Texas freshman Kevin Durant’s unstoppable offensive array earned him props going into school, and his rep has only gotten bigger since.
by Michael Bradley
One of the great things about being part of a big-time college basketball program is that alumni want to meet you. Rich alumni. And in Texas, some of those wealthy fans will do anything to get close to the action. So, they invite you to their massive houses for dinner. And afterward, you get to watch their plasma TVs. Play on their lush pool table. Sink into their overstuffed couches. Work out on their full court. Huh?
It’s a good indication of Kevin Durant’s absolute love of basketball that on one such recent visit, while his teammates lounged or shot some stick, he hit the court. Not to throw down some silly jams or play a goofy game of H-O-R-S-E, but to practice. At 9 p.m.
“That’s me,” says the 6-9 three man. “Sometimes I don’t know why I do it, but I just wanted to get shots up before I went to sleep. It’s instinct.”
A lot of players have great on-court instincts. They know when to make the pass, when to take the shot and where to be in certain situations. Those who consider a great work ethic instinctive have an edge that brings them to the world of stardom. That’s Durant. No one can dispute his physical gifts and natural feel for the game. Factor in a desire to improve that borders on the maniacal, and you have something rare.
Spend as much time as you want admiring Greg Oden, but make sure you direct your sights to Austin, too, because Durant has the opportunity to be as impressive as GO on the collegiate and professional levels. He may not be 7-1 and the answer to every GM’s big-man needs, but Durant has a tremendous size-skill package (he’s got a 7-4 wingspan and a polished inside-outside game) that has pushed him to the forefront of this season’s impressive crop of first years.
Texas fans thank God for that, since the ’Horns lost five starters from last year’s Elite Eight club and needed immediate help. Rising to the challenge, Durant had 20 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks in his very first game. He later touched both Gonzaga and St. John’s for 29. Great, needed stuff.
But ask Texas coach Rick Barnes what he likes most about Durant, and it comes back to the hard work. When Durant’s high school pals were running pick-ups at open gym, he was doing drop-step drills. When they were hanging out, Durant was running hills. He came to Texas at 205 pounds and needed less than two months to add 20 pounds of muscle.
“He just loves it,” Barnes says. “As much as anybody I have ever been around, he loves basketball.”
And Durant is willing to learn. He’s working on his passing and defense. When Coach tells him to do something, he does it. In early December, the Longhorns were playing LSU, and Durant’s shot was off. Barnes pulled him aside and told him he would need to rebound and defend more if Texas was to win. Durant responded with 11 boards and even blocked a shot by Big Baby Davis.
“He’s like a celebrity,” Durant says of the LSU star. “Last year, I wouldn’t have even contested that shot, but Coach Barnes told me to contest everything and try to alter shots, so I keep doing it.”
It’s no wonder Durant listens to everything his coach says, since he came all the way to Austin from Suitland, MD, to play for Barnes.
“He’s my man,” Durant says.
KD received plenty of pressure to go ACC or Big East, but he became Texas’ biggest hoops recruit ever when he committed to the ’Horns. The question now is whether this will be a brief relationship. Many experts have Durant slated for the second pick of next year’s Draft, behind only Oden. To his credit, Durant isn’t entertaining that kind of talk these days, even though Barnes insists the freshman “wouldn’t flinch” if he were put in an NBA game right now.
“He’d probably think he should have the ball at the end of the game, too,” Barnes says.
Cavaliers’ rookie Daniel Gibson, who left UT last spring, shakes his head about the Longhorns’ new stud.
“You can’t do nothing with him,” says Gibson, who worked out with Durant in Austin for most of the summer. “Almost 6-10 and can go inside or out? Man…”
For now, Durant is spending his time learning. Growing. And shooting nighttime jumpers at some rich dude’s private court.
“I’m always enjoying the moment,” he says. “I’m not going to rush into anything, no matter what other people say.”
And they’re saying plenty.
This story appears in SLAM 106.