Already under fire at Texas after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in his 15-year tenure this March, Longhorns coach Rick Barnes now has lost a player who would have been key to his hopes of a resurgence next season.
Sheldon McClellan, Texas' leading scorer prior to Myck Kabongo's return from a 23-game NCAA-mandated suspension, has asked for his release and intends to transfer, his mother told ESPN.com late Wednesday night. The 6-foot-4 sophomore averaged 13.5 points per game for the Longhorns this season, though his 38.2 percent shooting reflects that he was asked to carry too big a load on a team that lacked proven scorers.
The loss of McClellan will be especially difficult to overcome if Kabongo opts to follow him out the door and declare for the NBA Draft. The sophomore point guard is viewed as a likely second-round pick with an outside shot of sneaking into the first round after he averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 assists once he regained his eligibility in February.
If Texas has neither Kabongo nor McClellan next season, finding perimeter scoring next season may be as tough as it was during this year's disappointing 16-18 campaign. A Longhorns team dominated by freshman and sophomores struggled to make up for the loss of J'Covan Brown to the NBA and Kabongo for the first 23 games of the season, shooting only 29. 7 percent from from behind the arc and 41.3 percent overall,
Since its recruiting class isn't as star-studded as usual next season, Texas' best hope for improvement if Kabongo doesn't return is probably the development of some of its other young talent. Julien Lewis is a dangerous outside shooter and Javan Felix showed an occasional burst of talent filling in for Kabongo at point guard, but they'll need to make major strides in the offseason, as will young big men Jonathan Holmes, Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley.
The pressure will be on Barnes to make strides next season because a oft-apathetic Texas basketball fan base is growing weary of the program's recent modest success.
Since a co-Big 12 title and an Elite Eight run in 2008, Texas hasn't advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and it has finished higher than a tie for fourth in the Big 12 only once. The Longhorns were fortunate to slip into the NCAA tournament last season and they were all but out of contention by the start of conference play this year.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds gave Barnes a vote of confidence during the Big 12 tournament, insisting he "absolutely" wants him back and even going so far as to say, "There are a lot of people who make the NCAA Tournament that wouldn’t want to play us."
In perhaps a more accurate barometer of where the Texas program actually stands at the moment, the Longhorns would instead go on to lose in the opening round of the CBI tournament to Houston.