Coach's Corner

A week ago, re- posing for hours on an emergency room cot, I vividly imagined what would be said about me upon my imminent demise. I'm still here, so instead, let's do a post-mortem on the 1996-'97 Runnin' Horns and what needs to happen in the future if the University of Texas expects to be a top-rate basketball program.

1) As Popeye said, "I yam what I yam." Pigs don't turn into birds. Cats will not bark. The Horns, in the NCAA's, played exactly to the form they showcased all year. They beat teams they were supposed to beat (Wisconsin, Coppin State) and they lost to teams rated better (Louisville). They were consistently inconsistent all year long. One game out of five, Texas centers would look halfway decent, prompting wishful thinking from fans and the media. Then, without fail, they'd disappear for half a dozen games. While the frenetic defensive effort was always there, too often it was all the offense the Horns had. On bad shooting nights -- which were many -- there was a heavy load on the defense to create points. The aggressive UT defense frequently had opponents quickly shooting free-throws. On the other hand, poor UT free-throw shooting often killed the team's momentum and energized beaten opponents.

2) The Runnin' Horns deal has served Penders well, but it's time to put it to bed. His high-risk, moderate-return offense, dependent on jump shots and lots of them, creates a team capable of quickly running up big leads and then losing the lead faster than excretion slips through the goose. Texas needs to develop a more diversified offensive scheme, without total reliance on a fast tempo, and more emphasis on a solid, half-court game. For example, Louisville, though ready and willing to run, could fall back to a patient, effective half-court game when necessary. The Big 12 is a tough, defensive conference. Against this level of competition, the Horns offense too often resembled a sleek Corvette with a stuck transmission. Fast was the only way they could operate.

3) To contradict the oft repeated dogma, Texas does not need big men. What it needs are players -- they don't have to be Wilt Chamberlain -- with the necessary toughness and low post skills to effectively play with their backs to the basket. Tim Duncan, two-time ACC player of the year at 6'10", is the same height and weight as Longhorn center Sheldon Quarles. At that point, the resemblance ends. Dennis Jordan, 6'9", 270, is almost as big as Shaq. It's not the size, it's an attitude. Much is being made of next year's tall class, led by Westlake's 6'11" Chris Mihm. Don't hold your breath. I've seen Mihm play. He's not a power player. He has a sweet, 10-foot jumper. He'd rather do something cute than jam home a dunk. Does this sound familiar? Can Penders effectively teach big men to play? A legit question.

4) Obscured within the mist of more obvious Texas problems was the debilitating lack of a point guard. Anthony Goode may be the answer; he didn't play enough this year to make a judgment. All too often the Texas offense broke down in total confusion as the whoever-has-the-sucker-throw-it-up offense took over. Job opening for an assertive, press-free guard, who can penetrate, make sensible decisions with the ball, and hit the occasional J. Sounds easy enough, but it's a rare commodity.

5) Kris Clack, so promising as a freshman many feared he'd be in the NBA by now, displayed his offensive limitations this year. His jump shot, ball handling, and free-throw shooting are poor. These can be improved, making Kris a devastating package of rebounding, defense and offensive firepower. Is he hard-headed? Does he want to learn? It will take many hours of hard work in a hot summer gym. Does he want to do this?

6) On an arrogance scale, a college or pro coach is pretty close to the top of the heap. Penders is no exception. He's right: The rest of us don't know Jack. Have you ever heard any coach say, "Yeah well, I read this great idea in the paper this morning and, shit, it worked!" In a company town, notorious for its soft media coverage, what does surprise me is his tissue-thin skin to any media criticism.

This column, for example, he'd likely consider a hideously negative, unfair ripping of him and his team by an ignorant, jerk/moron... that'd be me. I think it's well intended, informative and constructive: not in any way personal. Last week, I heard him remark he was hurt by the media questioning his coaching decisions. I was prepared to hear some accusation of a personal attack against him, a fair complaint, but it was garden variety stuff (a Bohls column) which was getting under his skin. Tom, it's not mine, or Kirk Bohls' or Mark Rosner's job to write sweet, positive things about the University's sports programs. At your disposal is a large, talented athletic department, fueled with an endless stream of cash, to do just that. If a column has a byline at its head, it's the writer's job to report on the team with as much integrity as possible. You gotta understand, accept and come to terms with this. Monday morning quarterbacking is our job... and we're not always wrong.

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