NCAA Men’s Regional Semifinals: Boston
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Texas Tech Red Raiders
THE MODERATOR: We welcome the Texas Tech University Red Raiders, representing the Big 12 Conference with a record of 26-9. We’re joined by Head Coach Chris Beard and some special guests. Coach, if you would just give us your thoughts on the Tournament to date and your expectation on the matchup with Purdue, and if you’d like to introduce your guests, feel free.
CHRIS BEARD: We’re just really excited to be playing basketball. It’s like at the top of the list of all the reasons to keep playing, just to play another day, to have another practice, to have another team trip, to have another individual and ultimately to have another game just means the world to us.
I think in our program there’s a lot of things we stand for, but at the top of the list, it’s just the love of the game. It’s the first thing we look for in recruiting, and what we constantly remind our players is how fortunate and lucky we are to be playing this game. To be one of the 16 left standing means the world to us.
We have nothing but respect for Purdue’s program. I’m kind of a fan of their team. Anytime I have a chance to watch a game, whether I am recruiting, at a restaurant somewhere, late night going through the channels, probably saw Purdue five or six times this year just as a fan. Coach Painter has been somebody that has been great to me in my career. Someone I look up to. Somebody who hasn’t changed although his level of status has changed. He’s a great guy. On his staff, Steve Lutz is one of my personal friends. We started coaching back in ’95. Me and Lutz were graduate assistants together.
We played Purdue a couple of years ago in the Tournament, and some of those same players are still on the team. So nobody has more respect for Purdue than we do.
We’re expecting a situation where we have to play our best 40 minutes of the season to have a chance to win this game, and that’s our objective.
Q. How much did the grind of Big 12 Conference play help shape this team’s success? And what’s it say about the league that you have four schools still left from the Big 12 here?
CHRIS BEARD: I think most of the coaches in our league, myself included, have been on the record to say we respectfully think the Big 12 Conference is the best conference in basketball this season. There’s a million reasons why, but I just think from top to bottom of our ten teams, we have no bottom team. The parity in the league is just a grind.
We obviously have Hall-of-Fame coaches — Coach Huggins, Coach Self, Coach Kruger. We can continue to go down the list. Every team has NBA players or prospects. So I’m just really proud to be associated with the Big 12.
While you’re in the two to three-month grind, I think it’s brutal, but it does pay dividends when you get to postseason basketball because you feel like you’re prepared for anything, and that was certainly the case with us. When we finally got to Dallas and had the chance to play Stephen F. Austin, we were just relieved not to play against another Big 12 team. Same thing with Florida. Even though those are two great teams, we felt prepared for those moments because of the conference.
The fact that there’s four Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16 is not surprising to me at all. I think the league was just that good this year.
Q. Can you speak a little bit about the influence that Bob Knight had on you and your career?
CHRIS BEARD: I’m really proud of my path in coaching and my association with the people that I’ve worked with and for, and certainly I’m associated with Coach Knight, and Pat Knight a lot. That’s something I’m proud of that I’ll talk about as long as people want to listen. Just a huge break getting on with Coach Pat as a young assistant. I felt like every day it was like get a Ph.D. in coaching. Just being around Coach and seeing how he coached the game, thought the game, ran a program, treated players, supported academics. To me, he’s just the best that ever did it.
I think there’s a whole side of Coach Knight that people know, and there’s a whole side of Coach Knight that people don’t know, and that’s the unselfish, caring, just genuine person that I had the privilege to be around for almost a decade.
Then what people don’t understand too is like Pat Knight, his son, is one of the all-time best people I’ve ever been around, a brilliant basketball mind. And I learned as much from Pat as I did from Coach. So many things I learned in those days, but mainly the top of the list would be just the idea of preparation, preparing to win, preparing to be good, the discipline to play on both ends of the floor, a commitment to academics, to graduate every player, and above all, to do things right.
You think of our game and everything going on today and going on yesterday and what will be going on tomorrow, and when you think of Coach Knight, to win at that level, three National Championships and not even a hint of an NCAA violation, I think that’s just really what his legacy is. A guy that won at the highest level doing it the right way, and I hope that one day in some small way they look back at our team and say, hey, those guys were similar.
Q. Chris, right now you guys are fourth in defensive efficiency. I’m curious just in what ways have you tried to instill that kind of mentality on your team?
CHRIS BEARD: We’re a defensive team. It’s the first thing we do in recruiting. We say what kind of guy — can a guy play defense? We talk to high school coaches and junior college coaches and grassroots AAU coaches and say does this guy want to defend? Does he have the talent to defend? It’s just like where our process starts.
Every day in practice we spend more time on defense than even offense. Even today in a 90-minute shootaround, we spend more time on defense than probably even getting shots up. Ultimately, I hope that doesn’t come back and get us. You’ve got to make some shots in this game too.
Then I’m really proud of our staff. Mark Adams and our staff is not a well-known name nationally, but he’s well, well-known in our part of the country, and anybody that understands defensive basketball, Coach Adams has been a Division I head coach, won a Junior College National Championship. He’s had this huge path in coaching. And everywhere he’s been, they’ve been a top defensive team, including our team at little rock and now our team at Texas Tech.
So I give Coach Adams a lot of credit as well as our other coaches. But more than anything, we’re a defensive culture, identity. We play pickup games in the summer and the team that gets the stop scores the points. That’s just kind of the way we look at basketball.
Q. Chris, I’m wondering, you were saying, when you were flipping through channels and you catch Purdue and you watch them, and you said five or six times this year. What is it about — is it the style of play? You talked about Matt Painter, but is it something — what else draws you to watching their team when there’s no real reason? They’re not in your league, and yet they’re just on?
CHRIS BEARD: First, personal relationships. Steve Lutz on their staff is one of my best friends. I think I was in Steve’s wedding. I don’t know. You get to my age, you kind of forget. I kind of characterize weddings on who had the best reception. Was it an open bar? Were we in Hawaii? But I think I was in Lutz’s wedding maybe. I know he came to mine, my first wedding. I’ve only had one.
And then Matt Painter is just someone I respect so much. Matt Painter is the same guy today than he was when he was an assistant coach in Southern Illinois recruiting our players at Fort Scott Community College. Now he’s at Purdue. He’s one of the best coaches in the game. He’s just the same guy.
We’ve recruited against him. I talk basketball with Matt. I just have respect for him. We’re not like great friends. We don’t talk all the time, but there’s nobody I respect more in basketball than Matt.
Then with Purdue, just the way they play. Just the influence of Coach Keady, who played for Coach Sutton. We have Sean on our staff. Coach Knight and Coach Keady going at it all those years, I just think there’s a lot of basketball in this game.
What draws me to games and just watching it on TV, at the peer of everything, I’m a fan. I’m just a basketball guy is what I am. I just love watching Purdue play because they guard, they take great shots, they act the right way, they respect the game. To me, Purdue is everything right with college basketball, and I hope that people think the same thing of our program.
Q. You came into Texas Tech and basically turned the basketball program around. Can you talk about the adversity that you dealt with to get to this point? And also, what did that teach you?
CHRIS BEARD: Yeah, adversity is something that kind of in a sick, competitive way, we almost look forward to because I tell the guys like basketball’s like life – it’s the best education you can ever get. And just like life, all of us know this, it’s not a matter of if adversity’s coming. It’s when. Everybody in this room right now is going through something, a loved one with cancer, a problem at home, a financial problem. And we all have adversity. That’s what life is. But it’s how you respond to it.
So with our basketball teams, we’ve always just kind of embraced this. So in practice, we try to create adversity so we can fight through it. Then when it comes, again, kind of in a twisted, competitive way, we almost embrace it. I think it’s sometimes why you see our teams come back from deficits. We almost enjoy those moments. This year’s team, I’m proud of them because we’ve overcome a lot. Some of it you can’t control — you know, injuries. We were in a position, we thought, to win the Big 12 Conference and didn’t have an opportunity to do it full strength down the stretch. Not an excuse, just reality.
Then we thought we had a chance maybe in the Big 12, we always have adversity. I’m proud of this team for a lot of reasons, but the top of that list is how we’ve overcome a lot of adversity, and we’re still here standing. We’re in the Sweet 16. So I’m really proud of that.
Q. Having been the coach at Little Rock a couple years ago when you beat Purdue, that team, Purdue team, is not demonstrably different than it was two years ago. Are there certain things you can draw upon in that experience to use in this game
CHRIS BEARD: I think coach’s speak is no, those were two different teams. That’s not true. Any coach has gone back and watched that game, even if it’s three, four, five years ago. Because teams and coaches have personalities and identities. So I would bet that Matt watched the game too. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would bet that.
From our standpoint, Purdue has some players that played in that game years ago. Another thing that’s so obvious to me is how those players have improved. That’s another sign of Coach Painter and his coaching staff. And those players, being basketball guys, they get better.
Yeah, I think there might be some similarities. What I told our guys is this, I know Purdue. I know this. They’re well coached. They don’t beat themselves. They’ll play as hard as anybody on our schedule. They do a great job with shot selection. They’re going to make changes and adjustments throughout the game. And I’m saying this based on firsthand experience, having been in a game with them a couple years ago.
Q. Your team made the roughly 2,000 mile trip from the South Plains, where it’s a lot warmer, to here in Boston. How are they reacting to being in the middle of a nor’easter?
CHRIS BEARD: I think they’re fine. You’re talking to a guy who used to drive the bus and the van 18 hours to get somewhere. At this level, when people talk about travel or distance or weather, it’s like comical. We’re on a jet that has a heater in it. It only took three hours to get here. When we got here, we’re eating unbelievable food at the hotel.
I understand the question and all that, but like from my point of view, I’m just glad I’m not driving a 15-passenger van that doesn’t have a heater that has a gas leak and only an AM radio — which AM radio is not bad. AM radio is great. It teaches you kind of the history. Great talk radio on AM radio.
I need to get my — that’s what I’m going to do today for my daughters. I’m going to teach them about AM radio. Delilah? Remember that talk show, Delilah? When I was in junior college, I used to listen to The Delilah Show.
Q. Just kind of reflecting on these long drives you used to have and all the stops you had along the way. Does the further you get into the Tournament make you reflect more on how quickly a lot of this has come about and all the stops you had before?
CHRIS BEARD: Not right now, but I anticipate after the season, absolutely. This is special. I haven’t been able to sleep for a lot of reasons — Purdue, Coach Painter, but also just having so much fun. Like I don’t want to waste a minute of this. Really to the purity, that’s where it’s at.
And I can’t speak for these other guys, like the teams that we’re sharing this regional with, I mean, they’ve been here so many times. But for us, it’s like we’re just embracing it. Like we’re so excited to have another practice. We’re so excited to have another pregame meal. We just don’t want it to end.
And I think a lot of times some teams are kind of just ready to cash it in for whatever reason, late in the season, good or bad. With this year’s team, we just embrace practice. We love being around each other. That doesn’t mean it’s always Kumbaya. It doesn’t mean these guys are all best of, best of friends, but there’s a certain core togetherness with this team. As much as I’d like to take credit for that, I can’t. Anybody playing right now has internal leadership. Anybody right now has probably great seniors on their team. And anybody right now has a team that loves playing together. That’s certainly us.
So I’m just enjoying the ride, and I can’t state that enough, just how excited I am for one more day.
Q. Chris, you’re talking about adversity. Can you just talk a little bit — explain a little bit about what Keenan has had to go through in terms of his physical health and a foot situation that’s kept him from being 100 percent.
CHRIS BEARD: Those guys will never talk about that because it’s an excuse, but as one of my jobs to represent those guys, absolutely, I’ll talk about it. Keenan Evans has been a warrior. He’s got a situation with his toe that’s not easy. It’s a lot of pain. He’s had to be very disciplined on when he can practice and when he can’t. It’s been one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. Our trainer, Chris Williams, our team doctor, and Keenan, it’s been just a lot of work.
Simply stated, a lot of guys wouldn’t even be playing on it right now. Keenan is playing on it and playing at a high level. He’s just an absolute warrior. At the end of the season, I think the true story will come out.
And I’d put Zach Smith in the same category. Zach Smith was voted a First Team All-Conference Player in the Big 12 and basically didn’t play the Big 12 season. He was told by everybody he probably wasn’t going to play again this year, but he kept fighting and fighting and he’s really helping us. Even though he’s rusty because he hasn’t played all season, he’s helping us with his talent and athleticism. Justin Gray has been battling injuries on and off throughout the season.
Again, not an excuse, but I feel like it’s my — I take it up for my guys. I’m so proud of them for fighting through that. Kind of put the coach’s speech on the shelf and speak from my heart and say, these are guys that are playing kind of banged up and playing at a high level, and I have nothing but respect for them.
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