Freshman center James Banks only needed one game to rewrite the Texas record books.
He tallied five blocks in the Longhorns’ season-opening win against Incarnate Word, setting a new high for blocks in a freshman debut. Banks strives for that caliber of performance every game, but knows those stats won’t be as easy to come by throughout the season.
“It’s a totally different ball game,” Banks said. “We’re not going to be the most dominant player on the floor every day. The guys are stronger, the guys are faster, the guys are more experienced … we’re gonna have to bring it every night.”
The 6-foot-10 center entered the program as a highly anticipated newcomer coming out of La Lumiere High School in La Porte, Indiana. And he has shown why early in the season. Banks has recorded nine blocks through two regular season games and a preseason exhibition matchup, emerging as a force in the paint.
Banks’ contributions have come primarily on the defensive end of the court – he’s tallied just eight points this season. Still, his teammates know the offensive numbers will come as the season progresses
“James is awesome,” sophomore guard Tevin Mack said. “He’s got a nice touch. He can make a little pick-and-pop 15-footer — that’s his game. [The freshman are] coming along pretty great.”
Even without much offensive production, Banks is living up to his role on the team. Head coach Shaka Smart has preached a “defense first” mentality to the Longhorns, and Banks has certainly received the message.
“My role changes: It’s a bunch of things but defense is definitely a part of it,” Banks said. “Part of my role is being a defender, protecting the rim, helping our guys out when they get beat. That’s my role and I’ll try my hardest to do it.”
Smart said the defensive improvement he wants to see starts with rebounding, which is a big part of Banks’ game.
While Banks is just behind freshman forward Jarrett Allen in rebounds, he does lead the Longhorns in rebounding interval, a stat kept by Smart and his staff. Rebounding interval takes a player’s minutes played divided by rebounds, giving priority to one’s impact while in the game.
Banks didn’t start playing basketball until his freshman year of high school, but Smart sees that inexperience as an upside. He has room for growth and the work ethic to become a key player for Texas.
“I’m excited about James because he’s only going to get better and better,” Smart said. “He really in a lot of ways doesn’t even know what he’s doing, and I say that in a good way. He’s just learning. He gives us a presence out there that’s different than anybody else. He has a youthful exuberance about him.”
Banks and the No. 23 Longhorns will face Eastern Washington in the Legends Classic on Thursday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. The Eagles are a solid offensive team, one Texas says it won’t take lightly. And Smart will look to Banks, despite being a freshman, to anchor the Longhorn defense.
“They’re a terrific shooting team and they’re a very, very dangerous team,” Smart said. “We’ve got one more home game before we go to New York so we’ve got to make sure we turn the page quickly.”