Staking The Plains would like to welcome Matthew Temple, former Red Raider basketball player, to this special Q&A session. HERE WE GO…
Dan: Tell us a short intro into your basketball background and your days at Wichita Falls’ Rider High School?
Matt: Well I spent my entire childhood in Trinidad & Tobago, a small nation made up of two islands near the south of the Caribbean Sea. I grew up playing in the driveway with whoever I could pester into coming out there with me, usually my brothers or sisters. Basketball is maybe the 5th or 6th most popular sport there so our basketball program wasn’t very intensive, maybe 2 practices per week in season. I moved to Wichita Falls and attended Rider High School after 11 years in Trinidad and was a little shell-shocked upon arrival – the giant school and demanding practice schedule, it was all new to me. I think we won something like 5 or 6 district games in my two years at Rider, so we weren’t very competitive. I played with some pretty good players – Christien Sager played at Oklahoma State for four years, J.T. Barrett almost won a Heisman at Ohio State – we just didn’t put it together for whatever reason, and I wasn’t getting any real looks to play basketball anywhere. I had pretty much closed the door on basketball after high school.
Dan: Every Red Raiders fan knows your story going from Texas Tech intramural league star to Big 12 men’s basketball walk-on. What is something we don’t know about how you got to try-out in front of Tubby Smith and staff?
Matt: Well I wandered into the basketball offices without a real plan and just ran into one of the assistants in the office, Coach Vince Taylor. I guess they don’t get many 6’9’’ guys walking into the office because he asked if I wanted to come play open gym with the team that afternoon and I said I’d be there. What’s great is that the United Spirit Arena was being used for graduation ceremonies at the time so they were playing up at the rec that day which worked out for me, a home-court advantage of sorts. I got to basically play pickup for an hour or so with them and I just remember being so tired and out of shape that I was blacking out during one of the games – don’t think I’ve ever been that out of breath in my life.
Dan: How different was it to go from regular college student to student-athlete?
Matt: My life did a complete 180. I went from partying 4 or 5 days a week and sleeping in ‘til noon to the strict, structured schedule that goes along with being a student-athlete. It was a lot – class, study hall, practice, lifting weights, getting shots up, it was non-stop. I soon realized it was a full-time job and finally appreciated the work these guys had been putting in on and off the court.
Dan: What was Tubby Smith like as a head coach?
Matt: I really struck the lottery by having two head coaches like Tubby and Beard. He’s a hall-of-famer and it won’t surprise me in the slightest when Beard gets to that point down the road. Tubby was a coach that did things the right way and believed in us throughout the whole season, even when it looked like we didn’t have a shot at making the dance. He wanted his players to be good people off the court and his relationship with the team reflected that, always dropping some sage wisdom or advice on us – we got a few “growing up on the farm” stories for sure. There was a blizzard over Christmas break in 2015 and my car got stuck on campus over by the baseball stadium, and Tubby was out there shoveling snow out from under my tires in sub-freezing temperatures for 30 minutes. That’s the kind of coach he was.
Dan: You got to be in the starting lineup when we played in the NCAA tournament against Butler. How was that experience?
Matt: In a word, surreal. The NCAA Tournament was always my favorite time of the year growing up, I was honestly a little obsessed with it – I could quote all the famous TV calls from classic upsets, the March Madness heroes (we got Pittsnoggled), all of that. Getting to be a part of it with my family there to watch was incredible, I just wish we could have stayed longer. I was crushed after that game.
Dan: Now, switching gears… Chris Beard came to the run the program after Tubby Smith departed. Can you tell us about that transition, and what took place in your shoes?
Matt: The departure was definitely unexpected and it blindsided us a little, but I understood that it was a personal decision for Coach Tubby and there were other factors besides basketball involved, so you couldn’t take it personally. Beard came in and hit the ground running, I mean he was operating at 100 mph from the get-go. He immediately came in and set the framework for the program, setting his expectations for us to compete for championships, and laying out the blueprint for how we were going to get there. Coach Beard had a lot of meetings with us, both as a team and individually, to get on the same page with everything – getting to know us on a personal level, expectations from each other, roles on the team, what we wanted to do after college, really everything. It was a little awkward because Tubby had told me that I was going to be put on scholarship before he left, which put Coach Beard in a tough spot. We talked and I agreed that it was fair to earn the scholarship under his watch, which happened over the summer. I have a lot of respect for Coach Beard and the way he came in and handled the team.
Dan: With Coach Beard at the helm, what changes did you see within the basketball program?
Matt: Oh man, where do I start…Beard believes in a process that leads to success on and off the court, and he got it rolling at Tech pretty fast. His big thing was that he wanted to make our lives easier – easier to get meals, easier to come in and get shots up, easier to get our school work done – so that we didn’t have a lot to worry about besides basketball. He put us players in a position to succeed by surrounding us with whatever we needed. Individual work became a big part of the program – making sure you got into the gym at least 5 days a week on your own time and got in an on-court workout with one of the four newly hired graduate assistants or just got shots up. You’d be hard-pressed to find graduate assistants and managers that work harder than the ones at Tech – if you wanted a workout or someone to rebound for you, whether it was at midnight or 6 AM, Beard made sure you had it.
Dan: Coach Beard and staff seem to be a passionate group that push players to excel. What is Coach Beard like behind the scenes?
Matt: I’d say that’s an apt description of coach and the entire staff, they’re very passionate about what they do and the work they put in reflects that. Beard is tough on his players and expects a lot from them, but the personal relationship he builds with every one of them allows him to do that. He manages to find time to talk to his players – it could be ribbing them about their love lives, talking about the best Texas Country music shows he’s seen, or asking how the family is doing – but he makes his players a priority. He wants the team to have a good time too – the staff/manager 1 on 1 games on the road trips are always great, just stuff like that he seems to come up with all the time to keep the mood happy and positive. At the end of the day, players need to realize that a coach that seems to ride them all the time is just trying to get the most out of them and make them become the best version of themselves that they can be. I think too many kids these days get their feelings hurt or feel embarrassed/threatened by hard coaching and decide to let it ruin their relationship when 99% of the time, it’s not personal and the coach is just trying to make them better. As Tech fans have probably noticed, Beard does a pretty good job of chewing players out and does so quite frequently, but the special relationship he has with each player allows him to do that without losing the team.
Dan: The NCAA denied your request/appeal to play this season. Did they give you a reason?
Matt: Yeah, that was tough. We knew it was a longshot because the rules say you only have 4 years of eligibility once you enroll at a 4-year college, and I used up all of my time. We were basically saying there were extenuating circumstances surrounding me not playing my first couple years at Tech, but it didn’t get approved. I felt worse after the denial because people like Coach Brian Burg and Justin Opperman in the compliance office worked so hard on my case and it was all for naught.
Dan: Your most memorable moment as a Red Raiders basketball player would be?
Matt: I’ll always remember getting to call my family to tell them I made the team, but as far as on-court memories go I’d have to say playing in the NCAA Tournament, just because of what it took to make it there. At the end of January we were 12-8 (2-6 Big 12) and miles away from anyone’s NCAA Tournament radar, only to rattle off 6 wins in a row after everyone had left us for dead. That run got us into the tournament and it felt like we turned a corner for Tech Basketball. I don’t care about career highs or highlight plays – I’ll always be most proud of the run I got to go on with those guys.
Dan: What are your thoughts on this current Tech squad, and how far can they go in the tournament?
Matt: I love this team. Those guys all get along and play the right way and for each other – it’s just great to watch. I’m a little bitter that I was with the team all of fall semester as a practice player, and can’t be in Lubbock to see them enjoy the ride, but I really couldn’t be happier and prouder of them. Their energy and cohesion on defense make them so hard to score on – teams are having to work for every bucket or shoot lights out to get a win over Tech. We’re a little banged up right now but I think the experience some of the younger guys are getting will help us down the road.
As for the tournament, the easy answer is that they can win it all. Defense travels, which is key since every game in the tournament is a neutral site game, and they won’t be intimidated by anyone they play. The beauty of the tournament is that everyone has a chance – South Carolina made the Final Four last year as a 7 seed and came very close to making it to the championship game. It’s anyone’s tournament, but Tech certainly has the kind of team that can make a deep run.
Dan: After you graduated from Tech you went overseas to play some more ball. Also, you created a new blog ExPatSportsGuy.com. Tell us about what has been going on after Lubbock and what the blog is all about?
Matt: Just before Christmas I got an offer to come play in Gandia, Spain, a town on the east coast on the Mediterranean Sea with about 80,000 people. I’ve really enjoyed it – just getting to play a little more ball and travel around in the process has been really cool. As for the blog, I started it as a way for me to indulge on my borderline obsession with sports. I watch all these games and highlights and am completely plugged into the sports world and I guess I just needed somewhere to put them that was out of my head. The blog is just my perspective on goings-on in the world of sports – anything that I observe or find interesting. I’ve talked some Big 12 Basketball, ranked the best football movies of all-time, and I’m about to do a little bit with soccer since I’m surrounded by it over here. I wouldn’t mind trying to have some work to point to down the road if I want to try to talk about sports for a living, which I am definitely interested in. I didn’t do much writing at all in college but I’m definitely enjoying it – it’s easy when it’s about sports.
Dan: Thanks so much for joining us Texas Tech fans today, and we will leave you only one final question: What does it mean to you to be a Red Raider?
Matt: I love Texas Tech. The school and the town of Lubbock hold a special place with me, and I’m very proud to say I went to school there. I think the school embodies the West Texas spirit a little bit, and that spirit is certainly palpable in Lubbock right now with the success of all sports across Tech, not just basketball. I’m a Red Raider for life!
Staking the Plains greatly appreciates Matt for taking the time to do this interview with us for our fans. Please give him a follow on twitter @matthewmtemple and go check out his stuff over on his site at ExPatSportsGuy.com! Wreck ’em Tech!!!