ARLINGTON, Texas -- He’d be a nervous ball of energy if they were playing on a ramshackle high school court against a Division III team.
That Jai Lucas' first game in a Texas uniform comes in the tricked-out Cowboys Stadium, with No. 10 North Carolina as an opponent?
“Yeah, that hypes it up a little bit,’’ Lucas laughed as he readied for practice in the Cowboys' spacious visitors' locker room on Friday afternoon.
The Houston native has been waiting more than a year for this day to come. Logically he knew it would get here, but on game nights, when he watched his teammates put on their uniforms while he headed to the bench in street clothes, he wondered.
The Houston native stunned more than a few basketball folks last year when he decided to transfer from Florida after the fall semester. As a freshman he logged plenty of minutes for the Gators, earning all-SEC rookie honors after averaging 8.5 points and 2.7 assists.
Then Billy Donovan elected to move Lucas from the point to shooting guard and that decision, coupled with Lucas’ homesickness, prodded him to make a change.
It was, he says now, the right decision -- even an easy decision.
But living with the choice, that’s another story.
“I was just thinking about this the other day and I think sitting out was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,’’ he said. “I don’t regret it because I’m in a better place for me, but it was so hard. Game days, everyone had that extra giddyup in their step and I didn’t and in college basketball, that’s what you live for: to play the games.’’
Instead Lucas watched film, lots and lots of film. Film of his games at Florida, films of himself during practice. And though the sessions were informative, they were also borderline torturous.
“Oh man, I hope I don’t have to watch that much film for a long time,’’ Lucas laughed. “I know it helped me and I think I’m already a better player for it, but watching film is not always good.
Lucas’ arrival couldn’t come at a better time for the second-ranked Longhorns. Rookie J’Covan Brown is battling an ankle injury, and though clerared to play probable for the game, isn’t likely to be 100 percent. Texas also will be without backup Shawn Williams.
Neither played in the Longhorns’ recent win over Texas-Pan American.
“People were all talking about our depth at the beginning of the year, but in the last game, we had two guys at the point who weren’t there,’’ said coach Rick Barnes, who praised Lucas’ basketball IQ. “So having Jai right now is a great thing for us.’’