AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Longhorns have been in a long, steady decline. And given the player exodus since last season, coach Rick Barnes is under increasing pressure to make a quick turnaround.
For more than a decade, Barnes pushed the Texas program to new heights: A Final Four appearance, the first No. 1 ranking in school history and two Longhorns, T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant, who earned national player of the year honors.
But a long drought of postseason success has dragged into its fifth year and last season’s 16-18 record — Texas’ first losing season since 1997 — have raised the pressure.
Athletic director DeLoss Dodds — who has announced he will retire next year — has publicly said he’s worried about the direction of the program even as football coach Mack Brown faces questions about his own job future.
But while Brown has a roster loaded with talent try to turn things around this season, Barnes must do it with a depleted roster that lost four of its top four scorers from a year ago to the NBA draft, transfers and the Greek basketball league.
Barnes has often recruited nationally, which meant landing players like Durant from the Washington, D.C., area, but also that the Longhorns started losing out on some of the best players from talent-rich Texas high schools. Barnes admits recruiting misfires. Not just players who leave early for professional leagues, but others like Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis who become unhappy and transferred out. Texas has no scholarship seniors.
“It came under my watch,” Barnes said. “I’m to blame for that.”
Barnes is left with a scrappy nucleus of returning players to try to get the program back on track. The leading returning scorer is sophomore guard Javan Felix, who averaged 6.8 points last season. Felix had off-season hip surgery but is expected to play this season.