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 Tuesday, November 2
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

LAST SEASON: 19-13 (.590)
NICKNAME: Longhorns
COLORS: Burnt Orange & White
HOMECOURT: Erwin Special Events Center (16,042)
COACH: Rick Barnes (Lenior-Rhyne '77)
record at school 19-13 (1 year)
career record 221-147 (12 years)
ASSISTANTS: Rob Lanier (St. Bonaventure '90)
Brian Cousins (Providence '91)
Ed Kohtala (Maine '81)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 17-17-22-23-19
RPI (last 5 years) 31-40-32-110-57
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NCAA first round.

ESPN.com Clubhouse

For openers, allow us to gloat a little. Blue Ribbon saw past the turmoil in the Texas program in 1997-98 and picked the Longhorns to finish among the nation's Top 40 last season. We didn't pick Texas all the way to win the Big 12, but, then again, nobody did.

The Longhorns were still one schizoid team a year ago. Conveniently, the calendar year provided the split.

In late 1998, the Longhorns were terrible. Sure, the schedule was brutal. But there were no excuses for losses at Houston and San Diego. About the only good thing which happened before the new year was a victory over Utah. And the way Texas was playing, that triumph looked like a fluke.

Hindsight tells us the slow start can be explained in one word: transition. Gone was former coach Tom Penders and his exciting, up-tempo, undisciplined style. In was Rick Barnes and his patient, defensive-minded, fundamental, tactical method. Penders recruited all the players Barnes used. They had to adjust, on and off the floor.

Barnes brought with him a rulebook and routine. The Longhorns had followed neither. What's more, when Penders left, half the team was happy and half disconsolate.

"It was a team divided," Barnes admitted. "We had to learn how to respect each other. That was the basis for it all. We had problems to work through, but this team continued to work throughout the year."

Blue Ribbon Analysis

It says a lot about Barnes' coaching ability and the recruiting of former coach Tom Penders that the Longhorns were able to turn a 6-10 team in the Big 12 into a 13-3 club. It also says something about the overall weakness of the Big 12.

Clearly, there was no team in the conference as strong as the ones Kansas fielded in the Paul Pierce-Raef LaFrentz era. It left the door open for Oklahoma State, Missouri and Oklahoma. But it was Texas that took advantage and stepped up.

Can it happen again? A 13-3 league record seems unlikely. Make it more like 11-5, but with a better overall record. The Longhorns should also find themselves with a consensus All-America in Mihm.

The addition of Owens solidifies the frontcourt. Texas must find some shooting help in the backcourt. The returnees must become more selective. If that happens, the Longhorns could become a major threat.

Texas could easily have folded. It stood 2-5 at the holiday break, then went to Hawaii and fell to Princeton. Yet turn the calendar to 1999, and everything changed. It was as if the Longhorns made a resolution to finally play up to their ability and to their Blue Ribbon expectation, based on four returning starters.

It also helped that the Big 12 wasn't being pulled along by Kansas. The Jayhawks weren't running away with the championship as they had done the previous two years. First place was up for grabs, and Texas seized the race by jumping to a 5-0 conference start. Then, after a loss at Kansas, the Longhorns peeled off impressive victories over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to take the conference lead.

Nobody would catch them, and Texas became the first team not named Kansas to win a Big 12 title. Barnes had pulled off a minor miracle, whipping pretty much the same team that finished 6-10 in league play a year prior into the winner's circle. He was easily the Big 12 Coach of the Year and should have received more attention for the national honor.

"I don't want credit for any of it," Barnes said. "I was no different during the conference season than I was when we were 2-7. It's about a bunch of guys who came together and didn't care who got the credit."

That sounds nice and, really, it wasn't as if some All-America became eligible at the semester break to rally the program. But a few conditions changed that laid the groundwork for the eventual winning.

The holiday break did help. Before heading to Hawaii, Barnes had the team back on an empty campus, conducting two-a-day practices for three days. Internal problems the Longhorns had through the first month got laid on the table in late December.

In Hawaii, Texas met the perfect opponent to fire up a coach Princeton. The undermanned Tigers outclassed Texas, and allowed Barnes to storm his team afterwards. Texas had the better players, Princeton had the better team. The Longhorns sprinkled that on their mahi mahi and choked it down.

"He kept telling us we were going to win," said forward Gabe Muoneke. "I don't know how many of us believed it the way we were playing, but he kept saying it."

Unfortunately for Texas, the season ended much as it began. The Longhorns lost three of their final four games. They dropped the regular-season finale at home to Missouri, a second-round Big 12 Tournament game to Oklahoma State and a first-round NCAA contest to Purdue.

Mediocre guard play was Texas' undoing in the end. The Longhorns didn't shoot it well from the outside and relied too much on Munoeke and center Chris Mihm.

"I know one thing," Barnes said, shaking his head hours after the loss to the Boilermakers. "We've got a proven front like, but we better improve our perimeter game. We've got to have balance. We owe that to Chris and Gabe."

Barnes went out and recruited some guards, but the strength of the team will remain in the frontcourt. Mihm might be the nation's best center. Muoneke may be the nation's most physical forward (as those on the receiving end of his fist-clenched blows learned last season).

Both made All-Big 12, and they will lead the Longhorns to another upper division finish and a run at the conference championship.

(6-1, 195 lbs., SR, PG, #5, 6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 33.6 minutes, .312 FG, .299 3PT, .781 FT, North Carolina State & Roosevelt HS/San Antonio, Tex.)

Funny how things work out. Three years ago, Wagner was playing for North Carolina State against Clemson, coached by Rick Barnes. Now, Wagner will be Barnes' point guard for the second straight year (Wagner had knee surgery in April, but is expected to be ready when practice begins).

He is a terrific athlete. Wagner is a former NCAA high jump champion who has scaled 7-6. His college basketball career started with a bang when he scored 29 points in his first game and 17 in his second against undermanned opponents.

Wagner was named to the league's All-Defensive team, and his choice as the team's MVP sounds like an attempt to boost confidence. Wagner's shooting needs it. He made fewer than 30 percent from behind the arc and didn't do much better inside it.

His shooting wouldn't have been a big problem for Texas if somebody else stepped up. That didn't happen. One of his rare successful three pointers, in fact, was a lob pass intended for Muoneke that inadvertently sailed through the hoop.

The defense can't be denied. Wagner tied a school record with 10 steals against Texas A&M. He finished third in that department in the Big 12.

(7-0, 262 lbs., JR, C, #4, 13.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 32.1 minutes, .449 FG, .683 FT, Westlake HS/Westlake, Tex.)

The upside is tremendous. Mihm probably would have been the first center taken in last June's NBA draft had he come out. He is not ready for pro ball, of course, but he is more ready than many of those who did come out. And, if he continues to progress, Mihm is a lottery lock for next June.

Let's get the flaws out of the way: Mihm's shooting percentage is an unacceptable .449. He probably takes too many 12-footers and isn't a cinch around the basket. Part of the problem for Mihm and teammate Gabe Muoneke was the Longhorns' poor perimeter shooting, which allowed teams to gang up on the inside.

Assume that gets better. Mihm also needs to get a little stronger, and he worked hard with the Texas strength coaches over the summer when he wasn't playing in the World University Games. Those games turned out to be a strange experience for Mihm. He twice led the team in scoring in early victories over Nigeria and Lithuania, but his playing time decreased as the event progressed.

After scoring 15 points against Lithuania, Mihm played one minute against Greece. Mihm ended up averaging 7.8 minutes per game, the lowest on the squad, although he led the team in free throws attempted and made (26-for-37, .703). The team's only other center, North Carolina's Brandon Haywood, averaged 23.5 minutes. Mihm was unhappy with the situation.

Minutes won't be a problem during the college season. Mihm, a first-team All-Big 12 pick last year, led the league in rebounding and blocked shots. He recorded 19 double-doubles, and nobody in the nation had more. Mihm was also about the only Texas player who showed up for the postseason, when the Longhorns went 1-2. He averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds in those games.

"I look at the numbers and honors he started pulling in at the end of the season and it really made me laugh," Barnes said. "He didn't really start understanding what we wanted him to do until we had played about 11 games."

Mihm moves exceptionally well for a seven-footer. His shot-blocking ability is not only a product of his height, but also his intelligence. He does it without fouling and was disqualified only twice last season. He may not be as strong as he'd like, but, at 262 pounds, he doesn't get pushed around and holds his ground well. He needs the added strength to finish plays. Going to the free throw line a league-leading 218 times is great. But Mihm will have succeeded in his summer strength program if he goes to the line for "one" instead of "two" this season.

The speculation over his future has already started. If all goes well this year, Mihm will have a difficult decision to make. Or maybe it won't be that difficult at all.

"[Going pro] is something I'm definitely going to seriously evaluate after the season," Mihm told the Austin American-Statesman. "That [speculation] has definitely been out there. There was a lot of talk even this year about where I could possibly have gone in the draft, but I didn't for a second entertain that thought."

(6-7, 250 lbs., SR, SF, #3, 16.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.9 apg, 31.6 minutes, .495 FG, .375 3PT, .610 FT, Cypress Hall HS/Houston, Tex.)

Muoneke is a bruising forward who can take over a game with his all-around play. He joined Mihm on the All-Conference team and is generally one of the Big 12's most skilled players.

He is also one of the most puzzling. Inside that talented basketball body was a mean spirit that threatened his 1998-99 season. There had been signs of overly aggressive play in the past, but not until a nationally televised game with Kansas was it captured on-camera. Twice, Muoneke was caught delivering fisted blows to Jayhawks forward T.J. Pugh. It also happened in a regular-season game against Wisconsin, and again Texas lost in the NCAA Tournament to Purdue (when the Boilermakers' Brian Cardinal accused Muoneke of the same thing).

Automatically, Muoneke was labeled a thug. After the Kansas game, Barnes suspended him for a game and it was no light punishment. The opponent was Oklahoma State in a critical conference matchup. That week, Barnes and Muoneke met the media to apologize and explain.

Muoneke apparently suffers from an anger problem and has received counseling. He said he has no recollection of the punches, and actually asks himself, "Did I just do that?" as he runs back down the floor. After watching tape, he said he is embarrassed about what happened.

Muoneke isn't a mindless thug. He was born in Nigeria, and grew up in inner city Houston until his father got a job as a mathematics professor at Prairie View A&M. His parents demanded hard work in the classroom and Muoneke delivered. His major is geosystems engineering and hydrology.

He opened up to Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Mike Jones about what he believed were the origins of his anger problem.

"When I was younger, I was picked on so much, more by blacks than whites, because of my name and [the] deep accent I had," Muoneke said. "When we moved to the suburbs away from the crime, I had the mentality of inner city Houston. So, now, instead of being made fun of because of what or who I was, I was made fun of because people thought I was angry. I was considered nuts."

Muoneke's anger problem may have an explanation, but officials were told after the incidents to closely monitor Muoneke, and it's been difficult for him to get a fair shake since. Still, he manages to get his points and rebounds, and he is a key reason why the Longhorns have a chance to successfully defend their Big 12 championship.

(6-2, 185 lbs., SR, SG, #23, 8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 23.8 minutes, .339 FG, .275 3PT, .699 FT, San Jacinto JC, Tex. & Bryan HS/Bryan, Tex.)

Clay came off the bench and provided a spark, but he could have provided more spark if he had shot better. He led the Longhorns in three-point attempts with 131 and made only 27.5 percent of them. In conference play, he made 17.6 percent (9-for-51).

The season started with such promise. Clay got all five of his starts early on because of injuries, averaging 14.4 ppg while shooting 44.7 percent from distance. He managed just 20.4 percent the rest of the year.

Clay will get and probably deserves the first look at shooting guard, although the Longhorns will have some options from their incoming class.

(6-8, 232 lbs., SO, PF, #20, 6.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 20.0 minutes in 1997-98 at Tulane, Duncanville HS/Duncanville, Tex.)

The Longhorns are excited about yet another Texan who left the state out of high school and returned home (see Ivan Wagner).

Owens was not a happy camper at Tulane. He entered the program as its highest-rated recruit, a national consensus Top 25 high school player, and was given playing time right away. Success came early against easy competition, but in the Conference USA opener against Memphis, Owens was held scoreless in 23 minutes. He seemed unhappy the rest of the way and announced his transfer late in the season. UCLA was the early leader for his services, but Owens wound up returning to his home state.

During his transfer season, Barnes raved about his ability and is excited about the prospect of a Mihm-Owens-Muoneke front line (with Owens as the power forward).

At Duncanville High, Owens established himself as one of the nation's top players. He shattered a backboard in a game as a senior and helped lead his team to the state semifinals. Last year, while he was sitting out, Owens had surgery on both knees. His rehabilitation was completed this summer.

Owens' father, Rick, played at both Iowa and Akron. His great uncle is Jesse Owens.

(6-3, 185 lbs., JR, G, #25, 21.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.3 apg, 3.4 spg at Brown Mackie JC, Kan.; also Loyola College & Archbishop HS/Forrestville, Md.)

Kelly can play both guard positions. He brings more experience to Texas than any other newcomer, having started his career at Loyola College under current Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe.

Kelly averaged 9.7 ppg at Loyola and shot 37.8 percent on three-pointers. But he hasn't played Division I ball since 1996-97, having sat out his first year at Brown Mackie JC.

(6-3, 175 lbs., FR, G, #32, 16.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.0 spg, Duncanville HS/Duncanville, Tex.)

Brown was the MVP of a Texas vs. Oklahoma high school all-star game during the summer. He led Duncanville HS to the largest classification state championship and was rated as the No. 2 prospect in Texas.

Brown is slated to compete with fellow junior college transfer Lawrence Williams for backup minutes at point guard. But if anybody can shoot it straight, their playing time will increase.

(6-1, 185 lbs., JR, G, #22, 19.5 ppg, .415 3PT, Panola JC, Tex. & Ruston HS/Ruston, La.)

Williams started both years at Panola JC and helped his team qualify for the regional tournament for the first time in school history. Experience alone could put Williams farther ahead than Brown in challenging Wagner for a starting role.

(6-7, 220 lbs., FR, F, #2, 9.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, South Grand Prairie HS/South Grand Prairie, Tex.)

The numbers don't overwhelm, but Wyatt missed much of last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee nine games into his junior year.

That inactivity may have scared off some recruiters, but not Barnes. "He's going to be a great one here," the coach said.

What Barnes particularly likes is Wyatt's versatility. He can play shooting guard and both forward positions.

Another knee injury, however, this one in the preseason, will further slow Wyatt's development. Wyatt is not expected back until early January following September arthroscopic surgery to repair further cartilage damage in his right knee.

"William had made great strides," Barnes lamented, "but he is going to be a productive player."

(6-7, 215 lbs., FR, F, #45, 17.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 8.5 apg, 2.0 spg, Seminole HS/Seminole, Tex.)

Ogden was voted Texas' "Mr. Basketball" last season after leading Seminole HS to a 34-4 record and second place in the state in Class 3A.

Ogden nearly averaged a triple-double. For a player projected to back up at the shooting guard and small forward positions, he handed out more assists than you'd expect. He and Wyatt will be part of the frontcourt rotation.

(6-0, 170 lbs., JR, G, #21, 1.7 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 8.9 minutes, .464 FG, .444 3PT, .824 FT, Collin County JC, Tex. & Carrollton HS/Carrollton, Tex.)

If only McColpin could get his own shot. He was by far the team's best shooter. Of his 28 field-goal tries, 27 were launched from three-point land.

If the Longhorns' shooting is going to be awful again this season, they need to find a way to free McColpin.


(6-5, G, 22.6 ppg, Wichita State)

Evans, a high-scoring shooting guard, is transferring from Wichita State and will have two years of eligibility with the Longhorns beginning in the 2000-01 season. His 22.6 ppg as a sophomore led the Missouri Valley Conference and ranked ninth nationally.

"I picked Texas because all the pieces of the puzzle are already intact," Evans told the Austin American-Statesman. "I really mesh well with the players and coaching staff. It's a positive staff, and I love the way Texas the state has pride in Texas the school. I'm looking forward to being a part of that."

Barnes called Evans "one of the top players in college basketball. Obviously, this is a huge commitment for our program."

(6-5, SF, 14.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 34.0 minutes, .404 FG, .308 3PT, .687 FT)

Nobody was more hurt by the departure of Penders than Clack. Penders thought enough about Clack, that when sentiment was turning against the coach in the aftermath of the 1997-98 season, Penders asked Clack to hold a press conference to defend him as a coach who didn't abuse his players.

Clack said he had no problems playing for Barnes, but the numbers tell a different story. Clack's averages and percentages dropped. His role changed from that of a "go-to" player to role player. Clack was still good enough to make second-team All-Big 12, but he figured to play a more important role for the Longhorns before Penders left the program.

His senior year wasn't a complete loss. Clack became the first player in school history to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a career.

(6-4, SG, 5.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 26.0 minutes, .436 FG, .317 3PT, .595 FT)

"Chico" Vasquez was a four-year starter. He played the point his first three seasons, then was moved to shooting guard last year.

Vasquez is tied for fifth in games started (107) at Texas, but is one of those rare birds who played that long and didn't finish with at least 1,000 career points. His numbers were down from 1997-98, just as they were throughout the backcourt.

(6-8, F, 3.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 13.8 minutes, .588 FG, .250 FT)

The 1998-99 season was a tough deal for Drakes, who traveled to Texas from his native Trinidad through a community college in North Dakota. He then suffered a broken bone in his foot in the 10th game, and missed the rest of the season.

Drake was out of redshirt options, and also out of luck.

(6-9, F, 3.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 11.4 minutes)

Carter was the top frontcourt player off the bench last year, but the Longhorns didn't go to their bench much. Carter played in all 32 games, made one start, and actually fared better in Big 12 play (when he averaged 3.8 ppg and 2.7 rpg) than in the non-league games.

(6-2, G, St. Raymond's HS/Bronx, N.Y.)

Hunter was supposed to be the jewel of Penders' final recruiting class, the latest in his New York City pipeline. He is the son of former Harlem Globetrotter Bobby Jo Hunter and appeared to have a bright future at Texas.

But Hunter did not qualify and was forced to sit out last season. Over the summer, he saw where he didn't fit into Barnes' plans and opted to transfer.

Shooting? Somehow the Longhorns managed to win the conference despite ranking seventh in field-goal percentage (.424), ninth in three-point percentage (.324) and 11th in free-throw percentage (.650).

Depth? Newcomers have to supply it, because Texas returns only five letterwinners.

Philosophy? Some Tom Penders holdovers didn't buy into Barnes' disciplined tactics on and off the floor. It's a defense-first system, and five newcomers will have to adjust.

Mihm and Muoneke! They comprise the Big 12's best frontcourt and one of the best in the nation.

Defense! In league games, Texas led the Big 12 in scoring defense at 60.3 ppg. Opponents shot only 38.7 percent.

Barnes! He pulled off a minor miracle in Austin. Now, he must deal with expectations.

The 19th edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is on sale now. To order, call 800-828-HOOP (4667), or visit their web site at http://www.collegebaskets.com

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