In the past few years, Texas Tech Basketball has had an incredible turn around. They saw their first-ever Elite Eight, Big 12 Championship, and of course, an appearance in the National Championship game. The program is reeling: bringing in high-profile transfers like Mac McClung, fighting for multiple top-20 recruits, and having some of the best assistant coaches in the nation. Where did it start? With the hiring of Chris Beard, who’s already being regarded as one of the best hires in the past few decades. But the arrival of Chris Beard - ironically - is where it could have taken a very different turn.
Tubby Smith was coming off his best season at Texas Tech. He was awarded multiple awards, such as Big 12 Coach of the Year, for his efforts in guiding the program into the right direction. On March 17th, just over a month after the Red Raiders season ended with a loss to Butler in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Tubby Smith announced he’d be leaving Lubbock and continuing his head coaching career at Memphis. The next day, Chris Beard was hired. Looking at the move now, it’s clear how great of a hire this was. But in the moment, coaching changes consist of a wide range of emotions. There’s excitement about the newness, a fresh pair of hands working with the program. There’s uncertainty surrounding just how good the coach can end up being. There’s the fear of how long the program will take to adjust to a new system. No one is affected more, or in the same way, that a program’s players are by a coaching change. This was true also for members of the Texas Tech team following Tubby Smith’s decision to leave.
On a recent podcast episode of “Scarlet and Black with Hax”, Justin Gray pulled back the curtain on just how seriously he - along with other members in the young nucleus Texas Tech was developing - were affected by Tubby Smith’s departure beginning the day after it happened. “When we woke up, Keenan [Evans], Norense [Odiase], Zach [Smith] and I met and asked what we were gonna do,” he explained, “If they brought in someone who wasn’t a good fit, we were gonna explore other options”. Gray even mentions being in contact with UNC and Oregon.
During Tubby Smith’s final season in 2015-16, those four sophomores averaged 35.9 PPG, just under half of the Red Raider’s offense. The team would already be graduating it’s two leading scorers - Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams. Losing that young core in addition wouldn’t have just been bad. It would’ve been catastrophic.
Spoiler alert: the young guys stuck around. They wouldn’t feel the weight of their impact during the 2016-2017 season where Chris Beard’s first squad went 18-14 and finished 7th in the Big 12. Yet in the 2017-2018 season - the one this series is dedicated to - it would become apparent how vital this group was. Throughout the year they would see their deepest March Madness run ever, SportsCenter Top 10 Dunks, upsets, #6 in national rankings, and a battle against one of the most dominant tournament teams ever. Yet in addition to what they did on the court - their influence would be the beginning of a huge turn around. They would revive the winning culture in Lubbock. They would set the fire to what the program has now become. Again - bringing in high-profile transfers like Mac McClung, fighting for multiple top-20 recruits, and having some of the best assistant coaches in the nation. This season changed everything.
This season began the rise of Texas Tech Basketball.