John Weast/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.”

Michigan Men vs. The Villanova Way: How do Beilein and Wright churn out so many pros?

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We are all of seven months — and just one full week of basketball season — removed from Villanova cutting down the nets for their second title in three years, but heading into Wednesday’s title game rematch between No. 8 Villanova and No. 18 Michigan at the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion, the rosters couldn’t look more different today than they did on that Monday night in San Antonio.

Five of the ten players who started that title game have moved on, and that doesn’t include Donte DiVincenzo or Duncan Robinson. Five of the seven players that are off to the professional ranks were drafted with eligibility remaining. Six of the seven are currently collecting NBA paychecks, and the seventh — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — is on a G League roster with the likes of Bonzie Colson, Kobi Simmons and Billy Preston.

The fact that this is the most anticipated game of the college basketball season since the Champions Classic despite the utter lack of incoming one-and-done talent on either roster tells you all you need to know about the teams involved.

There’s a saying in basketball circles: You don’t develop pros, you recruit pros.

For the majority of the college basketball landscape, that sentiment holds true, but there are few that buck the trend. Virginia’s one. Wichita State is another. None have been more consistent or more successful at turning players that weren’t considered pro prospects entering school into NBA players by the time they leave than the Wolverines and Wildcats.

“I go to both of those places,” a Western Conference executive told NBC Sports this month. “I like what you get out of a Michigan guy, and I like what you get out of a Villanova guy.”

“John Beilein and Jay Wright are two of the most fundamental coaches that exist in college basketball,” he added. “The beauty is that they know who they are, what they do and what works for them. They don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes.”

And while the results are the same, the method behind the madness — the process — couldn’t be more different.


John Beilein and Trey Burke(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The narrative surrounding John Beilein’s ability to develop NBA players is that they tend to end up being busts.

You can’t draft a player out of Michigan, that line thinking goes, because you never know what you’re actually getting in that player. This is largely a result of the respect people have for Beilein as a basketball coach; I’ll get to that in a minute.

That narrative was essentially the result of three high-profile players that Michigan sent to the NBA who failed to live up to the hype that came as a result of their college success and the expectation of where they were picked.

Trey Burke was the National Player of the Year as a sophomore, leading Michigan to the national title game before getting selected with the ninth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. His career stalled towards the end of his tenure in Utah, and after a failed stint in Washington, Burke got a much-needed reboot with the Knicks in the G League. At 26 years old and past the distractions that plagued him early in his career, he’s a part-time starter and currently outperforming another former lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina. That’s not bad for a player that was a borderline top 100 recruit coming out of Columbus, Ohio, who was passed over by Ohio State for a player named Shannon Scott.

Then there’s Nik Stauskas, another player that the consensus had on the wrong side of the top 100 recruiting rankings that went to Michigan and became a lottery pick within two years. The first four years of his NBA career were spent as a rotation piece on teams that were tanking, but he’s managed to carve out a role for the Trail Blazers this season.

If there is a player that’s truly emblematic of the reputation that Beilein’s Michigan players have, it’s probably Mitch McGary, who was a borderline five-star prospect that nearly went one-and-done after shining during Michigan’s run to the 2013 title game. He returned to school, where a back injury limited his sophomore season and a positive marijuana test forced him to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. He was the 21st overall pick, but was out of the league within two years thanks to another positive test and is now a professional bowler.

While it’s true that three of the most-highly publicized players that have come through Ann Arbor did not end up being NBA all-stars, focusing on a couple of players that are still in the league despite failing to outperform their draft position is to miss the forest for the trees: Two of the three were never considered pros before they got to Michigan, and none of the three would have been in a position to leave school after two years if it wasn’t for what happened under Beilein’s tutelage.

That is the narrative that should be focused on.

Since Beilein arrived at Michigan in 2007, 13 of his players have reached the NBA. Ten of those 13 have come in the last six years, and just four of the 13 were top-40 prospects, according to Rivals. Glenn Robinson III is the only player Beilein has sent to the league that was a surefire pro regardless of where he spent his college days.

Tim Hardaway Jr. might have been the son of basketball royalty, but he was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He’s now in his sixth season in the NBA, averaging a career-high 23.2 points for the Knicks. Caris LeVert only ended up at Michigan after reopening his recruitment when John Groce was hired away from Ohio, and he was on his way to being one of the breakout stars in the NBA before Monday night’s gruesome foot injury. (Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be as bad as it looked.) D.J. Wilson was a late-bloomer from California that was ranked outside the top 120, according to 247 Sports Composite ranking. Beilein’s ability to identify and develop talent goes beyond just the players that reached the NBA: Spike Albrecht picked Michigan over Appalachian State, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was ranked 434th in his high school class, committing to Michigan after visiting Rice.

No one, however, defines Beilein’s ability to identify and develop talent like Duncan Robinson.

Robinson is one of the few transfers that Beilein has brought into his program, but he’s no ordinary transfer. Any excuse to tell his story is a good one: Completely overlooked in high school, Robinson found his way to Williams, a Division III powerhouse, where he was a star for the Ephs as a freshman. His head coach at Williams was Mike Maker, a former Beilein assistant, who accepted the job as the Marist head coach. When Robinson decided it was time for him to leave as well, Maker made the call to Beilein, and Robinson was on his way to being a Michigan man.

A little more than four years later, and Robinson is on a two-way contract, bouncing between the G League and the Miami Heat’s roster.


Duncan Robinson (Will Newton/Getty Images)

Everything changed for Villanova six seasons ago.

Just three years removed from a trip to the 2009 Final Four, the program had bottomed out. It was 2012 and Villanova had just finished up the worst year under Wright since he took over the program in 2001. The Wildcats were 13-19 with a 5-13 mark in the Big East and totally lost. Wright had stopped recruiting the players he thought fit the style he wanted to coach and the culture that he wanted to build, and instead focused on — what else? — recruiting rankings.

Once the program had a Final Four to their name, they were able to get in the mix with some more highly-regarded players, and instead of focusing on whether or not that player fit within his program, he asked himself a simple question: “He’s a great player? All right, good.”

Villanova wasn’t evaluating players. They were recruiting with buckshot. Get in the mix with every five-star they could. Go after every four-star in and around Philly, New York and DC. Amass all the talent they could, and figure it out from there. It’s a method that works — to varying degrees of success — for a number of programs around the country.

It didn’t work for Villanova.

Wright knew he had to change, and, as he detailed to NBC Sports last year, he knew that change meant two things: Recruiting kids with a certain mindset, and recruiting kids with a certain skill-set.

As one coach that has gone up against Villanova on the recruiting trail put it: “They’re targeted.”

They look for tough, gritty kids, players that have a chip on their shoulder and that are accepting of the fact that they are going to be asked to play a role early and often in their career. One of the defining characteristics of the program is that the players are expected to play hard and tough first, or they’re not going to play.

The rest can be figured out from there, which is where skill-set — and Wright’s coaching magic — kicks in.

Wright is one of the founders of the small-ball revolution in college basketball. Savvy basketball fans will remember the teams that featured Randy Foye and Allan Ray fondly. What they may not remember is that team was forced into playing four guards because Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL twice in the span of seven months.

He saw the success that was possible by creating mismatches with over-skilled and under-sized players, and overtime, the methodology started to change.

“Versatility now is what we look for,” Wright said. “We used to use the word ‘tweener’. Now we use the word versatility. Multi-positional.”

Josh Hart (Harry How/Getty Images)

Take a guy like Josh Hart. In high school, he was a 6-foot-4 guard that played like a power forward. Physical, tough, defensive-minded and lacking any and all touch on the offensive end of the floor. So Wright pulled him out of Georgetown’s backyard, taught him how to play the space-and-pace brand of basketball that is so prevalent in the NBA and Hart is now on a guaranteed contract, earning seven-figures while playing alongside LeBron in LA.

Donte DiVincenzo’s rise wasn’t all that dissimilar. He was a terrific athlete in high school that needed his skill sharpened. Mikal Bridges had the physical tools, but he was a twig that needed to learn how to be a multi-dimensional player on the offensive end. Omari Spellman was big and skilled with three-point range, but he was well over 300 pounds.

“He polishes those stones up better than the other guys,” a member of an Eastern Conference team said.

The key, according to Ryan Arcidiacono, a member of Villanova’s 2016 national title team and a current point guard for the Chicago Bulls, is two-fold.

On the one hand, Wright does everything he can to make his offense positionless. They don’t split up into guards and bigs to do skillwork. The point guards work on posting up and the big men work on making threes and attacking closeouts.

One of Wright’s favorite sayings, Arcidiacono said, is, “‘You’re a basketball player. We have guards and we have forwards but everyone needs to be able to handle the ball and make a shot.'” The program only runs about five plays. What Wright teaches are “concepts”, which is a fancy way of saying he teaches his guys how to play — shoot, pass and dribble — and how to understand the game. Their entire offense is predicated on the simplest fundamentals of basketball: Get two defenders guarding the ball, make the right pass, create a closeout and make a play.

The other part is the person that Wright targets. “He does a great job of getting guys that buy into ‘we before me,'” Arcidiacono said. Sometimes they’re five-star guys like Jalen Brunson. Sometimes it’s the local kid that grew up a Villanova fan, like Arcidiacono and DiVincenzo. The result is a culture within the program that now allows Wright to go out and bring in a more talented player that might have some knucklehead tendencies; the rest of the program can prop him up.

And that is one of the biggest reasons that Villanova has become one of the leading producers of NBA role players in the college ranks. Eight Villanova players have reached the NBA in the last three years. Eric Paschall will almost assuredly make that number nine come June’s draft, and there are a handful of other pieces on that roster — Cole Swider, Jahvon Quinerly, Jermaine Samuels, Phil Booth — that have a shot of joining him there.

When you get a Villanova player, you know what you’re getting: a team-first guy that can shoot, knows how to play the game, will play hard, will accept a role and will defend his ass off, even if his physical tools make him a below-average defensive player.

What’s not to like?


Donte DiVincenzo guarded by Duncan Robinson (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Like Jay Wright, John Beilein’s offense is based entirely off of the spacing that comes with loading the court with shooters.

Unlike Wright, however, his offense is not known for the freedom that it gives players.

Quite the opposite, actually.

“Beilein’s offense is like the Princeton and motion on steroids,” a rival Big Ten coach said. “It’s organized, it’s structured and it’s quirky.”

Suffice to say, Michigan’s playbook is much bigger than just five plays. Villanova’s players have more freedom than just about anyone. Michigan’s players will ride the pine if they’re not executing precisely what Beilein wants run.

Where Beilein thrives is finding ways to make the offense fit the talent on his roster. Before Michigan, his offense could have been confused with the Princeton offense. There were two-guards on the floor at all times. There were back-cuts and plenty of screens and, of course, shooters everywhere. Remember the days of Kevin Pittsnoggle? Beilein was doing those same things at Richmond, when he knocked off No. 3-seed South Carolina in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament, and at Canisius, and Le Moyne, and Erie CC before that.

But has he started to land better talent at Michigan, and as the game started to change around him, he adapted. Trey Burke was a terrific ball-screen point guard, so in 2013, Beilein surrounded Burke with three sharpshooters and put Burke in ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen. With Stauskas, and then LeVert, Beilein knew he had players that thrived as off-the-dribble jump-shooters, so he tailored his offense to getting them those shots. When he once again had a roster filled with sharpshooting big men, he rode D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner to Big Ten tournament titles and, in 2018, a Final Four.

As it turns out, Wagner is German for Pittsnoggle.

“He’s always tinkering with his stuff on the day-to-day” Robinson said. “Within a season, as the it goes along, he gets a much better understanding of who he has on his team. That’s why they always play their best basketball at the end of the season. He figures out what exactly he has at his disposal.”

Michigan does make players better. There’s not real argument against that, even if Beilein isn’t batting 1.000. The strength and conditioning program at Michigan is second-to-none. Players leave that program in the best possible physical condition, to the point that some kids regress athletically when they get to the NBA.

Beilein is also fanatical about birthdays and targeting late-bloomers. Did a kid grow three inches during the summer before his senior season? Get him. Will he turn 18 years old when he’s already on a college campus? Get him. Is the kid not getting recruited because he weighs 135 pounds soaking wet? Get him.

“John Beilein is one of the five best evaluators I’ve ever seen in college basketball,” a longtime high school scout told NBC Sports. “Everyone is young for their grade. Their first year is a redshirt, or a basketball redshirt. Look at how much guys improve after their freshman season.”

In other words, it’s not a fluke.

Beyond that, Beilein has such precise understanding of the way his offense runs and the way that he wants to play that he can see things during a game that others miss. There’s a reason that Michigan has a rule that they won’t extend an offer to a player unless Beilein has seen them play in person.

“He just knows what he wants,” Robinson said. “You watch a game with him and there will be a kid you think is dominating. Then there’s another kid, maybe he’s skinnier or younger, and he’ll do something that catches coach’s attention. There are certain actions, things about being a basketball player and knowing how to play, that [Coach] will notice. He has an eye for that stuff.”

“He picks those guys for his program.”

Robinson would know.

When he committed to Williams after a prep year at Phillips Exeter Academy, he had exactly one scholarship offer from the Division II ranks. That’s how he ended up at Williams.

And Beilein not only saw him as a weapon in the Big Ten, he turned him into an NBA player.


Nik Stauskas (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The good news for Beilein and Wright is that Wednesday night’s tip is early.

The game starts at 6:30 p.m. ET.

That should leave plenty of time for the pair to shower up, get some dinner and find a TV to watch Josh Hart and the Lakers square off with Nik Stauskas and the Trail Blazers.

It will be a little bit more difficult, however, to catch Glenn Robinson III’s Pistons visit Kyle Lowry’s Raptors, or for Wright to see Arcidiacono take on Boston, or for Beilein to see Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 8 p.m. ET tip as the Knicks visit Oklahoma City.

The DVR can get pretty full, pretty quick.

Tuesday’s Things To Know: Badgers return to form, futures of Georgetown and Illinois on display and Izundu’s big night for Miami

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There were only two top-25 teams in action Tuesday night, but there was still plenty of solid hoops action around the country with rematches, youth vs. youth and sterling individual performances. Here’s everything you need to know about what went down.

1. Wisconsin resurgent

The 2017-18 season was as disappointing as any for Wisconsin in some time. The Badgers were under .500, missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and were just generally uncompetitive in the Big Ten after years of consistently being one of its best programs. Given how Greg Gard inherited the program, that made this season an important one in Madison.

The Badgers look to understand that.

Wisconsin got 30 points from Ethan Happ, 22 from D’Mitrik Trice and 19 from Brad Davidson, who added a little flavor to the victory. The issues last year for Wisconsin were many, but so often the main problem was Happ being left to do everything himself. If the Badgers can consistently get help around Happ – while he continues to reassert himself as one of the country’s best players – Wisconsin should be back in the NCAA tournament and pushing for a spot atop the Big Ten. There’s a long way to go and Wisconsin finishes off November with a difficult slate of games, but the early returns are positive for Gard and Co.

2. Georgetown beats Illinois in fun battle of two young teams

I don’t know that either Georgetown or Illinois will be all that good this season. In fact, I would venture to guess neither is all that great once we hit the middle of winter. They did, however, play a super entertaining game Tuesday night.

Georgetown outlasted the Illini, 88-80, in Champaign as part of the Gavitt Games in a back-and-forth game that featured fun, mistakes, highlight plays, more mistakes, breathless action and, yup, some additional mistakes. Still, it was apparent that both teams have young talent that can take them places, whether it’s this year or in the future.

The Hoyas’ starting backcourt of freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung combined to score 31 points and dish out 11 assists while making game-winning plays down the stretch. On the flip side, they also tallied a combined eight turnovers. There was good and bad from the two youngsters, but the positive well outweighed the negative and the potential of both was on major display. Patrick Ewing looks to have this thing pointed in the right direction in D.C.

For Illinois, it was Chicago product Ayo Dosunmu starring. The point guard put up 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 4 form deep. He was electric and at times unstoppable. Fellow freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 12 points, five boards and four assists. Brad Underwood’s four non-senior starters combined for 17 of the Illini’s points on the night while sophomore reserve Da’Monte Williams had 11 of those points. The future look good for Brad Underwood, too.

3. Izundu puts up numbers, Louisville impresses, Mays throws down and Temple knocks off Georgia

Ebuka Izundu had a night that’s not often seen. The Miami big man went for 22 points and 17 rebounds while shooting 11 of 13 from the floor. It was just the 13th time since 2010 that someone put up at least 22 and 17 while shooting 84 percent or better from the floor. So that’s pretty good. So, too, was the Hurricanes’ 96-58 win over Stephen F. Austin to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Louisville wasn’t all that good in Chris Mack’s debut, but the Cardinal looked significantly stronger Tuesday in a 1014-54 win over Southern. Jordan Nwora scored 20 points off the bench, and Louisville shot 58.2 percent from the floor as a team.

LSU defeated Memphis, 85-76, but more importantly, the 22nd-ranked Tigers got 19 points and one thunderous dunk from Skylar Mays.

Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor, but turned it over 20 times and lost to Temple in Philadelphia. The story, though, was the Owls’ duo of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr., who both tallied 25 points as they improved to 3-0 in what will be coach Fran Dunphy’s final season leading them.

Defense carries No. 5 Tennessee past Georgia Tech 66-53

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Grant Williams scored 22 points and No. 5 Tennessee used its stingy defense to beat cold-shooting Georgia Tech 66-53 on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (3-0) was playing one day after moving up a spot in the Top 25 to earn its first top-five ranking since the 2007-08 season. After the Yellow Jackets made the game’s first basket, Tennessee scored the next seven points and stayed in control the rest of the way.

Georgia Tech (1-1) shot just 27.6 percent from the field — its lowest mark since Josh Pastner took over as coach in 2016. The Yellow Jackets had nearly twice as many fouls (30) as baskets (16).

The Yellow Jackets missed 15 straight shots during one stretch, including their first 11 attempts of the second half. They didn’t make their first second-half basket until Jose Alvarado sank a 3-pointer with 12:12 left.

Georgia Tech still managed to hang around and cut Tennessee’s lead to 45-37 on another basket by Alvarado with 10:08 remaining, but the Volunteers responded with seven straight points.

Jordan Bone had 15 points and Kyle Alexander added 12 for Tennessee. Brandon Alston led Georgia Tech with 16.

Tennessee’s defense enabled the Vols to win on a night when they shot just 39.6 percent (19 of 48) from the field and 63.2 percent (24 of 38) at the foul line.

Georgia Tech received some good news earlier in the day as the NCAA granted a waiver allowing Texas transfer James Banks III to play immediately for the Yellow Jackets rather than sitting out the season. Banks had five points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes before fouling out.

The game marked a return to Knoxville for Georgia Tech guard Shembari Phillips, who played two seasons at Tennessee before transferring. Phillips started and played 22 minutes but scored just two points.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lacked the outside shooting that helped them beat Lamar 88-69 in their season opener. Georgia Tech shot just 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech’s 12 3-point baskets and 30 3-point attempts against Lamar were the most by the Yellow Jackets under Pastner.

Tennessee: After winning its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points, Tennessee passed a tougher test Tuesday before heading to the NIT Season Tip-Off next week in Brooklyn, New York. After facing Louisville in the first round of the NIT event, Tennessee will meet No. 2 Kansas or No. 24 Marquette.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech hosts East Carolina on Friday.

Tennessee faces Louisville on Nov. 21 in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Nwora, Williams power Louisville easily past Southern 104-54

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The second act of Louisville’s Chris Mack era produced the same outcome as the first, but this time the Cardinals came away with a much better showing.

Jordan Nwora scored a career-high 20 points as the Cardinals (2-0) easily dominated Southern 104-54 Tuesday night. Malik Williams also posted a career high of 17 points in the rout.

After Nicholls State stayed close with Louisville in last week’s season opener, Mack used the practices to toughen up his players in preparation for a schedule that includes eight games against teams ranked in the AP’s preseason top 10. Mack saw improvement on both sides of the court as the Cardinals shot 58.2 percent and forced 23 turnovers.

“The three practices that we had leading up to tonight really set the tone,” he said. “I really think you earn the right to win and you earn your victories in practice because that’s who you become on game night.”

Southern coach Sean Woods said he noticed a marked difference from the team he observed in game film.

“Handling pressure, making shots, executing high-low situations, so I tip my hat off to coach Mack because he’s been working on getting his guys better,” Woods said.

One of the players Mack wanted to see improve was Nwora. The sophomore forward came off the bench and scored 15 points in the first half. He provided an immediate spark, scoring a layup off a Jaguars turnover just two seconds after checking in. He later got frontcourt steals on consecutive possessions that he turned into back-to-back dunks, the latter of which made it 21-9 with 11:32 remaining.

Louisville kept pulling away throughout the game, leading by as many as 53 points in the final minute. Mack used 13 players, with none playing more than 22 minutes. A dozen Cardinals ended up scoring.

“After the last game, I don’t think a lot of people were happy with our performance, especially not the coaches,” said Nwora, who made 7-of-11 shots. “We just had to get better, and that’s the way he woke us up. Just having some drills in practice that really brought out the toughness in some guys.”

Aaron Ray led the Jaguars (0-3) with 14 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Southern: Facing its third major conference foe in a week, the Jaguars again struggled as they shot just 39.1 percent. They also had a hard time keeping up with bigger, more athletic Cardinals. By halftime, Southern committed 21 fouls, with two players picking up four each. The Jaguars finished getting whistled for 39 fouls. Three players fouled out, with four more drawing four each.

Louisville: The Cardinals looked much more at ease Tuesday after struggling in their season opener. In addition to the practices, it may have been due to the size advantage Louisville enjoyed over the Jaguars, who did not start anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Louisville outrebounded Southern 37-22 and enjoyed a 38-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

LOCKER ROOM CLOSED

Prior to the game, Louisville announced its locker room would be closed for postgame interviews, per Mack’s decision. The program had been one of the few to allow locker room access during the regular season. The NCAA maintains an open locker room policy during the March tournament.

AGAU RETURNS

Tuesday marked the return of Akoy Agau to the Cardinals. The graduate transfer from Southern Methodist played 22 games for the Cardinals before leaving the program in late 2014 to play for Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 forward scored seven points and tied Nwora with a team-high seven rebounds against the Jaguars.

UP NEXT

Southern travels to Fairfax, Va., for a Saturday game at George Mason as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.

Louisville concludes a three-game, season-opening homestand on Friday when it hosts Vermont.

Mays scores 19, No. 22 LSU tops Memphis 85-76

Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Skylar Mays scored 19 points, transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams added a career-high 14, and No. 22 LSU held off a relentless effort by first-year coach Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad, 85-76 on Tuesday night.

Each of LSU’s three freshmen starters — Naz Reid, Ja’Vonte Smart and Emmitt Williams — scored 11 points. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers (3-0), who trailed briefly with about 13 minutes to go before surging ahead for good with a pivotal 12-1 run that included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Reid. Smart set up Reid’s 3 with a behind-the-back bounce pass from the right wing.

Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, never scored more than 11 in a game for the Ducks, and is expected to be relied upon primarily for defense this season. He made all seven of his shots, all from close range, including an emphatic dunk that gave LSU a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Memphis freshman Tyler Harris, who missed all six of his shots and didn’t score in his debut, was 6 of 13 on 3s and finished with 20 points in his second collegiate game.

Jeremiah Martin scored 15 points and Kyvon Davenport had 10 for Memphis (1-1), which remained within single digits for most of the game.

Mays scored from all over the court, mixing in a soaring, driving one-handed dunk with his usual array of perimeter shots. He hit three times from 3-point range.

LSU had trouble distancing itself from Memphis most of the night but appeared in control for most of the final 10 minutes, when its highlights included a roundhouse dunk from Williams and Reid’s double-pump, back-to-the-basket, no-look scoop off the glass that made it 74-64 with 4:35 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The way Memphis played on the road against a ranked team provided an early indication that Hardaway’s first season at the helm could turn out better that the fourth-place finish predicted in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll. When Harris found his shot from the perimeter, it opened up opportunities inside for Davenport and Martin.

LSU: The Tigers’ dramatic upgrade in talent was evident in the fact they led 48-39 at halftime despite Tremont Waters, their best player from last season, not scoring at all to that point. Mays also asserted himself more, scoring more points in the first half than in either of his previous two full games while throwing down a monster first-half jam. Waters finished with eight points and eight assists. LSU’s top freshman reserve, Darius Days, had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Yale on Saturday night.

LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday night.