One of the things college basketball observers thought they knew to be true heading into the 2013-14 season was that Texas coach Rick Barnes’ tenure was nearing its end. He was doomed to be fired at (or possibly before) the end of the season, was the thinking. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Last season, the Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament and lost more games than they had won for the first time under Barnes. It was the second consecutive year his team didn’t post a winning record in Big 12 play – after finishing above .500 against league competition the previous 13 years. Texas hasn’t advanced past the round of 32 in the Tournament since 2008, and Barnes’ recruiting prowess had seemingly eroded to unthinkable depths; of Scout. com’s 21 top-40 recruits from Texas in the past seven recruiting classes, only one (2012 center Cameron Ridley) had signed to play with the Longhorns, according to Gary Parrish. There was plenty of talk that Barnes – who in the past had brought in such top prospects as Avery Bradley, Daniel Gibson, Damion James, Cory Joseph, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, Myck Kabongo and Tristan Thompson — had lost the drive and energy to recruit top prospects as persistently as he once did. Sources who spoke to Parrish said, “Barnes became disenchanted with the off-court grind it takes to maintain a certain level of success.”
Top-ranked 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay’s commitment to SMU in August was seen less as a promising development for Mustangs hoops than an indictment of Barnes’ inability to recruit in-state talent. Not only did Mudiay, who is projected as the fifth overall pick in DraftExpress’ 2015 mock draft, spurn Texas – he didn’t even consider the Longhorns one of his final choices. Things looked even bleaker when former Texas Director of Athletics DeLoss Dodds, long an ardent supporter of Barnes, announced on October 1 he was stepping down. A week later, Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel released a comprehensive report on the state of Texas’ athletic department that included quotes from Dodds and an anonymous high-ranking athletic department official that seemed to add credence to the widespread speculation that Barnes’ job was in danger. “I worry more about basketball,” Dodds told Thamel. “If I were going to pick one [program] to worry more about, I worry more about basketball.” Said the official, “I can’t imagine [Barnes] turning it around.” Another reason why Barnes’ job security appeared so tenuous heading into the season? His top four-scorers from 2012-13 (Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, and Ioannis Papapetrou) had, either by way of transfer or signing professional contracts, left the program. The writing was on the wall for Barnes. His long and mostly successful stint as Texas’ coach had run its course, it seemed. He had virtually no hope of turning things around.