Basketball

Chris Beard Knows How to Win the Spring

Vanderbilt fired Bryce Drew last year, and this article argues that Drew was railroaded a bit (injuries derailed their season, the AD that hired Drew resigned & the new AD just fired him without a meeting).

Drew was lamenting the problems he faced at Vandy, one being an admissions process that handcuffed his ability to churn the roster and bring in transfers. Drew specifically said: “In this landscape [of college hoops], you have to be able to win the spring in recruiting.”

Texas Tech’s been pretty good at basketball the last few years.  Probably because there’s been a few NBA players walking around campus.  That talent upgrade paired well with the schematic advantage Tech’s enjoyed as a result of Mark Adams’ “no-middle” defense.

But Beard’s ability to “Win the Spring” has played a major role in Tech’s recent success.

Over the 2018 summer, Matt Mooney was wanted by… nearly everyone (Arizona, Michigan, pretty sure I even heard Mark Few say Gonzaga wanted him).

After Tariq Owens’ JR year, he had the 17th highest block percentage in the country & St. Johns blocked the 9th highest percentage of shots at the rim.  If Tariq wasn’t wanted by every school in the country, I’m not sure what they were thinking.

Roster Management

It wasn’t just landing Mooney & Owens that allowed Tech to win the 2018 spring – it was finding Josh Webster a landing spot at Missouri State to open up a scholarship. The year before that, moving guys like Hyron Webster & Shaddell Millinghaus off the books allowed room to take a late Euro guard named Davide Moretti, who turned out to be a pretty decent player (I think he played the most conference & regular season minutes on a team that won the Big 12 regular season and 5 NCAA tourney games.)

Another example of effective roster management might be leaving room to early-enroll a High School Junior after a foot injury eliminated his senior year.  Had Kevin McCullar not enrolled early at Tech, who knows where his recruitment would’ve taken him.

Landing the guys you want is paramount to “Winning the Spring.”  But it takes roster management to present those opportunities.

Thus, for all of Beard’s mastery in X’s and O’s, his ability to motivate players or game plan for specific opponents, his singular best coaching trait may be building a roster in a Blitzkrieg-like fashion.

At Angelo State, Beard brought in 7 transfers & 2 freshmen.  Result? One of the best seasons in Angelo State history.

At Little Rock, Beard brought in 4 juco transfers & 4 D1 transfers… in one season! Result? Best year in Little Rock history.

Beard’s turned Tech’s roster over much more than his predecessors.  Counting both transfers & signees, Beard brought in at least 26 guys over the three-year period from 2017-2019.  Compare that to Tubby Smith’s 13 roster additions in a similar time frame, or the 16 guys that Pat Knight brought in over four classes.

How Does Beard Do It?

As we know, Beard’s a likeable guy that really taps his recruiting contacts and connections.  That’s key to finding players late in the process that others missed, like a Zhaire Smith or a Terrence Shannon.  Beard’s also one of the most calculated individuals that I’ve had the privilege of following in sports.  Everything has a purpose, including the bits he does in interviews or pressers where Beard acts like he’s not very smart.

That’s a farce — Beard is a nerd and an intellectual.  He only acts dumb, I assume, as a front to disarm people or cover up some of his program’s secrets.

I’m certain Tech’s one of the more analytically-driven programs in the country.  In pre-game radio shows, Brian Burg or a Tim McAllister will make a statement like: “You know, Ocetkowski for Texas, he rebounds the highest percentage of long misses off the offensive glass in the Big 12, so we gotta prepare for that.”

What kind of black-magic does it take to produce a stat like that?

It’s fair to assume that Tech employs some high-level, new-age stuff when scouting opponents or current players.  And relevant to Winning the Spring, those same resources would be leveraged to vet potential recruits & transfers.  Beard’s likely at the forefront of that (along with Mark Adams).

Here’s a great quote about Beard from SFA’s coach:

Stephen F. Austin coach Kyle Keller [worked with Beard] back then. As an assistant at UTSA in 1996, Keller was one of Beard’s San Antonio running buddies, and he learned rather quickly that the Georgia-born, Texas-raised basketball savant could read people much better than they could read him.

“Don’t get it twisted,” Keller said of the Texas Tech coach Tuesday. “He’s smart like a fox.”

Creating Texas Tech’s 2020-2021 Roster

This should be obvious by now, but I’m of the opinion that Chris Beard’s a really good basketball coach.  Most leading hoops scholars, whoever they may be, would be hard-pressed to disagree with that assessment.  Beard’s arguably had the most impressive 5-year start to a career in recent history.

Side note: Whenever discussing Chris Beard’s coaching prowess, I’m compelled to note Mark Adams’ contributions.  Who is your favorite basketball coach?  Mark Adams is, almost certainly, your favorite basketball coach’s favorite coach.  Just ask them.

Adams’ resume is unbelievable, making him the equivalent of an ancient artifact in Texas amateur basketball history.  If this were biblical times, nations would go to war over Mark Adams.

Back to our narrative:  If it’s indeed true that Chris Beard is better than [insert school of your choice’s] coach at winning 40-minute basketball games, it’s fair to wonder what a hand-picked & seasoned Chris Beard roster might look like.

But wait, we’re entering his 5th year, we should’ve already seen one of those rosters, right?

I’m not so sure…

Beard inherited an overloaded (numbers-wise) recruiting class that will go down in Tech lore as one of the best (Keenan Evans, Zach Smith, Norense Odiase & Justin Gray).  Beard then parlayed that group with the best recruiting class in Tech history (Zhaire Smith, Culver & Moro), culminating in the 2018 season — the best season in program history.

In year 3, Beard seemingly had the fewest returning minutes/production in the conference.

Enter Matt Mooney & Tariq Owens and suddenly Tech is the nightmare match-up for everyone in the country (particularly universities from the state of Michigan).

Going into last year, Tech was very aware when signing Jahmi’us Ramsey that he could leave after one season.  I don’t think even Beard could’ve predicted that Culver/Zhaire would average only 1.5 seasons in the program.

Bottom Line: Has the world ever seen a hand-picked, veteran Chris Beard roster?  One with key contributors from every classification (SO, JR, SR), all having been signed out of High School by Chris Beard.  Beard talks about always wanting to have a sit-out transfer; we’ll reap the benefits of that strategy next year with Joel Ntambwe.

The guys on next year’s roster will, collectively, have more experience being in a Chris Beard-lead program than any other Chris Beard-coached team.

And the roster’s likely to have the other components that made Beard’s first few years so successful — highly sought after grad transfers & freshmen with one-and-done potential (plus Mark Adams).

Even beyond having experience within Beard’s program, the make-up of next year’s roster will be particularly Beard-like.

Most new coaches talk a big game in their initial press conferences about wanting to really “push it in transition” or “run up-tempo offense.”  Then they don’t actually try to do those things.

Beard, on the other hand, has talked about wanting to be position-less or have interchangeable parts — he’s since actively implemented that plan. Specifically, Beard wants 8-9 guys that can do anything on the basketball court.  That is, be able to dribble/pass/shoot on offense & competently switch defending 1 through 5 on the other end.  The personnel on the 2020-2021 team should be very close to that vision.

Simply stated, next year’s roster will have more Chris Beard DNA in it than any other before.  Is that good?

Transfers Tech Might be Interested In

Grad Transfers:

  • Kevin Marfo (Quinnipiac)
    • Averaged a double/double;
    • #1 defensive rebound % in the country
    • #2 offensive rebound % in the country
    • Every school in the country with room would take Marfo
  • Amauri Hardy (UNLV)
    • Do-it-all guard that averaged 14.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals, & 0.2 blocks (2019-20)
  • Justin Green (Bowling Green)
    • 6’4 , 205 lb. guard
    • Averaged 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

Sit-out or Possible Immediately-Eligible Transfers:

  • Landers Nolley, Jr. (Virginia Tech)
    • Do-it-all wing at 6’7, 230 lbs
    • This will be a tough land, as Nolley will be highly sought after
  • Jamarius Burton (Wichita State)
    • Rangy (6’4), do-it-all guard
    • Texas Tech is “one of only two schools” to offer Burton (as of 3/18)

Outside of transfers, and there are surely others besides the ones listed above, the single biggest development this spring/summer would be landing Jonathon Kuminga.  Kuminga would have to reclassify first (he’s currently a JR in HS) & Tech would have to beat out a bevy of suitors.  Most recently, Corey Evans with Rivals predicts (1) that Kuminga would re-classify & (2) that the “front-runners” to land him are Auburn, LSU & Texas Tech.

With in-person recruiting on hold, I have to think it hurts Tech’s chances to land grad transfers that may not be very familiar with the program.  For example, I don’t think Tech lands Matt Mooney if Beard/Burg weren’t able to meet with him in person.  Stated another way, if Beard and his staff are better than their competition during in-home and on-campus visits, the recruiting quarantine stands to hurt Tech.

Kuminga has played things close to the vest, and it’s impossible to get a read on what he might be thinking.  But considering his half-brother’s been on campus the last 6-8 months, I can’t help but wonder if recent world events helps Tech’s chances.  He likely has the fewest questions about Tech’s program than his other suitors.  At minimum, I’d venture to guess it hurts Auburn & LSU’s chances more than it hurts Tech’s.

Going into the longest off-season in college basketball history, a coach’s ability to Win the Spring seems more critical than ever.  Lucky for us, Tech has the smartest guy in the country trying to do just that.

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