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6 Texas With every starter back from last year's Sweet 16 squad, no one should take these Longhorns lightly this season

When a torn ACL shelved senior forward Chris Owens, the
Longhorns' top scorer and rebounder, before conference play began
last season, it appeared that Texas's run of consecutive NCAA
tournament appearances was about to end at three. In the brutal
Big 12, featuring four other Top 25--caliber teams--Kansas,
Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Missouri--Texas was suddenly
undersized and short on experience.

The Longhorns couldn't do much about their stature, but they did
grow in a figurative sense, none more than 6'8" center James
Thomas. Though only a sophomore, Thomas averaged a double
double--12.2 points and 10.6 rebounds--after Owens's injury. He
gave Texas the inside presence it needed to earn a tournament
bid, and the surprising Longhorns ended up reaching the Sweet 16
despite a starting lineup that included three sophomores and a
freshman at point guard. "He really filled the void for us, and
he's just scratched the surface of his talent," says Texas coach
Rick Barnes.

Thomas has a linebacker's ferocity on the boards, which isn't
surprising considering that football was his first love. But he
quit football for basketball as a high school freshman so that
his mother, Rachael, could watch him play without worrying about
his safety.

It's the Longhorns' opponents who will have worries this season.
The offense will be in the capable hands of T.J. Ford, who last
year became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists. The
Longhorns should be tough on defense as well. Thomas was a member
of the Big 12 All-Defensive team, and 6'3" junior guard Royal
Ivey is also a lockdown defender. He gave two NBA-bound scorers a
case of poison Ivey last season: Stanford's Casey Jacobsen shot 3
for 17 and Missouri's Kareem Rush went 4 for 19 under Ivey's
pressure in two Texas wins.

The Longhorns are still relatively small, but inside help should
come from 6'8" forward Brad Buckman, a highly regarded freshman
from Austin. Although Barnes plans to bring him along gradually,
it won't be surprising if Buckman becomes a key contributor
before long. At Texas players tend to grow up in a hurry.
--Phil Taylor

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER ABOVE BOARD Texas is counting on Thomas to be double-double trouble in points and rebounds again.



SF Brandon Mouton 6'4" Jr. 13.7 ppg
PF Deginald Erskin 6'5" Sr. 57.2 FG%
C James Thomas 6'8" Jr. 8.9 rpg
SG Royal Ivey 6'3" Jr. 10.9 ppg
PG T.J. Ford 5'10" So. 8.3 apg

Returning starter

2001--02 RECORD: 22--12 (10--6, T3 in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Oregon in Sweet 16</box_body><box_body>

Assists per game by T.J. Ford last year, tops in the nation and
second best by a freshman since the NCAA began keeping the stat
in 1984.

An opposing coach's view

As the hard-driving Ford goes, so will the Longhorns

"Whatever you do, try and keep T.J. Ford out of the lane. If he
penetrates, he'll disrupt everything, and that'll lead to open
shots and follow dunks. But has he developed an outside shot?
That's the only thing that keeps him from greatness.... James
Thomas may be the strongest player in the Big 12. Unlike a lot of
big guys, he knows he's a post player and stays put. If he
catches the ball, make him shoot over you, or he'll dunk in your
face.... Brandon Mouton, Deginald Erskin and Royal Ivey are
extremely athletic and tough, and Ford knows how to find them if
you try to double him.... Center Jason Klotz and forward Brian
Boddicker aren't nearly as tough.... Brad Buckman may be a
freshman, but he isn't going to be intimidated by anybody. But
that's the mark of a Rick Barnes team, isn't it?"