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The Basketball Vagabond: Texas Tech’s Chris Beard is thriving after returning to his roots

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To this day, when Chris Beard is asked about the best team that he’s ever coached, he doesn’t mention his current Texas Tech team, the one that is ranked No. 8 in the country and just six days removed from winning at Allen Fieldhouse.

He doesn’t mention his Little Rock team, either, the one that upset No. 5 seed Purdue in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

To hear him tell it, the best team that Beard ever coached was the South Carolina Warriors, an ABA expansion franchise, a team in a league where half court shots count as four points, you get a bonus point for baskets that come off of backcourt steals and players can’t foul out of games; a league that few people even realize still exists.

Six years and five jobs later, Beard has returned to Lubbock to lead a school that fired him, sending him to the depths of America’s pro basketball ranks, into poll position in the race to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12.



It was June 23rd, 2011, three months after Billy Gillispie replaced Pat Knight and ten years after Chris Beard had taken a job on staff with the Red Raiders, and for the first time in a decade, Beard was out of work.

After initially being retained by Gillispie, the university and Beard had decided to part ways. The timing could not have been worse. By late-June, most of the movement in the assistant coaching ranks has come to a close, particularly at the higher-end of the salary scale. Most of the college coaching jobs that Beard, who has three daughters that live in Texas, could have chased were filled.

And that’s assuming he could have gotten them in the first place. Industry sources told NBC Sports that the split between Beard and Gillispie was hardly amicable, and reports at the time stated that “heated altercations” between the two, including one that was “physically broken up” by Texas Tech’s Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt, led to Beard’s resignation.

Then there was the buyout.

Beard wouldn’t have seen any of that money if he took another college coaching job, and none of the openings he tried to chase down came with a salary large enough to make up that difference. Beard has kids that he needed to support. He was already staring at the paycut that comes with losing a position as the associate head coach of a Big 12 program. Passing up on that buyout money to take a spot as the third assistant with some random mid-major team didn’t make sense, not when he could have very well ended up looking for another job by the following Final Four.

“I had an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do,” Beard told NBC Sports in an interview last week. “I’m not a guy that was going to go do TV or anything like that. I’m not good looking enough. But I knew I wanted to stay involved in basketball.”

That’s when Beard got word about an opportunity in Myrtle Beach.

Or maybe Tony Bennett, who spent time as both the General Manager and the Owner of the South Carolina Warriors, got word of Beard’s availability.

No one seems to remember exactly who called who first, but all parties agree on this: Purdue head coach Matt Painter was the conduit. Bennett was a former walk-on at Purdue, a grey shirt that ran on the scout team for the Boilermakers during the years when Painter was a scholarship player. Painter also happened to be an AAU teammate of Pat Knight, Beard’s former boss. The connection was made.

Beard – who went to high school outside Houston, was a student-assistant at Texas and spent his entire coaching career, outside of two one-year stops at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma, in the the state of Texas – was off to South Carolina.

To take over a team that didn’t have an arena to play in.

Hell, when Beard got the job, you couldn’t even call the Warriors a team.

They didn’t actually have any players.


Chris Beard cuts down net after winning Sun Belt title with Little Rock (Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

At the tender age of 44, Beard has already been a head coach with eight different teams. Prior to heading to Texas Tech the first time around, Beard was the head coach at Fort Scott CC and Seminole State CC, each for one season. He spent one year with the South Carolina Warriors before returning to Texas as the head coach at a newly-minted Division II program, McMurry University. After one season at McMurry, Beard was named head coach at Division II powerhouse Angelo State. He spent two seasons there before getting the head coaching gig with Little Rock. After winning a first round game in the NCAA tournament in his inaugural season in Arkansas, Beard was named head coach at UNLV, where he lasted precisely one week before taking over for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech.

It’s something that he’s taken heat for, and yet he claims that he doesn’t look for jobs. Beard told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that he doesn’t even have a résumé.

“We have success and people reach out,” Beard says. The truth is that Beard, who has Texas Tech in the top ten of the AP Poll in just his second season in charge, was coaching at a level that was beneath him all of those years, and when a better job – with better pay, better players and a better chance at winning – comes along, he took it. Most people in most professions would do no different.

And for Beard, the real point of pride is in how he left the previous school.

“Each time I’ve moved, one of my assistants has gotten the head coaching job,” Beard said. “Everybody benefited. I would like to think that if you talked to any of those jobs – South Carolina Warriors, McMurry, Angelo State, Little Rock – they would tell you the program is in better shape when I left than when I came in. I’m really proud of that.”

That leaves UNLV, where Beard signed a five-year deal only to leave for Texas Tech a week later.

“It’s something that I don’t enjoy talking about it,” he said, “but I’ll be consistent. The truth sets you free. The timing was terrible and I felt bad for the people there, but sometimes in life opportunities come and you’ve got to do the right thing.”

For Beard, the right thing was returning to Texas Tech. UNLV, at the time, has just two scholarship players left on the roster. Sources told NBC Sports that at the first team workout Beard had at UNLV, the only player that showed up was a walk-on from Las Vegas. He was staring at a long rebuild in a city that was a flight away from his daughters and in a conference a rung or two below the Big 12.

Texas Tech?

They were coming off of an NCAA tournament under Tubby.

And it was also Texas Tech.

“It’s like when Bear Bryant left Texas A&M for Alabama,” Beard said in his introductory news conference. “He said, ‘When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home.’ Texas Tech is my momma and I’m home.”


(John Weast/Getty Images)

The first thing that Beard did when he arrived in Myrtle Beach was to start building a roster, and he could not have picked a better time to do it.

Beard’s first foray into professional basketball happened to coincide with the NBA lockout.

“A lot of the players weren’t playing in the D-League,” Beard said. “They weren’t even going overseas because the whole basketball world froze for a little while.”

Beard and Bennett pounced. Instead of going through agents, they recruited the way they would to a college program. They wore out their contacts list, reaching out to anyone and everyone that may have a line on a player looking for a team.

It worked.

The Warriors’ roster was headlined by former high-major players. Former Kentucky center Perry Stevenson played for the Warriors, as did former Texas Tech point guard John Roberson. Marquise Gainous played for TCU. Brendan Knox played at Auburn. The Warriors also reeled in as much local talent as possible, adding former Charleston star Tony White Jr. to the roster as well as a handful of players from the local Division I program, Coastal Carolina, because the second step after building a roster was building a fanbase that actually cared.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That process started with making the games an event, not just a place to watch basketball. The program brought in a cheerleading squad. There was a band playing in the gym. It took a while to lock down a place to play their home games, but Beard eventually discovered the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.

It wasn’t exactly an arena, but it was nicer than a typical high school gym and could fit more than 1,000 people. Crowds hovered around that number as the season went on, in no small part a result of the way the ABA game is played.

The ABA understands what it is. It’s not the NBA. It’s a step below the G League, so instead of using standard professional basketball rules, they made changes to creating as thrilling a style of play as possible. Any shot made beyond half court counted as four points. Instead of a ten-second backcourt violation, teams only have seven seconds to get the ball across half court. Any turnover committed in the backcourt meant that the next shot taken by the team that forced the turnover would be worth an extra point – twos were worth three, threes were worth four and halfcourt shots were worth five. Throw in that players could not foul out of a game, and it was pretty easy to figure out the optimal way to play.

Imagine Press Virginia on steroids. Imagine VCU’s Havoc defense, only gambling more.

Throw in the fact that the Warriors were the most talented team in the league, and what you got was high-octane basketball with video game numbers: They broke 150 points seven times, including a season-high of 194.

The only issue was money.

There wasn’t a ton of it to go around. Beard had his buyout money to float him, and the players were treated better than they were for most teams in the league, but that didn’t change the fact that those ABA paychecks “weren’t very good,” Bennett said, adding that often those paychecks would show up late. “A lot of people make worse, but it wasn’t a lot.”

The team created a few side hustles to help ease the financial burden on their players. Players would be given tickets that they could sell, splitting the profits with ownership. The team cut deals with restaurants in the area, exchanging advertisements and publicity at the games for a postgame drink and appetizer vouchers for the players. The free housing in Myrtle Beach helped as well.

“We wanted them to feel like pros,” Bennett said.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That wasn’t always easy when the team would be forced to practice in random rec centers or high school gyms, or even on outdoor courts, if no other court space was available.

The ABA is not glamorous. “Off the court it was like I was living the Will Ferrell semi-pro life,” Beard said, and that was exactly what he needed.

“I’ve always been a pretty humble guy, I’d like to think that I’m not entitled or anything like that, I just love basketball. But that year really made me appreciate basketball even more. We would practice in rec centers. We would practice outside. We didn’t have a trainer. We just kind of bonded together.”

“The experience for him was really good because he had to do so many things he didn’t do before,” Bennett said. “It created a family environment. The players all lived in the same place. The team had Sunday meals together.”

And before long, they were selling out games. “The community in Myrtle Beach embraced the team,” Beard said. The Warriors would go undefeated until the championship series, where they were swept by a team from Jacksonville owned by Christian Laettner.

With that, Beard’s tenure in the professional ranks was over. He had a line on a Division II head coaching position back in Texas. Bennett sold the team to a group of investors in Myrtle Beach and within two years, the team no longer existed.


(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For a college basketball coach, there is a risk in calling a job like Texas Tech your “dream job,” as Beard did at his introductory press conference in 2016, particularly for a coach with Beard’s reputation of job-hopping.

This is Beard’s 23rd season as a basketball coach, and outside of the ten years that he spent as an assistant at Texas Tech, he’s never been in one place for more than two seasons.

He was at UNLV for a week before leaving to take Texas Tech.

Your “dream job” is the one you don’t leave, and if Beard wins the Big 12 in his second season at Texas Tech, a school whose entire basketball history to date can be summed up with Darvin Ham broke a backboard and Bob Knight retired from there, what job would be unavailable to him?

Beard has built a reputation for being a coach that can rebuild quickly, and there’s a school in Louisville that will be in the market for someone that can provide a quick turnaround. Beard could get a $2 million-a-year raise and Louisville would still be spending less than half of what they did on Rick Pitino’s salary, and an offer like that would be awfully hard for anyone to say no to.

Which is why it’s silly for a coach to paint themselves into a corner. You never know what the future holds. Beard is smart when distancing himself from that dream job discussion.

“I’ve always felt that way with the job that I’ve had,” Beard said. “When I got the Fort Scott CC job, [Beard’s first head coaching gig], I was never more excited. I’ve always just felt that way.”

But Texas Tech might be the job that’s different. He’s spent time here, the only place where he has set down roots as a professional. His daughters are close, he’s back in Texas, and Texas just so happens to be the state that is home to Whataburger.

It’s the little things that matter.

Beard is also a dreamer with a chip on his shoulder, and he recruits dreamers with chips on their shoulder. He believes that he can win a national championship at Texas Tech and he recruits players that do the same, players that have a desire to prove to everyone that said they weren’t talented enough to play at Kansas that they can win at Kansas.

At the same time, it’s not glitz and glamour of high major basketball that Beard is addicted to.

It is the competition. It is the satisfaction that comes with victory. It is the moments that he experiences with his team.

After last week’s win in Lawrence, Beard got onto the Texas Tech bus and sat next to his assistant, Max Lefevre, who has been a member of Beard’s staff since 2013, when Beard was at Angelo State.

“No disrespect to Kansas,” Beard said, “this is what it felt like when we beat Tarleton State.”

“My girlfriend now is a high school volleyball coach,” Beard told me, “and I tell her that her season is just the same as mine. It’s all relative. When she has a big game it’s just like if we’re paying Texas or Baylor. When you’re a competitor and you’re in competition, the level doesn’t matter.”

“The moment does.”

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.

Report: NBA unlikely to change one-and-done rule before 2020 draft

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The Commission on College Basketball made a whole host of recommendations Wednesday. From increasing penalties on cheaters, to restructuring summer basketball to player representation, the report had plenty of ideas (though it omitted the most obvious).

One of its core recommendations, however, came in an area the NCAA has zero control.

The NBA draft.

The Commission suggested that the “one-and-done” rule be scrapped in favor of letting players leave straight from high school to the pros, a rule that has been collectively bargained by the NBA and its players union.

If any change is going to happen, it’s got to happen there, and it apparently won’t be in the next couple years. The NBA is unlikely to change its draft entry requirements ahead of the 2020 draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The subject has been broached by both the league and the union, but how any negotiation about the issue will unfold is uncertain, according to the report.

The NCAA has little leverage on the matter as the NBA and the union ultimately will act in what they believe is in their own best interests with little mind paid to what the NCAA wants. The NCAA also has little leverage in the matter as its most heavy-handed card to play is freshman ineligibility, which would seem to be an unwieldy and ill-advised option.

Disallowing an entire class to play their freshman season would likely have unintended consequences that harm college basketball while doing little to actually solve the problem The Commission set out to fix – illicit money in the game.

Commission on College Basketball Proposals: Can they actually work?

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On Wednesday morning, The Commission on College Basketball finally unveiled their findings on what changes need to be enacted in the sport to clean up the mess that has been created.

And while The Commission’s findings were far from perfect, there were some suggestions that they came up with that might actually have some benefit to the sport.

It just takes some time to actually dig them up.

Best I can tell, there are six talking points that we need to address stemming from today’s release.

Let’s work through all of them.

1. A BIG ‘NO COMMENT’ ON THE OLYMPIC MODEL AND CHANGES TO AMATEURISM RULES

We discussed this in depth in a column already posted on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the bottom-line is this: Amateurism rules are never going to work, at least not in the current form. There is too much money on the line for too many people. The Commission opted not to address the issues involving amateurism because of pending litigation involving the NCAA’s use of an athlete’s name and likeness, but based on some of the comments that Condoleeza Rice made, it seems as if they at least realized that amateurism is a root cause of the problems they were trying to answer.

Hopefully, change will be coming at some point.

2. BEGGING (BLACKMAILING?) THE NBA AND NBPA TO CHANGE THE ONE-AND-DONE RULE

The one-and-done rule, which has come to define the sport of college basketball over the course of the last 12 years, is not a college basketball rule. It is an NBA rule, which means that the NCAA is essentially powerless to change the minimum age requirements that NBA owners wanted back in 2006, when they stopped allowing high school kids to declare for the NBA draft.

The Commission’s response?

To recommend that they combat the one-and-done rule by considering reinstating freshman ineligibility or by punishing programs that recruit one-and-done players by forcing them to lose a scholarship for each athlete that leaves school after one season.

Both of those suggestions are, of course, undeniably and unbelievably idiotic.

In the last 11 drafts, there have been an average of 10.2 freshmen that have been selected. This year, there are 17 freshmen that have declared for the draft and signed with an agent. This is in a sport with 351 teams that are all allowed to give out 13 scholarships; do that math, and there were roughly 4,500 Division I college basketball players. The Commission suggesting that it is a good idea to make those 1,100-or-so other Division I freshmen ineligible for a year because they’re mad the NBA forces 1.5 percent of the class to enroll makes me wonder why we should take any of their other suggestions seriously.

Simply put: This is an empty threat.

The other option, forcing a school to have one-and-done players count against one of their 13 scholarships for one season after they leave, is just as dumb. It’s not going to stop programs from recruiting those players, but it is going to make scholarship opportunities for other athletes disappear into thin air. For an organization that claims to have the best interest of “student-athletes” in mind, revoking scholarships in anyway is and always will be hypocritical. It should never happen.

And that’s before we get into the idea that the one-and-done players are the be-all and end-all of what’s happening here. They’re not. Brian Bowen, the central figure in the allegations made by the FBI that resulted in Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, was not a one-and-done prospect. Silvio De Sousa, who was allegedly funneled money by two different shoe companies to earn a commitment to two different programs, is not a one-and-done prospect. Nine of the 15 players that were mentioned in February’s Yahoo report as receiving money and/or loans were one-and-done players. The practice of boosters paying the best players dates back to the 50s. John Wooden’s legacy is, in part, a result of Sam Gilbert being flush with disposable income.

There is, always was and always will be a black market for the best players entering college basketball, whether those are the top 15-20 players in each class — the one-and-dones that will go straight to the pros — or the players ranked in the 20-40 range, that will spend a few years on campus, developing into the crafty veterans that have won Villanova and North Carolina the last three titles.

Shoe companies with nine-figure sponsorship deals with universities want to protect their investment. Coaches that get seven-figure raises and multi-year contract extensions when they win big want to win big. Boosters with deep pockets that love their school’s basketball team are always going to look for a way to get the best players on campus.

That’s a college basketball “problem” that’s only a “problem” because something as stupid and old-fashioned as amateurism still exists.

It’s not a one-and-done problem.

3. ALLOWING PLAYERS ACCESS TO AGENT REPRESENTATION

This is certainly a good thing.

I’ve said all along that it is silly to think that it’s a bad thing for kids that have earning potential that reaches eight or nine figures cannot have a professional advising them on what they can do. There are details that are going to need to be worked out — like, for example, how the NCAA handles the inevitable loans that agents are going to make to the players they sign — but without question this is a good thing.

4. UNDERCLASSMEN THAT AREN’T DRAFTED CAN RETURN TO SCHOOL

In theory, I like this suggestion, but in practice, I think that it is going to be somewhat more complicated than people realize.

For starters, the NBA draft is in late June. Players start the process of declaring for the draft in mid-March, when they get knocked out of whatever tournament their team ends up playing in. That means there are more than three months where they will be away from their team, their coaching staffs and, potentially, out of class while they train and prepare for becoming a professional.

The other side of it is that players getting selected late in the second round often end up coming nowhere near making that team’s roster. Many times, agents and teams will already be in touch about the possibility of a second round pick signing a training camp deal or playing with that organization’s G League team. There are people that will tell you it’s better to go undrafted than it is to be selected late in the second round because it puts the player on the market and lets them pick a destination that is the best instead of being forced to go somewhere based on getting picked.

The sentiment here is great, but I’m not sure it is as simple as it seems on paper.

5. CHANGING THE WAY SUMMER BASKETBALL WORKS

This is where things stop making sense.

With all due respect to the people that were on The Commission, I’m not sure that any of them — outside of John Thompson III — truly have a feel for how AAU and grassroots basketball truly operates. Do you think that Condoleeza Rice has ever actually been to an Under Armour Association event? Have they spoken to the organizers of events like Hoop Group’s Pitt Jam Fest or the people that run Nike’s EYBL?

“We create more opportunities than anyone within the system,” said once source that helps organize events in the summer.

What it seems like The Commission is proposing is bringing summer basketball in-house, whether that is under the umbrella of the NCAA itself, USA Basketball, the NBA or all of the above. The problem with that is that there are so many different levels to college basketball and college basketball recruiting. I played college basketball. The coaches that recruited me at the Division III level saw me when I was playing on an AAU team, but the idea that there would be any benefit for anyone if a player of my caliber and one of the top players in the country were to be at the same event is ludicrous.

Then how do you determine who plays at what events? Do you really want the NCAA running hundreds of summer tournaments that include each include many hundreds of teams? How are they going to determine which players go to which events? How are they going to determine which coaches are allowed to be at which events?

And, this may be the most important part, they aren’t going to eliminate shoe companies from getting involved at the youth level. If anything, if they take away the access coaches have to shoe company events, they’ll only be making the people that run scouting services that much richer.

Asking for transparency from these apparel companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then will the NCAA provide transparency into what happens with the billions of dollars that they bring in?

As one source so eloquently put it, the NCAA running their own camps is “Lolololol”.

Pretty much sums it up.

6. CHANGING ENFORCEMENT

One of the proposals that The Commission made is for stricter punishments for those that go outside the rules — longer postseason bans for schools, lifetime bans for serial offenders, punishments for schools that hire offenders. I guess that would be a deterrent, but not everything that goes on here involves people associated with the NCAA or the schools.

But that is beside the point.

Because the real issue is that the NCAA cannot dig any of this stuff up themselves. The enforcement arm is toothless, and while I do think that hiring independent investigators would help, the truth is that this was all brought to light because the FBI is allowed to tap phones and send in undercover agents that can splash around thousands of dollars of government money.

What independent investigators is going to be able to do that?