With every basket, rebound and dagger delivered, LaMarcus Aldridge waged an assault on the NBA. But he also unwittingly delivered body blows to Rick Barnes and the University of Texas basketball program with his every move.
It's the same scenario for Kevin Durant. The first-time MVP is reliably killing it in the playoffs, raising the bar on impossible shots (did you see that four-point play against Memphis in round one?) and acceptance speeches (hopefully someone from the Oscars was taking notes) while also destroying UT.
These should be the best of times for University of Texas basketball. Two of the top 10 players in the NBA are former Longhorns. No other program in America can claim that. Not Kentucky's pro-producing factory. Not UCLA. (Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love are awfully close but not quite there.) Not surprise contender Wake Forest. (Chris Paul's the best point guard in America, but Tim Duncan's largely living on his rep these days.)
How do you have both Durant and Aldridge in your program and get left with only a few regular-season memories?
Texas basketball reigns supreme in ways its no-longer-pro-producing football program cannot.
Yet, there's a major catch, one that largely reduces a glory worth shouting about from the rooftops to more of a hidden shame. Isn't there always with Rick Barnes.
Every great feat from Durant and Aldridge proves that no basketball program in America has wasted more talent than Texas. Give John Calipari a Kevin Durant and a LaMarcus Aldridge, and you're guaranteed two Final Four appearances at minimum. Heck, even the flawed Ben Howland translates that type of talent to long NCAA tournament runs.
Texas? It turns Durant and Aldridge into one Elite Eight appearance, a second-round loss and a first-round loss. As talent wastes go, that's a hard record to top.
Now Barnes has lured another elite-level talent to Austin in skilled 7-foot power forward Myles Turner. There's already talk that this super-hyped, likely one-and-done recruit instantly pushes Texas into the national championship picture.
Only there's no real reason to expect this to turn out any different than Kevin Durant or LaMarcus Aldridge's tenures did for Texas. Which is good news for Turner personally. Barnes will likely help prepare him for a fruitful NBA life. Getting him to Indianapolis for the Final Four next April — that's another story.
One likely not completed without Turner buying his own ticket to college basketball's biggest weekend.
A Texas-sized dilemma (or not)
Durant and Aldridge are both great representatives of Texas. Besides being one of the top two players in the world, Durant's a world-class human being.
Texas had two program-changing talents — two of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and the program didn't change. Either time.
He gives $1 million to help devastated tornado victims and doesn't just use it as a photo op. He actually goes to the small towns and inserts himself into the rebuilding fray. He pulls off what NBA commentator Jeff Van Gundy rightly calls the "best sports speech since Lou Gerhig" when he "finally" wins that MVP (at age 25).
Aldridge personally goes out and delivers 100 turkeys to Portland families in need around Thanksgiving. He puts together a charity basketball game.
And both these good guys left UT with good feelings. Maybe that should be enough. While Barnes didn't have Durant (one season) or Aldridge (two seasons) long enough to take much credit for their attitudes, he certainly didn't corrupt them with a sense of entitlement either. That should count for something.
It can't erase the lingering truth, though: Texas had two program-changing talents — two of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and the program didn't change. Either time.
There are no national championship banners from their tenure hanging in the Frank Erwin Center. There are no unforgettable March shining moments that Longhorns fans will never forget the way they'll never forget Vince Young's night against USC.
How do you have both Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge in your program and get left with only a few regular-season memories?
When Durant scores eight points in the last 2:31 of an epic, wild playoff game or Aldridge turns the Houston Rockets defense into a complete mockery, they're condemning Texas basketball too. So much blinding talent, so little to show for it.
Carmelo Anthony goes to Syracuse and wins a national championship. Anthony Davis goes to Kentucky and wins a national championship. Maybe strange circumstances rob you of one such opportunity with a super talent. But with Aldridge and Durant, we're talking about two different tenures from two top 10 talents. (They missed ever playing together by one season.)
This is a clear waste. And it's impossible for Rick Barnes or Texas fans to escape.