AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Longhorns have a bit of a backcourt problem.
The Longhorns lost last season's leading scorer, J'Covan Brown, when the enigmatic shooting guard decided to bolt for the NBA. That was something coach Rick Barnes could plan for.
Now Texas also finds sophomore starting point guard Myck (pronounced Mike) Kabongo under investigation by the NCAA, which has raised questions about his relationship with Rich Paul, the agent of Miami Heat star LeBron James.
That came as a bit of a surprise.
The season starts Nov. 9 against Fresno State. While Kabongo hasn't been declared ineligible and is still allowed to practice with the team, the Longhorns must brace for the possibility that he might miss some games — or the season.
School officials have confirmed that Kabongo, who averaged 9.6 points and had a team-high 176 assists last season, has talked with NCAA investigators. The Longhorns have also taken the precaution of keeping him out of preseason scrimmages against Davidson and Gonzaga.
"It's all in the hands of the NCAA right now. I'm hoping like we all are," Barnes said. "Myck's worked really hard as a leader and brings a lot of energy every day. We'll just wait and see."
Kabongo, a preseason all-Big 12 selection, could be the key to the season for a team that must get a lot from of its freshmen and sophomores if it expects to make a trip to its 15th consecutive NCAA tournament. Texas hasn't played beyond the first weekend of the tournament since losing in the regional final in 2008.
Kabongo can be electric with his speed, but also ran into foul trouble a lot last season and spent valuable minutes on the bench. If he is ruled ineligible, that could thrust freshman Javan Felix into the starter's role. He's a top recruit from New Orleans, but Barnes would like to have some experience at the point.
"It was kind of surprising," Felix said of the Kabongo investigation. "(But) it's not like I'm not prepared."
Even with the uncertainty surrounding Kabongo, Barnes still knows a little more about his team at this point than he did a year ago when he was replacing all five starters. To be successful, Barnes said the Longhorns need more consistent scoring throughout the lineup this season.
"We relied on J'Covan so much because we just couldn't seem to find that second or third consistent scorer with our group last year," Barnes said.
Sophomore Sheldon McClellan could provide some of the scoring punch they need. McClellan helped push Texas to a crucial late win over Oklahoma that assured the Longhorns would finish above .500 in the Big 12. McClellan, who averaged 11.3 points last season, is the only player returning at Texas who averaged in double figures last season.
"He has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. I think a challenge for him will be that he's got to be able to do it day-in, and day-out," Barnes said. "He just needs to want to shoot the ball when he's open as opposed to trying to maybe mess with it a little bit too much dribbling or looking to overpass it."
As usual, Barnes has crafted a tough nonconference schedule to help prepare his team for the rigors of the Big 12 and the postseason. The Big 12 is league where muscular forwards and guards pound on opponents every night and freshmen like Felix usually take a while to get used to the physical play.
The Longhorns will play in the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week, and will face Georgetown, North Carolina and Michigan State before Big 12 play starts against Baylor on Jan. 5.