A.J. Abrams is the most experienced player on the Texas Longhorns.
And he is only a sophomore.
Of the eight players that helped lead the Longhorns to last season’s Elite Eight, only Abrams is back. Teammates LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, and P.J. Tucker were all taken in last June’s NBA Draft with Aldridge taken second overall by the Chicago Bulls before being traded to the Portland Trailblazers.
Now four freshmen surround Abrams in No. 25 Texas’ starting lineup. And because of the inexperience, he is the player his teammates look to for advice. However, Abrams is still young, still young enough to be asking for his own advice.
“I’m only a sophomore, I still have some things to learn,” Abrams said. “I’m learning every day, too.”
Unlike last season, Abrams doesn’t have any teammates he asks for advice. Instead, he asks his coaches for pointers.
“Last year, I learned a lot from the older guys. This year, I’m kind of like the older guy,” Abrams said. “I hope I can pass on knowledge to some of the younger guys.”
One of the players he said he has formed a close relationship with is freshman guard D.J. Augustin. Both play in the backcourt and both are under 6 feet tall. Both Abrams and Augustin are two of the players the Longhorns will depend on to break Missouri’s various presses and traps in Wednesday’s game at Texas. Their friendship and good communication on the court should help.
“We know where we’re going to be on the court, and we hang out off the court,” Abrams said of Augustin, who is averaging 13.6 points and 6.6 assists per game. “We just chill with each other, hang out, and watch movies and play video games in the locker room.”
Watching the four freshmen (Augustin, the Big 12 Conference’s player of the week Kevin Durant, Damion Jones, and Justin Mason) has reminded Abrams of the past when he was the inexperienced player, the guy trying to find his way in college.
Last season, Abrams and reserve forward Connor Atchley were the newcomers and played with seven players who left at the end of the season. In 2007, Abrams and Atchley are once again outnumbered, but this time by players whose college careers are just starting, not finishing.
“It makes me think about the stuff I was going through last season,” Abrams said. “It kind of makes you want to help them more.”
This year’s Longhorn freshmen, however, may be in better position to give advice next season.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said though Abrams played last season, what he and the team are about to experience is “new for him, too”. Last year, Abrams played in all 37 of Texas’ games but started only one.
“We don’t have anybody that’s been a regular starter,” Barnes said. “A.J. is our most experienced guy, but last year he came off the bench.”
So, it’s new for everybody, too.”
Even though he is still an underclassman, Abrams has adjusted well to his new role. Despite his height, Abrams has moved to shooting guard to accommodate Augustin. After averaging 6.4 points per game as a freshman, Abrams is averaging 16.5 this season, second to Durant. He also has scored in double-digits 12 times, after doing it nine times all of last season.
But the biggest adjustment to his new role, Abrams said, is getting used to his new position. Since he is shorter than 6 feet, Abrams has always played at point guard. Because of Augustin’s emergence, Abrams switched to the shooting guard. So far, Abrams said, so good.
“In our offense, we don’t look at it as a two-guard position,” Abrams said. “You know, we mostly have guards on the court, and at times we have three point guards on the court. So that’s how we look at it.”
It’s likely that none of the other guards have as much experience as Abrams, Not that he has too much.