Barnes plans to stick around at Texas
With a new athletic director in Austin, this season is pivotal to Rick Barnes' future
As a little-used freshman reserve at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Rick Barnes hadn't played in several games when he unexpectedly heard his name called to enter a particularly fast-paced game at Western Carolina.
John Lentz, Barnes' roommate and a senior on the team, recalled that after a few times up and down the court without a stoppage, a temporary reprieve finally came when a teammate was fouled and sent to the free throw line.
Barnes approached Lentz standing at midcourt trying to catch his breath. "John, I'm really tired," Barnes said.
"Tell Coach [Bob] Hodges to take you out. You need a break," Lentz said.
"If I do that, he might not put me back in," Barnes replied.
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"Well," said Lentz, who currently serves as the head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne, "you'd better figure it out, big boy."
Barnes didn't take himself out of the game. Not then. Not ever. The current Texas coach is conditioned to find a way to fight through, which is where he finds himself this season following his first losing season in 15 years coaching the Longhorns.
Last season was the only time during his tenure that the Longhorns didn't make the NCAA tournament. But their recent history in the Big Dance has been brief -- Texas hasn't advanced past the tournament's opening weekend since 2008's Elite Eight appearance.
Combine that with the fact that DeLoss Dodds, the athletic director who hired Barnes away from Clemson, retired this year, and this season has all the prerequisites to heat Barnes' seat.
"He's going to push back is what he's going to do," Lentz said. "He's going to push back. He's not going to give in and say, 'All right, that's it.' He's going to fight."
New athletic director Steve Patterson has yet to chime in publicly on what he expects from Barnes and the basketball program. If you hadn't noticed, he's got other things on his mind after Mack Brown resigned as football coach last week.
Barnes attended Brown's news conference to support his friend, whom Dodds also plucked from an ACC school to coach at Texas.
"I'm looking forward to having a chance, when that time comes, to sit down and talk [with Patterson]," Barnes said.
The Longhorns' next two games could go a long way in determining how favorably those conversations will go. Barnes has his young Texas squad at 9-1 heading into Wednesday night's game at No. 14 North Carolina. It returns home on Saturday to face No. 5 Michigan State.
It's arguably the Longhorns' toughest stretch on the schedule until they face Kansas and Baylor in consecutive games on Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.
"For us, I am excited to see where we are. I am excited to see us continue to grow and do what we have done up to this point," Barnes said. "When you talk about building résumés, this is where that comes in."
Barnes, in his 16th season at Texas, is the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12, and he has the building blocks of what could be a competitive team over the next few seasons if all his players stick together.
They are young -- the oldest player on the roster is junior forward Jonathan Holmes. But they're a bunch of blue-collar talents who play hard, much like Barnes' best teams at Providence and Clemson.
"No matter who I am playing against -- no matter if they were a McDonald's All-American or somebody who did not get looked at, such as a three-star recruit as myself -- I am going to give it all I can," freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor said. "No matter who we play, no matter how good they are perceived to be, or how good they are not perceived to be, I just want to give everything and try my hardest."
Taylor's words signify the culture shift Barnes sought in the program, one by which everyone buys into the team.
The Longhorns no longer have a splash of highly recruited five-star recruits on their roster. Who's left are guys like sophomore guard Demarcus Holland.
"A year ago, he was a player who wasn't a highly recruited player but the kind who, throughout my career, that we've had a lot of success with," Barnes said. "He's a player. The way you watch him play in a game, that's how he practices every day. … There's not a coach in the country that wouldn't want him on his team."
Barnes had other talents that were coveted, too, but they're all gone.
Myck Kabongo, who missed 23 games last season when the NCAA ruled he received impermissible benefits, turned pro after the season.
The point guard didn't get drafted, played in one preseason game with the San Antonio Spurs, then was waived. Kabongo is still in Austin, Texas, just not in the capacity many expected, as he's playing for the Toros in the NBA Development League. The only other double-figure scorers from last season, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis, also left the Longhorns, not as professionals but as transfers. McClellan went to Miami, and Lewis headed west to play for former Texas assistant Rodney Terry at Fresno State.
What surprised Barnes most was seeing forward Ioannis Papapetrou pack his bags and head to Greece after signing a professional contract with a team there in late August. The 6-foot-8 forward would have been the team's leading returning scorer (8.3 points per game), leading 3-point shooter (35.9 percent) and, in general, its best matchup problem for opponents with the way he operated on the perimeter.
Despite undergoing major roster attrition in the offseason, Barnes said he wasn't surprised by the Longhorns' quick start.
"I don't think there is any coach in any sport that goes into a game not thinking that they can win," Barnes said. "Every game we have gone into, we felt like we could win."
The departures of Dodds and Brown signal the end of an era in Austin, and Barnes added that much will change in the near future with plans for a medical school eventually leading to the bulldozing of the basketball facility.
"Austin itself is changing," he said. "We've seen a lot of change already in 16 years, and there's going to be a lot more."
Barnes doesn't plan on being a part of those changes just yet.
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