ANAHEIM, Calif. — Moments after beating Gonzaga on Saturday night, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard was asked what players he wanted to join him in the postgame press conference. He didn’t think twice.
“How about our seniors,” he said.
So there sat Norense Odiase, Brandone Francis, Matt Mooney, and Tariq Owens, each wearing a piece of nylon and sitting under a sign that read: “2019 Regional Champions.”
The more important caveat is a trip to the Final Four, a first for Texas Tech, and perhaps the first of several for the Red Raiders’ brilliant coach. In just his third season at the helm, Beard has led Texas Tech to the Elite Eight twice and now a berth in a national semifinal. And he credited his seniors for helping set a culture for success.
“I’ve always loved our seniors,” Beard said. “But I’ve never been more proud of anyone than the four guys to my left. We get to get after it again in practice and travel and spend time together. This is going to be a special week for us.”
The Red Raiders (30-6) have a potential lottery pick in sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 19 points per game. But Texas Tech’s makeup is that of overachievers, who through hard work, development and a commitment to Beard’s defensive principles, have enjoyed the best season in school history.
“We would love to have All-Americans and turn them into grinders,” Beard said. “We may not have 5-star guys, but we’ve got really good players. We don’t mind the underdog-chip-on-the-shoulder part of our story. But I think you disrespect our players a little bit sometimes. We’ve got really good college players and I think we’re one of the best teams in the country this year.”
Beard, 46, was named the Red Raiders head coach in April 2016 after initially accepting the head coaching job at UNLV a month earlier. He had an affinity for Texas Tech after serving for 10 years as an assistant coach under Bobby Knight and his son, Pat. He left Lubbock for head coaching stops at McMurry University and Angelo State before spending one year at Arkansas Little Rock.
“I wouldn’t trade my time with Coach Knight and Pat for anything,” Beard said. “It was like getting a Ph.D in coaching every day. I learned so much from those guys, a lot of things that they probably don’t even realize that I learned from them.”
One thing he learned was how to teach defense. The Red Raiders were second in the nation, limiting the opposition to 36.5 percent shooting and third in the country, holding opponents to 58.7 points.
But let’s make this clear. The Red Raiders don’t want it known that they play slowly. They did average nearly 73 points a game during the season and took out Gonzaga, 75-69.
“The slow stuff is killing us in recruiting,” Beard joked.
They prefer to be known as deliberate, smart and able to command any tempo.
“We don’t want to play show,” Mooney said. “But we want to control the tempo and take shots and play March basketball.”
The Red Raiders say they get their work ethic from their coach.
“We’ve got a program where everybody is a grinder,” Owens said, “especially our head coach who believed in us and was willing to push us to the next level that he knew we had.”
Beard still sees his program in its infancy. He has won 75 games in three seasons and the five-year deal he signed when he was hired probably needs to be reworked if he’s going to stay in Lubbock. This may just be the beginning for Beard and Texas Tech.