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Erskin Stepping Up for Longhorns

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Deginald Erskin is not considered the catalyst of the Texas Longhorns' offense and doesn't want to be.

``I'm never the go-to guy,'' Erskin said. ``I'm only the fourth option. And I hope we don't change. I don't want to be the first option.''

But the Longhorns probably wouldn't be in the Midwest Regional semifinals without him.

The junior forward became the latest to play the role of hero for No. 6 seed Texas (22-11). His 17 points, including a key three-point play, sent the Longhorns past Mississippi State and into the NCAA second round for the first time since 1997.

Texas plays No. 2 seed Oregon (25-8) in Madison, Wis., on Friday.

Erskin has been a role player all season, getting most of his minutes on the court by playing defense, grabbing rebounds and staying out of the way of guards T.J. Ford and Brandon Mouton. He has started 22 games this season, averaging 7.8 points in 18.8 minutes per game.

He's filled key roles for the Longhorns after the loss of senior star Chris Owens to a knee injury in December. And he's done it without any guarantees from coach Rick Barnes about his future with the Longhorns.

In 2000, Erskin walked away from a full scholarship and a standout career with a losing North Texas team, intent on living his dream of playing for Texas.

He spent a year practicing with the Longhorns and paying his own way through school before Barnes eventually gave him a one-year scholarship when chronic knee problems forced William Wyatt to quit playing.

Since then, Erskin has played hard not only to win, but to get the most out of his time in a Texas uniform.

``I always wanted to be here, since I was in seventh grade,'' Erskin said. ``I turned down scholarships at other places to be here and be a part of this university.''

``I really didn't know how much I would contribute this season. I had to know my role on this team.''

That role has greatly expanded in the postseason.

Erskin leads the Longhorns in scoring since the start of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, averaging 14.5 points in four games in an offense geared to go elsewhere. He had 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in a first-round win over Boston College.

At 6-foot-6, 218 pounds, he's quick enough to drive the lane and big enough to defend in the post.

``We call him `The Beast,''' guard Royal Ivey said. ``He's like Charles Barkley, he's such a great athlete. He's like a freak of nature.''

The only question for Erskin is what happens next. He says he won't talk to Barnes about his future until after the season is over. Depending on what Texas does in the tournament, that could be in a few days or another two weeks.

``I'm just playing,'' Erskin said. ``If at the end of the season coach decides to bring me back, I'm more than happy and grateful. If he decides otherwise, I'll just have to move on and find another place to play.''

When asked about Erskin after the win over Mississippi State, Barnes quipped: ``Right now, I ought to put him on double scholarship.''

Asked about it again on Tuesday, the coach said he'll evaluate Erskin with the rest of the team after the season.

Although scholarships are often assumed to be for a four-year athletic career, they're actually one-year grants-in-aid that are renewed annually at the school's discretion. Every scholarship player is under the same system, from the standouts to the seldom-used substitutes.

Although he wouldn't commit, Barnes suggested Erskin's future at Texas is safe.

``Like I do with all these guys at the end of year, we'll sit down and evaluate the program,'' Barnes said. ``Deginald's part of this team. He has been, he always will be.''

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