Texas Longhorns assistant coach Russell Springmann has been instrumental in the success of the program the last eight seasons. In the past few years, Springmann has earned the reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country by landing names such as Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin and Damion James in the 2006 recruiting class and most recently Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams in the 2009 class.
On Tuesday, Springmann sat down with Burnt Orange Beat to discuss all things Texas basketball as well as the future of conference tournaments.
Q: Where do you see the team right now and what areas are needed for improvement?
A: One thing we were able to do last night (versus Oklahoma State) is take care of the ball. We’ve had an issue really protecting the ball. When I say protecting the ball, I also think that shot selection is part of protecting the ball. Last night, we were tremendous and it was obviously our best offensive output and if we can continue to take care of the ball, we’ll have more success.
Q: Who are the players that have come on in recent days and need to continue to play well to help the team improve?
A: I think Dogus Balbay has steadily improves as a player. He’s crafty and finds a way to get in the lane and create for our team. I think he’s made a big difference in the pace of the game and allowed us to get out in transition a little.
Varez Ward has been a terrific addition off the bench. He give us toughness defensively and has really proven he can guard and stay in front of the ball. It’s given us a rotation to keep guys fresh and impacts other players where maybe they can play another position.
Also, Connor Atchley. I’m really happy for Connor the way he played Tuesday night. I think he has done a lot of little things that don’t show up on stat sheets and I still think he has impacted the game. For him to be able to make some shots would certainly help open up the floor for the team.
Q: What role has Connor’s health played in his struggles on offense this year?
A: I think that’s been a challenge for Connor. I think it’s been an interesting transition for him. We feel like Connor has been a valuable part of our team. We would like to find a way for Connor to be open more, but to his credit, because of the season he had last year and his ability to shoot the ball, he’s become more of a priority for teams defensively. I think he’s had a crazy injury with his tongue, which is a tough thing to deal with. I just think the young man has handled himself extremely well and always tried to do everything he possibly can to help his teammates and our team.
Q: Varez Ward went 0-6 from the free throw line in his first career game against Stetson. He has shown mental toughness and resiliency knocking down 32-42 since then, including 18-21 in Big 12 play. Have you guys seen it that way?
A: I think you just used a great word to apply to Varez. He is a tough-minded young man and you can tell by the way he defends. I think getting up on the free throw line after you’ve missed that way can weigh heavily on your mind and you can start focusing on missing the last two, four or six and Varez never looked at it that way. The next time he went got on the line, he looked at it as ‘I’m knocking these down’ and he has knocked almost all of them down in Big 12 play. I just think he has gotten more comfortable during the season.
Q: What have you seen from Jai Lucas in the short period of time he has been on campus?
A: The first thing with Jai is he’s an unbelievable kid. He’s just a tremendous person to be around. I think all of the guys have already taken a liking to him. He’s a guy that’s kind of like the Pied Piper. He’s a guy that everyone wants to be around and he works hard in the weight room and in the gym. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s been great to have him in the program.
Q: There is talk of the Big 12 being down this year in comparison with the past few years. Is there any talk with you guys about the conference being a four, five or six bid league?
A: I know as a staff, all we are worried about is doing our best and trying to win our next game. I don’t know how people view the league. I guess if you look at national rankings, we would have two, three or maybe four at the most in the top 25. I don’t know RPI or Sagarin rankings right now. I think we’ve got a strong league and teams that on a given night can beat about any team.
Q: As a staff, when do you guys start looking at the NCAA Tournament possible bids, possible seeding, RPI, etc.?
A: We really don’t look at the RPI for us. All we look at is where we are in the league and who our next opponent is. Truthfully, that is our focus. How can we get better prepare the team for the next game and have the best team possible. If we do that, we feel like the rest will take care of itself. We worry about the NCAA Tournament when the Big 12 Tournament is over and we learn, hopefully, who our next opponent is and go through the process again. What we have to do is prepare the team the best we can to play our next opponent.
Q: Kevin Durant has already become one of the top players in the NBA. Having recruited Durant, you watched him since his freshman year and since you know him so well, are you surprised by how quickly he has become one of the best?
A: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because of how talented Kevin is, but to be 20 years old and have the type of season he’s having, I guess I’m a little surprised it’s happened this fast. I’m really excited for him. I know when he came back this summer, it was easy to see how focused he was on improving. I won’t be surprised by anything he does because he’s special, hungry and wants to be among the elite in the league.