick Barnes had to rely upon freshmen like Myck Kabongo to play key roles this season.

It was a practice like none had seen or experienced before. And Barnes, always a stick before the carrot coach, was even more unrelenting than usual.

"He was just really hard on us at that practice," point guard Sterling Gibbs said.

In Barnes' mind, he had no other choice. This was a young team, void of cohesion, clouded by confusion. There was no clear leader. There was no common voice or goal. They were directionless. They were without focus. They were lost. And they were losing.

So Barnes would step in. He would force them to make a choice. Right then. Right there.

"Instead of just falling apart, we came together even more," Gibbs said. "That was one of the turning points in our season."

The light didn't suddenly turn on and blind. Instead it flickered. There were moments when what Barnes was trying to teach shone through. There were other, darker moments -- Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Missouri -- when one still wondered if there were any methods or if this were just madness.

That's when Barnes pushed for more.

"He's a hard coach," freshman Myck Kabongo said.

And uncompromising.

"This was probably as hard as I have ever been on a team in my 35 years of coaching," Barnes said. "We knew we had to put them through things they had never gone through."

That was in part because of the six freshmen.

"We needed it," Kabongo said. "Because we were all young."

Maybe Kabongo needed it most of all. He was the point guard who wore a path to the bench instead of the basket in so many games. He was forced to watch, learn and listen.

"I accepted it for what it was," Kabongo said. "It's coaching. He's trying to get you better. You can't take that personally."

Barnes was trying to develop work ethic and resiliency in his point guard and all his players.

The Texas coach made those expectations clear on countless occasions.

"He had to be that way," senior Clint Chapman said. "The three upperclassmen, we were ready for it. But it was one of the hardest years as far as the emotions coming from the coaching staff. I think it was necessary with the guys coming."

It was more than that. Barnes pushed this team so hard because of the three players who were not freshmen.

The coach had an obligation to J'Covan Brown, Alexis Wangmene and Chapman. Those were the only three players in this program in the spring. They didn't quit. They didn't complain. They just worked.

Brown became the Big 12's top scorer. Chapman, a bit player in every other year, played 21 minutes per game and had career high averages in scoring (7.3) and rebounding (5.5). Wangmene started 26 games and was an invaluable interior defender until a wrist injury forced him to the sideline.

"Those three guys worked harder than they have in their life, and if you look at it, those three, they had the best years they have ever had at Texas," Barnes said.

As for Barnes, he may have had his best year, too. The Longhorns might not win their first NCAA tournament game, but they made it. For the 14th straight year, with a team that only has nine scholarship players, six of whom are freshmen, they made it.

They made it because they were not allowed to fail. They were pushed every step of the way. And when it mattered, against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament, they showed they were a team that had learned to be just that -- a team.

"From where we started and where they are now, they earned it," Barnes said. "They had to do it the hard way, going with a coaching staff that was very hard on them from the beginning."

"It paid off," Kabongo said. "We're here now, and we have a chance to do some special things."

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation