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Meet Texas Tech’s Mark Adams, the architect of the best defense in all of college basketball

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MINNEAPOLIS — The architect of the best defense in college basketball knows better than anyone: You don’t make a lot of money playing minor league hockey.

That’s why Mark Adams turned a blind eye when his players would get paid $200 to drop their gloves on the ice and throw hands. The fans loved it and the players could use the money, and as a former Golden Gloves boxer himself, Adams knew a thing or two about fighting. “That’s one of the best things about the sport,” the Texas basketball lifer said, “they are so physical.”

Adams was a college basketball player turned college basketball coach that spent the first two decades of his professional life going from small school to small school in rugged West Texas before he ultimately found himself getting fired by UT Pan American. He wanted to be closer to his family in Lubbock, but he wasn’t sure if the coaching grind was still something that he wanted to do. So he and his twin brother, Matt, went in on a minor league hockey team.

And that’s how the Adams family became the proud owners of the Lubbock Cotton Kings.

“I knew not a thing about hockey when I got into it,” Adams said. “The first time I met our hocket coach, we were talking hockey and I drew the rink and he started laughing at me. ‘Coach, you can’t make it like a basketball court. The puck will be stuck in the corner.'”

It took Adams four or five years before the coaching itch kicked back in and another two years before he was able to get back into the game, and this is when the story of how Texas Tech’s defense was built begins. Adams was named head coach at Howard College, a JuCo in Big Spring, Tx., in 2004, and over the course of the next nine seasons, he won 223 games, three conference titles and, in 2006, a school-record 36 games thanks to the JuCo National Player of the Year, Charles Burgess. Burgess was recruited by Chris Beard, then an assistant coach with Texas Tech, and eventually became a Red Raider, but Beard was just as impressed with Adams and the teams that he consistently put on the floor as he was the players themselves despite the fact that he took a seven-year hiatus from the sport.

“Mark Adams isn’t a national name, but those of us in Texas and especially in small college, junior college, Division II circles, recognize Coach as one of the best guys that ever did it in our part of the country,” Beard said. He knew, early on in their friendship, that if there was ever a situation where he was given a chance to take over a Division I program, he would be hiring Adams.

What he might not have known was just how influential that decision would have on his program.


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Mark Adams has always prided himself on the way his teams defend.

“He wants to win games 31-30,” his son, Luke, a former Texas Tech player and a current head coach in the JuCo ranks, said, and in this program, it is Adams that is in control of the defense. He is, for lack of a better term, the defensive coordinator, and the benefits for Texas Tech have been enormous.

The Red Raiders boast the nation’s best defense. Better than Virginia, according to the defensive efficiency metrics at KenPom. Better than Auburn, who leads the nation in forcing turnovers. And like the Wahoos and the Tigers, the concepts that Adams uses to build his defense are not all that unique. The execution is.

Everything Texas Tech does on that end of the floor is designed to do two things: They want to lock you into one side of the floor, preventing the ball from rotating, and they want to keep you from having any chance to run the offense you want to run.

“I’ve always preached keeping the ball out of the middle, but it’s evolved,” Adams said. “We’re now much more aggressive. My belief is that offense has so many advantages over the defense, and we don’t want to be a victim. So we try to be as aggressive as we can, and try to make them uncomfortable and attack and push them to the sideline and baseline.”

But talk to people around the Tech program, and they will, to a man, tell you that the strength of this Red Raider defense lies in two things: Adams’ unique ability to not only identify the thing that that a defense needs to do to take an opponent out of their flow, but the ability to communicate high-level concepts in a way that is easy to understand and digest, and the fact that he is abnormally prepared for every game and every opponent.

“The way they game-plan is unique,” Luke said. “The original game-plan may be to switch ball-screens, but they’ll have like back-up plans. If that doesn’t work, they’re going to side everything. Then they might trap it, and then they’ll go zone, all based on the adjustment that the other team makes.”

“And they are so well prepared. They know what the other team is going to do.”

Mark Adams says that his process for preparing for an opponent involves watching 20-30 hours of tape. He’ll pour over anywhere between seven and 15 games that their opponent has played, and he will know them as well as their own coaching staff does.

“Every day, he’ll come in and break down how he wants us to guard the post, the side, and it’s like, ‘Coach, we’ve been doing it all year,'” said Tariq Owens, the 6-foot-11 center that is the anchor of this Tech defense. “But if you have one play where you don’t do it right, he’ll stop everyone and break it all down again.”

The next step in the process is to bring this all to Beard, who has watched just as much film as Adams has, and that’s when the pushback starts.

“One good thing about Coach Beard is that he’ll question me about what I want to do, so I have to defend it,” Adams said, chuckling. “Sometimes it feels like it’s me against the whole staff. I pout quite a bit, so usually I’ll win them over. I have a strong will.”

Having the No. 1 defense in the country should be enough to get him some respect, right?

“You’d think so, but I have to remind those guys some times.”


(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Everyone seems to have a Mark Adams story, and getting one that can be put into the public realm is not always the easiest thing to do.

Take, for example, Texas Tech assistant coach Brian Burg, who will never forget the first day that he met Adams. It was the day that he got to Little Rock after accepting a spot on Beard’s staff back in 2015, and the first thing they were going to do was go recruit some West Texas JuCos. Because of course.

Beard, for whatever reason, couldn’t make the trip, so he linked Burg up with Adams, who would become colleagues for the first time that day.

“He’s like, ‘I have two errands to run, but I’ll make it quick,'” Burg recalled, huge smile creeping across his face. “I’m thinking this is no problem, I can ride along and we’ll talk and I get to know him. I didn’t realize I needed three seatbelts, because he started driving about 95 mph with a diet coke in one hand, a cell phone in the other while driving with his knee.”

“He was a mile-a-minute, excited and just wanted to talk about basketball, and we got those errands done in about nine minutes.”

Then there is the controversy surrounding the trips to the movie theaters.

Beard, Adams and the rest of the Texas Tech staff are night-owls. They study film deep into the night — when NBC Sports visited their hotel during Final Four week, it was 1 a.m., the second round of coffees had just arrived and they were diving into their yet another Michigan State film session — which has led to quite a few late-night trips to the Cinemark 16 for a late-night movie. There was even one trip where ‘Sex and the City’ was the only movie showing, which resulted in Beard and Adams watching Carrie Fisher on the big screen together well after midnight.

“That was the only time that we didn’t sit right next to each other at the 10:35 movie,” Beard said.

The problem?

Adams has a bit of a habit of forgetting his wallet in the car for those movies.

“He usually does,” Burg says.

But to really understand Adams and what he means to this Texas Tech program, you need to know the story of Sugarfoot.

Adams is in charge of telling a pregame story to the team, and the one that has become particularly popular of late is about Sugarfoot. According to Adams, Sugarfoot is the name of the pitbull that he had growing up, and Sugarfoot was the nicest dog that you’ll ever meet … until another dog crossed her path.

One time, Sugarfoot jumped the fence in the backyard and chased down a dog that happened to walk by, clamping down on its neck and, eventually, killing it.

“You gotta understand, this is 15 minutes before the Buffalo game,” said Max Leferve, another Tech staff member.

“Sugarfoot reminds me of you guys,” Adams told the team. “We’re nice guys, but when it’s time to go fight, we fight. Let’s go grab them by the neck!!!” And with that, the entire locker room erupted, with everyone barking and woofing and working themselves into a frenzy.

“He’s kinda cheesy,” Leferve said, “but the guys buy into it.”

And it now has the Red Raiders two wins away from winning a national title.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)