Good news and bad news, Longhorns fans. The good news is that your 2010-11 team is -- like most teams under recruiting whiz Rick Barnes -- going to be very talented. The bad news? Guard Varez Ward will not be a part of that talent. Instead, he'll be transferring to Auburn.
At first glance, the bad news might not seem all that bad. After all, the Longhorns have a bevy of guards in their rotation, including Dogus Balbay, Jai Lucas, J'Covan Brown, and top 2010 recruit Cory Joseph, all of whom have the skills to contribute this season. (And let's not forget sophomore small forward Jordan Hamilton, whose guard-ish game is primed for a breakout in 2010-11.) When you have that much talent, should you really worry about the transfer of a single player? If Barnes thought so highly of Ward, would he have recruited Joseph & Co. in the first place?
Still, despite the likely spin that Ward's transfer will make it easier for the Longhorns to establish a rotation, his farewell certainly won't make the Longhorns better. Ward was supposed to start at guard last season before a freak layup-line injury ended his season. Without him, Texas' guard corp was suspect. The Longhorns lacked one backcourt player who could both defend and facilitate the team's talented offensive threats; Balbay's offensive inability (and later injury) made him suspect, while J'Covan Brown was a score-first guard who didn't do much for his teammates with the ball in his hands.
When Andy Katz spoke to Longhorns senior Damion James after 2009-10's historic collapse -- when Texas went from No. 1 in the country to a No. 9 NCAA tournament seed and a first-round tourney exit -- he said Ward's injury had more to do with Texas' collapse than anything else:
"They'll have a good season with Jordan and Gary, but Varez was our best on-ball defender. He can pass the ball. He's a true point guard. He can get dudes the ball when they need it. He makes smart decisions. We had too many crucial turnovers.
"He's going to be the face of that team next year,'' James said of Ward. "No doubt. I know -- I hang around those guys. He works hard all the time and this is his time to shine and make a name for himself.''
James hit it on the head. Texas' biggest problems were a stagnant guard corp. All that talent needed someone like John Wall -- not only talented, but willing and able to keep his uber-talented teammates involved and interested on both ends of the floor. Ward could have done that. Instead Texas, though still as talented as ever, loses a key role player and potential All-Glue Guy from a team that desperately needs a dash of Elmer's.
It's not a devastating loss, but it is a bummer. Just ask Texas fans.
On the other side of things, Auburn has to be ecstatic. It's been an offseason full of bad news for new coach Tony Barbee. Returning starters Frankie Sullivan and Ty Armstrong are out for the season with ACL injuries, and incoming recruits Luke Cothron and Shawn Kemp were unable to qualify academically. This is a lost rebuilding year for Barbee and the Tigers, but Ward's entrance in 2011-12 will be the program's first major injection of talent under its new coach.