Mac Engel

March 29, 2014

Basketball fabs don’t like staying in Texas

The lack of a hoops culture is one of the primary reasons.

In the history of college basketball are a pair of “Fab Five” teams who are loaded with Texans.

More than 20 years ago, Michigan featured the now ignorantly revered Fab Five, two of whom were Texans — Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.

On Friday night in the Sweet 16, Kentucky featured a lineup of five all-everything freshmen, three of whom are Texans —Julius Randle, and Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

“In Kentucky I think basketball is what people breathe, and what they live for,” Aaron Harrison said Saturday, the day before Kentucky will play Michigan in the Elite Eight.

“Being from Houston, it’s more about football. It’s really big. I did want to go a basketball school. I didn’t want to get out of Texas because of football.”

Because it is nearing April and March Madness is in its final descent, here is the perfect opportunity for an annual gripe to all of the men’s basketball coaches in the great state a Texas — quit letting these guys get out of Texas.

Why is John Calipari able to fly in all the way from Lexington, Kentucky, and steal Julius Randle from Dallas and the Harrison twins from suburban Houston to play basketball?

Texas may be able to land some of the best basketball events in the world, but until it secures the likes of Randle and others, our teams will be watching the Final Four instead of playing in it.

It has been more than 20 years since then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher ventured into Texas to take two top recruits in Jackson and King, and despite the “progress” of the programs within our great state since then, not too much has changed.

On the ESPN top 100 senior high school players, nine are Texans. Two of those nine have signed with schools from Texas — Prime Prep point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is going to SMU, and Mansfield Timberview’s Alex Robinson is headed to Texas A&M.

The others are fleeing to the normal spots — Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, etc.

Euless Trinity has the lone remaining, unsigned plum in this class, 6-foot-11 center Myles Turner, who is ranked the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit. Of his seven finalists, the only Texas school to make his “list” is the University of Texas, which he visited this past week.

He has visited SMU, and that it’s in the discussion for Turner speaks to the dramatic progress that program has made under coach Larry Brown.

When Randle was coming out of Prestontwood Christian in Plano last year, he actually listed Texas and TCU among his potential destinations along with Duke and Kentucky.

But no one was surprised when he picked Kentucky.

“I grew up watching Texas sports, football and basketball,” Randle said. “I can’t tell you why the they can’t keep the talent in Texas. I think the teams in Texas have done a great job. SMU and Texas had incredible years. I felt that this was just the best fit for me.”

Despite the obvious advantages in proximity from home to big-time programs such as Texas, SMU, Baylor, Texas Tech and others, can anyone blame a high school basketball star like Randle, or Turner, that he leaves the state to play?

Just as no one could blame Jackson or King for leaving the warm weather for Ann Arbor in 1991, no one should be terribly surprised the Harrison twins, Randle, Turner or any other top basketball player leaves for Lexington, Lawrence or Chapel Hill.

All one has to do is attend a midseason home basketball game at Texas, Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M or Texas Tech to see why they leave. Despite the increased investments from schools, and the improvements from the likes of Texas under Rick Barnes, Baylor under Scott Drew and now SMU under Brown, it’s just different.

Texans like basketball. We just don’t love it. We don’t breathe it. It’s not in our DNA, or the culture.

As long as that is the case, college coaches from the best programs in the country will continue to have no problem dropping in and grabbing the very best from this great state.

The next time there is a Fab Five, don’t be too surprised at least one or two of them are Texans.

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