Kevin Durant

Photo Credit: Virginia Scherer | Daily Texan Staff

With the closing of the All-Star break, the NBA season is rushing to an end with most teams having played 62 out of 82 games. The final stretch is especially important in the hotly-contested Western Conference since only two games separate the third-place Portland Trailblazers from the eighth-place
Denver Nuggets. 

Two players who won’t have to worry about not making the playoffs are Houston Rockets small forward P.J. Tucker and Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant. The Rockets are currently first in the West with a half-game advantage over the Warriors. The two teams have a 12-plus game advantage over
the Trailblazers. 

P.J. Tucker

While he may not be a star, the reliability off the bench from Tucker has helped the Rockets attain the No. 1 seed in the West. Houston has won a league-best 15 games in a row, tied for the second-longest winning streak in team history. The Rockets’ last loss came on Jan. 26 to the
New Orleans Pelicans. 

Tucker’s stats have been solid for a role player during the winning streak, with averages of 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists. Yet the most impressive part of Tucker’s play during the streak has been his ability to shoot 40 percent from the three. This bodes well for the Rockets, who take a league-leading 42.1
threes per game. 

Houston will look to extend its winning streak on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Kevin Durant

Durant has continued his fantastic play post-All-Star break, averaging 26.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Durant is shooting 55.9 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from three. The Warriors have not lost since the All-Star break, winning each of the five games by an average
of 13.2 points.

Durant’s stellar defense has held up as he continues to build a case for Defensive Player of the Year. His 1.2 blocks per game since the All-Star break leads his team. The Warriors will try to keep the winning streak alive and catch the Rockets when they play the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

The San Antonio Spurs find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Having lost three out of their last four games, the Spurs have struggled to find a consistent, healthy lineup to put on the floor. As a result, they currently hold the sixth seed in the West.

Aldridge was recently diagnosed with a sprained ankle, which he sustained during the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last Wednesday. Aldridge played 13 minutes in the game before being held out with the injury. He did not play in the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night. He was listed as questionable against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. 

The Spurs will have a tough time holding onto a playoff spot, with two games against the Warriors, two against the Rockets and two against the Thunder in the next few weeks. 

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Watching the WNBA Draft, surrounded by her family, senior forward Nneka Enemkpali was finally able to let out a sigh of relief Thursday night. 

After months of uncertainty about Enemkpali’s future in basketball, the Seattle Storm drafted the former Texas basketball star as the second pick in the third round of the 2015 WNBA draft, placing her No. 26 overall on the selection board. 

“Ever since high school, it has been a dream of mine to play professionally … I’m so excited that it is now a reality,” Enemkpali said. “I can’t wait to bring my competitive fire to Seattle’s organization.”

The Storm drafted Enemkpali though she played in only 17 games this season as a senior. She will sit out the 2015 WNBA season while she recovers from a torn ACL in her left knee she suffered in January.

Despite the injuries, Enemkpali posted high numbers while at Texas. Before her injury this season, she led the Big 12 in rebounds, averaging 10.6 a game and double-doubles with nine. She recorded a Texas basketball record of seven double-doubles — a mark neither LaMarcus Aldridge nor Kevin Durant ever eclipsed. Furthermore, her accomplishments landed her a spot as a Senior CLASS Award Second-Team All-American, in recognition of excellence in the community, classroom, character and competition.

She ranks ninth in Texas’ record books with 899 total rebounds while she finished with 30 total double-doubles. She also ranks 30th all-time in total points with a little more than 1,100. Before her injury, she was on pace to become the fifth Longhorn to reach the 1,000 mark in both points and rebounds in a career.

“I’m incredibly excited and proud of Nneka,” head coach Karen Aston said. “She is a testament to what can happen if you have a consistent work ethic and a commitment to being successful. The Seattle Storm saw the potential in Nneka and trusted that her work ethic will pay off in the long run.” 

Enemkpali is the eighth Longhorn drafted in the WNBA and the first since 2010, when Brittainey Raven went to the Atlanta Dream in the third round.

Seattle, led by thirteen-year veteran Sue Bird, tied for the worst record in the WNBA last season, giving them the first overall and third overall picks in this year’s draft. Enemkpali joins Jewell Loyd, former Notre Dame guard, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, from UConn, and center Vicky McIntyre, from Oral Roberts, as draft picks.

“There is unity and excitement around the future,” said Alisha Valavanis, Seattle Storm president and general manager.

The Storm will look to content for a title run this season but will have to overthrow defending champion Phoenix Mercury. Seattle opens its season June 6 at home against the Los Angeles Sparks.

Texas head coach Rick Barnes put Texas in the national spotlight after taking over in 1998.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

In one tweet, Texas basketball legend T. J. Ford summed up the situation: a sad ending to the greatest chapter yet of Texas basketball.

“Dear Rick Barnes, I never thought this day would come,” Ford tweeted. “I dreamed of a fairy tale ending. You put Texas Basketball on the Map. Love you.”

And it should have been a fairy tale for head coach Rick Barnes. Until Barnes left Clemson for Texas 17 years ago, UT’s program was irrelevant.

In the first 59 years of the NCAA Tournament, Texas made it just 16 times. In the next 17, under Barnes’ guidance, Texas made it another 16 times. He won more than 400 games and got Texas to the Final Four once.

Barnes also had a knack for putting legends in a Texas uniform. First it was Ford. Then it was Kevin Durant. Before Barnes, Texas’ only well-known basketball player was Slater Martin back in the ’40s.

Barnes made Texas basketball a part of the national conversation for the first time.

But focusing exclusively on his accomplishments on the sideline does Barnes a disservice. That’s not what he is and not what he wants to be remembered for. Barnes wants to know he did all he could for his players as their coach and mentor.

“We can talk about the program, the wins and losses — that’s not what it’s about,” Barnes said. “It’s about the relationships.”

Ford would call Barnes at 1 a.m. some nights and not just to talk about an upcoming game. Sometimes, Ford just had general questions about basketball. Once, he wanted to ask why Madison Square Garden is called the Mecca.

Barnes was just as generous with his players this year. He made time for senior forward Jonathan Holmes after Holmes’ concussion and talked to freshman forward Myles Turner after particularly disappointing games. Barnes was always there for the players and his staff.

At a press conference Sunday, Barnes hinted at an ultimatum he’d been delivered by men’s athletic director Steve Patterson: shake up his staff or leave himself. 

After Barnes’ assistants heard the news, they called him one by one and offered to vacate their spots. But Barnes wouldn’t hear it.

“There’s no way I could do that,” Barnes said. “That would be saying this is about me.”

That’s just the man Barnes was. He was a great coach, but a better person. He said he will be rooting for Texas down the line, and even gave some advice for the coach who will succeed him.

“Enjoy it — love it,” Barnes said. “You’re getting ready to walk into something really, really special.” 

In an ideal world, Barnes would have met the high expectations he set for Texas in his first 10 years and eventually left on his own terms, after cutting down the nets for Texas’ first championship. His name would hang in the rafters alongside Durant’s and Ford’s.

But basketball is a business, and the world isn’t ideal. Barnes said he knows that.

“You want the fairy-tale ending and it all to end right,” Barnes said. “Sometimes, you don’t always get what you want in life when you want it.” 

Thunder just getting started in the NBA

Dec. 6th, a little less than a quarter of the season has passed, and the Thunder finally have all 15 players healthy. Coach Scott Brooks finally has an empty injury report. Let the thunder storm begin.

Currently, the reigning number one seed in the always competitive west, sit at 5-13, leaving them five and a half games back of the eighth and final spot for playoff contention. Media all across the country are beginning to wonder if the Thunder’s surge is too late into the season. They have a tremendous uphill battle to even be considered for the eighth spot in the Western conference.

But with reigning MVP Kevin Durant back from foot surgery and superstar Russell Westbrook back in the lineup this dynamic duo has a tough task ahead of them. With the window of error so small, the Oklahoma City must be dominant for the rest of the season.

Analysts, writers, and fans are slowly beginning to write off the Thunder for making the playoffs. But why? If you ask me, this team is just getting started. Durant and Westbrook are arguably the best duo in the league. Role players, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams were forced to step up due to the absence of the team’s two leading scorers. With these role players coming into form, and the stars finally healthy, the time is now for the Thunder to start winning and winning a lot.

As it stands now, the Phoenix Suns hold the 8th seed in the West. They are a very young team who love to run up and down but play very little defense. With very little veteran leadership on that team, odds are they can’t keep pace with the western conference playoff race. As for the other teams standing in the way, none are legit contenders. The Sacramento Kings have been a great story with early season success, but same holds true as the Suns. The Kings are without a go to player that can carry this team come later March. The Pelicans arguably have the second best player in the league with in Anthony Davis but his time will come later. So what really is stopping the Oklahoma City Thunder from finding their way back into the playoffs?

The answer is simple; themselves. When healthy, they are a force to be reckoned with. The duo along with emerging star Serge Ibaka make this Thunder team one of the league’s best team. But one simple injury to one of their big three will derail their season for good. Another major factor is chemistry. It will be difficult to send the role players back to the bench and integrate Durant and Westbrook, along with Anthony Morrow and Mitch McGary who are also returning from injury, into the lineup. Say, it takes them about 10 games to get into their groove and go a mere 5-5. That will put them into a bigger hole to dig out of. But their upcoming schedule is pretty friendly so they shouldn’t have trouble getting back into form.

I don't know about y’all, but I’m not betting my money against Kevin durant and company to make the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Welcome to The Myles Turner Show.

Where his signature bucket hats are in full force. Where disc jockeys rock the Frank Erwin Center. And where pyrotechnics get the night started.

The freshman forward ushered in a new era of Texas basketball — one he made official when he pulled out that burnt orange bucket hat, which he bought just for that moment in May.

“I had no idea it was going to blow up like that,” Turner said. “But it’s awesome to market a team that way.”

Even head coach Rick Barnes feels the change, acknowledging that Friday night’s crowd was the loudest for a season opener in his 17 years.

“He should have gotten a patent on the bucket hat — called it ‘Buckets,’” Barnes joked.

And the fans are already in love with the 6-foot-11-inch, ESPN No. 2 recruit from Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. After sophomore guard Kendal Yancy entered the game as the first sub of the season to what seemed like a golf clap, Turner entered in to a thunderous crowd.

When he made his first shot of the game — his sweet, sweet mid-range jumper — everyone was cheering. When he made his third in a row — another mid-ranger — to the tune of a North Dakota State timeout, the place erupted.

But don’t tell Turner he’s the biggest draw for Texas basketball since Kevin Durant. He doesn’t want to hear it. All he wants to talk about is anyone but himself.

After the opener, in which he scored 15 points, he still barely mentioned the positives.  

First, he thanked his teammates for getting him ready; then, he talked about everything he did wrong — leading the team in turnovers and needing “to get on the boards better and block some shots.” Finally, he thanked the fans.

The freshman is mature beyond his years.

When Turner sees someone lost on campus, he takes them to where they are going personally. He also is an excellent student.

“I got tremendous emails from people about Myles,” Barnes said.

Even on the basketball court, Turner’s maturity shows.

“Not in any way shape or form [does Turner look like a freshman],” said David Richman, North Dakota State head coach, after the opener. “He is mature for a freshman — no doubt.”

He is already averaging 12.5 points per game on 67 percent shooting and 83 percent from the free throw line, and, most noticeably, he is averaging at four blocks per game with only two games played.

“He’s come in, and he’s worked,” Barnes said. “He hasn’t done anything besides try to be a part of it. We know he is gifted.”

Things are only looking up from here.

“He will get better each game because he’s passionate about being great,” Barnes said.

The next step will be under the lights at Madison Square Garden in New York for the championship rounds of the 2k Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project. They will open at 6 p.m. Thursday against Iowa, who is No. 25 in the Coaches’ Poll. Then, depending on the results, they will either play No. 23 Syracuse or Cal.

Barnes boosts strong recruiting board

Longhorns basketball Coach Rick Barnes made waves last year when he landed five-star recruit from the Class of 2014, Myles Turner. Turner, the seven-foot center from Trinity High School in Bedford chose the Longhorns over Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Arizona, and Kentucky. Considering the lengthy historical success of the aforementioned programs -- as well as their standing as traditional college basketball powers -- many viewed the commitment of Turner to Texas to be a surprise.

Barnes continued his strong recruiting efforts this year, as thus far he has snagged four-star guards Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach from the Class of 2015 and looks to bring fellow guard Admon Gilder to the Longhorns program as well. 

While the recruitments of Turner and Davis were to some unexpected, when looking at Barnes’ recruiting track record, they are from an anomaly. Barnes holds one of the more impressive resumes in all of college basketball when it comes to producing pro prospects, and in his time at Texas, Barnes has amassed an astounding list of players that have come through the Longhorn program to make it to the NBA.

The 2014-2015 season will be Barnes’ 17th season with the Longhorns, and in that time Barnes has had 17 players drafted into the NBA. There are ten Longhorns currently active on NBA rosters, the eighth highest of any program in the country, and second in the Big 12, trailing only Kansas.  

Most notable of the NBA players to come out of Texas is Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. This upcoming season will be Durant’s eighth year in the league, and in that time Thunder star won one MVP award for his play during the 2013-2014 season, and has already won the scoring title four times, trailing only Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.  

During Barnes’ tenure as the Longhorns head coach, he has produced players with a laundry list of accomplishments. Among the players to come through the Longhorns program under Barnes are nine first-round draft picks, five top-ten picks, two NBA champions in Dexter Pittman and Cory Joseph, two NBA All-Stars in Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge and one NBA MVP in Kevin Durant. 

As a recruiter, Barnes plays to his strengths. While the Texas program may not have as much history as Kansas or as much NCAA tournament success as Duke, it has proved time and again that it is capable of producing quality NBA talent. If Barnes is able to continue his run of getting players to the NBA, the recruits will keep coming, and the Longhorns program will remain a collegiate basketball power. 

Injuries never a good sign for NBA

Any NBA fan absolutely hates to see injuries plague the league. It gets even worse when the injury happens to a superstar.

We have already seen a devastating injury to Indiana Pacers’ star Paul George that will cause him to miss the entire season. Now reigning MVP Kevin Durant has suffered a Jones fracture on his right foot. This injury expects to sideline Durant for approximately 6-8 weeks.

A Jones fracture is a fracture to the middle of the fifth toe and one can only imagine the pain and severity of a fracture of this sort. Other NBA players have suffered this injury and their timetables have varied. C.J McCollum missed twelve weeks with this same injury without going through surgery, however all signs indicate Durant will have surgery. Brook Lopez had the surgery and required two months to recover. Jones fracture was Lopez’s first surgery, since then the big man has been one of the most injury plagued players in the league.

So here we have Kevin Durant who has only missed 16 total regular season games in his seven NBA seasons likely to miss a quarter of the season. Where does this leave the heavily favored Oklahoma City Thunder for the first 25 games?

Well they have All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to create some offense and rising star Serge Ibaka. But honestly how can any team replace a reigning MVP? Durant was the guy OKC turned to when everything else broke loose on offense. Durant was the guy that could create a shot for not only himself but his teammates. All that pressure can be allocated to the rest of the team, but Russell Westbrook may take the initiative all by himself.

Westbrook is known to be a sort of “ball hog” when it comes to his shot selections. He takes ill advised shots, turns the ball over at a high rate, and is easily frustrated on the court. However, he can be one of the most prolific and athletic players in the entire league. So coach Scott Brooks has to find a way to find the balance to where Westbrook can efficiently sustain the Thunder’s offense.

In regards to the rest of the season, Thunder fans can only hope and pray that Durant’s injury is a one and done type of deal. Hopefully, after surgery, we never hear of another injury related to this Jones fracture. For now though, all we can do is pray Durant fully recovers and can return to his MVP caliber play.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Kevin Durant never saw himself being anything less than great in the NBA.

“I just don’t want to be a player in the NBA; I want to have an impact,” Durant said in an April 2007 press conference when he announced his decision to leave Texas after one season and declare for the NBA draft.

On Tuesday, his impact was felt more than ever.

Durant was named the NBA’s 2013-2014 Most Valuable Player award winner Tuesday, earning 119 of a possible 125 first-place votes. For the five-time All-Star, it is the first of his career, and the first ever by a former Texas Longhorn.

“Our entire basketball family is so proud of Kevin and this well-deserved honor,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said on Tuesday. “Knowing Kevin, he will consider this a team award.”

Long before Barnes ever brought Durant to Texas in 2006, the 6-foot-9 small forward was just a kid learning the game in the street courts of Maryland.

A child in a single parent home growing up, Durant spent his childhood bouncing around from apartment to apartment with his brother and mom. Basketball became his outlet, as well as his family’s backbone. It’s this part of his life that stood out in his acceptance speech on Tuesday.

“The odds were stacked against us,” Durant said through tears as he looked to his mom, Wanda, who was in the crowd and had Durant when she was only 21. “Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here … when something good happens to you, I tend to look back to what brought me here.”

Durant played for three different high schools as a teenager, including Oak Hill Academy. He transferred to Montrose Christian School for his senior season, where by the conclusion of his time there, was the MVP of the 2006 McDonald’s All American Game. He was widely regarded by many as the second-best high school prospect of 2006, behind Lawrence North’s Greg Oden, and had committed to Texas prior to starting his senior campaign.

In his one season with the Longhorns, Durant had one of the best individual seasons in school history.

He became the first freshman in NCAA history to earn consensus National Player of the Year honors, and remains one of only two freshmen (Anthony Davis in 2012) to ever accomplish such a feat.

That year, Durant led the Big 12 Conference in scoring (25.8 ppg), rebounding (11.1 rpg) and blocked shots (67). He was the only player to rank in the Top 10 nationally in both scoring (fourth) and rebounding (fourth).

But perhaps what he’s most remembered for as a Longhorn are the memories he left at the university seven years ago.

Games like the double overtime contest against Texas A&M, when Durant had 30 points and hit three free throws in the final moments of overtime to give the Longhorns the 98-96 victory.

Most Longhorns fans won’t choose to remember the Durant that led the team to a disappointing second-round loss in the NCAA tournament that year. They’ll choose to remember the Durant that created a magical environment at the Frank Erwin Center. The Durant that would hit impossible three-pointers from the corner and the Durant that would effortlessly slam down alley-oops.

Durant changed Texas basketball, and the program's decision to retire his No. 35 jersey is proof of that. It’s no surprise that he’s had just as much success at the pro level as he did in college.

This season in the NBA, Durant, a four-time All NBA First Team player, averaged an NBA-best 32 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. He won his fourth scoring title in five years, something only Michael Jordan, George Gervin and Wilt Chamberlain have done before. He also became the first player since Allen Iverson in 2000 to win both the MVP and scoring title in the same year.   

Durant led the Thunder to a 59-23 record this season, the second best in the league, and has his team in the second round of the playoffs after a 33-point showing in game seven against the Memphis Grizzles to end the first round.

“Basketball is just a platform for me to inspire people.” Durant said at Tuesday's award ceremony. “I play first off because I love it. As a second-grader, I had a Grant Hill jersey. That’s the first time I walked into a gym. And that’s where I fell in love with the game.”

That love has propelled Durant to places he even acknowledges he wasn’t supposed to have reached as a poor child in Maryland: high school prominence, the Texas Longhorns, the NBA and now, the most valuable player in the best basketball league in the world.

The regular season has come and gone and now we find ourselves in the midst of the NBA playoffs.

Several former Big 12 players are in the heat of battle, many of whom will have a chance to make an impact for their teams.

Starting in the West, a few notable former Big 12 athletes just lead their team to victory in three tight fought, seven games series.

LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers has been locked in as of late, dominating the Houston Rockets in the first two games of the series and forcing Houston to focus on him down the stretch.

While Damien Lillard sealed the deal, Aldridge, a former Longhorn, played an important role in pushing his team into the second round of this year’s playoffs.

Next is likely MVP Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder, the number two seed in the West, were supposed to run away from the Memphis Grizzlies in this best of seven series, but nothing in the Western Conference is ever that easy.

Durant struggled to live up to the expectations he set for himself throughout the series, facing heavy criticism from media and fans alike. Nonetheless, the former Longhorn was able lead his team to victory in game seven and advance to the second round.

The last major player in the West is Blake Griffin with the Los Angeles Clippers. The former Oklahoma star has had to deal with major off-court issues in the past week due to the recent remarks from Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Despite all the turmoil surrounding the team, the Clippers were able to squeak past the Warriors in game seven and move on to face the Thunder in the second round.

In the East, we have the Brooklyn Nets’ Paul Pierce. He too was able to lead his team to victory in seven games.

Pierce, a former Jayhawk, brings veteran playoff experience to the Nets along with longtime teammate Kevin Garnett, both have been on the championship stage together several times before.

Last is Mario Chalmers of the Miami Heat. The former Kansas point guard has helped the Heat to two championships in the last two years.

Miami has looked good so far this post season, winning four straight against the Bobcats in order to advance to the second round.

Chalmers and Miami will take on Brooklyn in the second round. 

Myles Turner, a five-star recruit in the class of 2014, committed to Texas on Wednesday in front of a national audience.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Myles Turner, the No. 2 ranked basketball recruit in the country according to ESPN, announced that he will attend The University of Texas to play basketball for Rick Barnes and the Longhorns, on Wednesday.

“There was a lot of things that went into this decision,” Turner told ESPN after he made his decision. “But just watching Texas work, they’re a real blue collar program. To join these guys and hopefully do something special next year would mean a lot.”

Turner, who was considering Texas, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, SMU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, made the announcement on national television from his high school gym in Euless, Texas.

He averaged 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 8.7 blocks in his senior season at Euless Trinity High School this year. 

Turner, a 7-foot, 240-pound center, is the most highly touted prospect to commit to the Longhorns since Kevin Durant. He will join a Texas team that will be returning all ten of its lettermen from last season.