Here’s Texas Tech’s Chris Beard and his players previewing Thursday’s game against Michigan.
CHRIS BEARD: I’m just really excited to be here and coaching this team. I’ve never enjoyed coaching a team more than I have this one. We just simply stated don’t want it to end. Want it to go another day. We’ve enjoyed practice and film sessions and street conditioning and that’s who we are, a team of guys who play for each other. We are excited to be one of the 16 teams left standing.
In terms of this game we have so much respect for Michigan’s program. On behalf of everybody in our program, I’m speaking for our players and staff, we want to say how much respect we have. This is our third year building the program and we will often study other programs, whether it be something we saw on the news or in a magazine or read and maybe even X’s and O’s, the end of a game. I can’t tell you how many times we have talked the last three years about Michigan basketball with our guys, whether it be the defense, one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, we strive to be in that conversation, which I think we are, or just their culture, their tradition, their fan base. This is a game that we are excited to be a part of and at the top of the reason for the list of why, it’s our respect for Michigan.
Lastly, with Coach, he’s somebody I have always looked up to personally. I’m proud of my background in small college basketball where it be NAIA or Division II or Junior College, and Coach is somebody we all look up to in coaching because of his experience and success in the different levels. As a young coach people have pictures of Coach Lombardi and Coach Wooden up in their office and I certainly look up to those guys, too. But Coach Beilein is a coach I have always had a lot of respect for and we have a lot of respect for Michigan’s program and coach.
Q. Chris, I wondered if you could take me back to your time in Las Vegas when Texas Tech showed interest in you. How tough of a decision was that going to Tech and take me through what led you to leave?
CHRIS BEARD: I’m going to respectfully decline on that. This is about Michigan and Texas Tech and the Sweet 16. I think I’ve been more than open about that decision and nothing but respect for the people in Las Vegas and UNLV, but I respectfully decline on that today. Today it’s about Texas Tech and being part of the Sweet 16 and playing one of the best times in the country the tomorrow, a real national championship contender, Michigan.
Q. Coach, what do you remember from the first meeting you had as an assistant at Texas Tech against Beilein and West Virginia? What scares you about this Michigan team most?
CHRIS BEARD: Was an assistant for Coach Knight and Pat at Texas Tech, proud of my time here as an assistant. That was a Sweet 16 game in Albuquerque, in the historic “Pit” West Virginia, Pittsnogle. I have bad dreams about him from time to time. Defense for that guy was not to let him get the ball because once he got it it was going in. My recollection is it was a one-possession game and we were playing offense in front of our bench and the last possession of the game we got two or three tips at the ball that I think would have sent the game to overtime or given us the victory, ball didn’t quite go in, West Virginia secured the rebound.
But they were really well-coached as they are today and that’s the a game although I don’t like the outcome that’s a special Sweet 16 game, and we have two guys on our staff who played in that game, Ronald Ross and Darryl Dora, who played in that game.
Second question, what scares me about Michigan? Everything. Starts with their Hall of Fame coach, simply stated this team doesn’t beat themselves. If you’re going to beat Michigan you have to score more points than them. We will have to play or cleanest game of the year, our best forty minutes. But that’s what this time of year is. This game is no different than the other ones around. As you advance you have to win and this next step will be a tough one for us. A lot easier to talk about than do. Michigan has great talent, in my opinion, several great players, really good, best defensive team we have played all year and an offensive balance that concerns us. We will have to play really well.
Q. Coach, you mentioned studying Michigan a lot externally has been made about two of the top defenses in the country. What do you see as similarities and differences between your defense and Michigan’s?
CHRIS BEARD: Well, I’ll say this about Michigan, and I hope that people have the same view about us, but this would just be my opinion. When I think of Michigan I think of discipline. They don’t beat themselves. They’re a low turnover team. I think they have the fewest of anybody this year, 9 a game. That means you’re not beating yourself. On the defensive end it’s hard to get baskets against them because of their scheme, their discipline, their athletic size. I would hope when people talk about Texas Tech they realize we try to make it hard for the opponent to score and we value the ball and try to get shots as well.
Q. You’ve been famously quoted as saying guys like you get one chance. I was wondering, now that you’ve had some success, do you still feel there is something creeping over your shoulder all the time? How do you pass that message on to your players?
CHRIS BEARD: Absolutely. I wake up every day feeling like the underdog, that I got something to prove. I set three alarms to make sure I was five minutes early today, had the video for our players. I had the cell phone, had one of our daughters call us and set the alarm in the hotel, which I not hadn’t done for a long time, tricky, man. Got the cords coming out, bluetooth. I’m always trying to act like I belong and that’s just kind of, that’s just me. How I keep those players feeling the same way, it’s just who we are. We’ve got really good players. We don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans. We don’t have anybody on our team that has been given anything. Jarrett Culver has worked for everything he’s been given. We believe it. We got a chip on our shoulder. We weren’t supposed to be here. They picked us bottom half or last in our league, even today we see people in the country calling out that Buffalo was going to beat us and this and that.
We respect everybody’s opinion and fear no one. We’re here to play our best game of the year and try to advance. We understand how hard this is going to be because Michigan is really, really good. But we have a lot of confidence in ourselves, too.
Q. Coach, I would love as an expansive of an answer as you care to give. When you first saw Jarrett play what jumped out to you about him and how has it been that he’s made this progress to a point where a lot of us talk about him as a lottery pick?
CHRIS BEARD: I saw Jarrett early on in my career obviously in Lubbock knew of Culver and my background in the state of Texas. So when we were at Angelo State in Little Rock saw him coming up. Saw him on the circuit when I was a coach at Arkansas Little Rock. Knew we wouldn’t be able to recruit someone of his status and watched him play games and the very first thing we did at Texas Tech was called him up. It was not some kind of great eval. The guy can score on all levels and has great character and we have known about Jarrett for a long time, made the first call to him, just proud of him. I remember talking to him, and I was like, you’re going to be able to go a lot of places and be a part of history. But why don’t you think about staying home and come to Texas Tech and we will make history, Big 12 Player of the Year. He has helped his team get to NCAA Tournaments, first time in Tech history back-to-back Sweet 16s. So I think you’ve got to give Jarrett credit for being one of our best players.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
We are joined by Texas Tech student-athletes, Brandone Francis, Tariq Owens, Norense Odiase, and Matt Mooney. Questions for our student-athletes?
Q. Matt, what stands out about Michigan? Coach Beard talked about the fact that you guys in meetings have referenced Michigan as a team to look at as you build your program. So what stands out about the Wolverines?
MATT MOONEY: We think Michigan is probably the best team we played all year, up there with Duke, and teams in the Big 12, Kansas, Kansas State. They’re obviously well-coached, Coach Beilein is a great coach. We’ve heard it’s the number one and number two defenses going at it. They went to the national championship last year. So they got a really good mix of guys, length, athleticism, size. So they’re a really good team and well balanced.
NORENSE ODIASE: They are a top program, Blue Blood type program, always get to this level this time of the season. Our program looks to them in that aspect. They’re guys that have been in this moment before and not scared of the moment and we gotta be ready to play them tomorrow.
TARIQ OWENS: That covered everything.
Q. Tariq and Matt, I wanted to ask you about Coach Beard. He is very, very detailed oriented. He comes up with details that maybe you guys didn’t, maybe had not thought about at the previous schools that you were at. What would be an example of something he came up with as a detail that you were surprised he came up with?
TARIQ OWENS: I can’t recall anything specific right now, but you’re right. Coach Beard, he has all like the random stats and little details that in my experience that other schools they didn’t really be point out. They didn’t factor in as major details, but to Coach Beard and this program every little thing helps. I’ve come to enjoy it. I enjoy the information. I like how they give us so much. Personally it’s cool for me.
MATT MOONEY: He’s a very detailed person, Coach Beard. He’s a different breed. He’s a killer.
One of the details that I can think of is free throws, for example. We all have different keys that we have to focus on when we step up to the free throw line. So in practice we will step up to the free throw line and one of our GAs has to memorize everybody’s key. So every time I step up to the free throw line it’s hand under the ball, finish on your toes, and everybody has something different. In our locker room in the bathroom they have the sheet posted above the urinals that has everybody’s free throw keys. So even when you’re in the bathroom you’re seeing that in your head that these are my keys when you step up to the free throw line. So things like that.
Q. Tariq, you have blossomed on the defensive end under Coach Beard. What sets his approach from other college coaches you have specifically on the defensive end? What sets him apart?
TARIQ OWENS: Our process. We have our own workouts that we schedule. We make on our own time and during my workouts, I work on it. Every single day, we have GAs who are short and quick and explosive and fast and I guard them every day. We play one-on-one and I work on close-out situations and things like that. I improved because we worked on it. We do it every single day and I really enjoy this about this program. Everybody has things we need to work on and our coaching staff instead of telling us we need to work on them. They put plans in place for us to work on them and I really enjoy that about this program.
Q. Curious about the specifics, what specific plan, like one thing that the coaching staff put in place to bring your defense to the next level?
TARIQ OWENS: Like I had, defensively, in my workouts I work on switching ball screens and just sit down and guarding some of our people off ball screens. That’s just one thing.
Q. For those of you who have transferred and didn’t start your career here, what is it about Coach Beard in this program that drew you here? How has he been able to acclimate what was a program that had five seniors leave last year and some of you guys have been here just one year, couple years, what is it that you guys were able to become a team as quickly as you guys are and be a successful one at that?
MATT MOONEY: I actually remember Coach Beard’s team at Arkansas Little Lock. I remember their story. They had ten new players and he brought them to the tournament his first year there and they beat Purdue in the first round. So when he was recruiting me I knew he had experience with new guys and having success right away. So that was something that played a factor for me. He’s just really good at, I mean, right when I first got here, he just made me, you know, feel included and confident right away. He told the guys, talked me up a little bit in front of the guys and he’s real good at putting guys in the right positions and making you feel like you’re part of the team right away.
TARIQ OWENS: Yeah, we just it do so much stuff together as a team, off the floor. We do a lot of things together, just get together, hangout with each other. We all live right next to each other, so it’s very easy for us to be around each other. We spend a lot of time together in the gym putting up extra shots together on our own time. It’s very easy when we spend that much time together, you know, to build a chemistry and for it to happen pretty quickly.
BRANDONE FRANCIS: For me, when I first got to Lubbock it was, you know, a new beginning. But if I could have made the choice all over again I would. I met a lot of great people on and off the floor and I really just started having fun when I first got to Texas Tech. I will always be thankful for that, continue to write the story, just finish strong.