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Balling Beyond Beard

Photo CC: AP

Watching Tech’s ascent under Adams as Beard’s star fades at UT has been immensely amusing for all Red Raiders. Texas Tech, Lubbock, and West Texas often find themselves suffering the ignorance of outsiders taking shots at that which they know little of. The success of Mark Adams whilst Beard has floundered a bit tastes sweeter than syrup at Pancake House.

Nothing gets under a Red Raider’s skin more than disrespect. It was extremely infuriating witnessing the entirety of national media gleefully proclaiming that Tech basketball would crater without Beard. Meanwhile, the same national media vaulted Texas up into the preseason top 5 mere months after yet another early Longhorn exit from the tournament. Every recruit Texas landed was instantly labeled a superstar. All of Tech’s program growth and hard-earned status were immediately gifted to the Longhorns by the media. The Texas hype train barreled forth with more ferocity than ever. Chris Del Conte, Beard, and the Texas fanbase smugly beamed and puffed their chests about it before their program accomplished anything.

Meanwhile, in Lubbock, Mark Adams began building his monster, but it started first with a rebuild. There was some inevitable roster turnover with the coaching change leading to seven departures off the 2020-2021 roster. Only one player, Avery Benson who has followed Beard everywhere, joined Beard in Austin.

Still, Adams was left with plenty of holes to fill while also having to recruit the existing roster to stay. This led to some very real uncertainty at the time. All told, the roster was down to a mere handful of players at one point. Any attempts to credit Beard for this largely-new roster’s success are frankly asinine. Adams not only had to find players in a hurry, but he also had to find players who would be game-ready.

Adams massively succeeded. Kevin Obanor, the clutch shooting star of the last NCAA tournament, joined the fold. Polished all-around big man Bryson Williams spurned Texas despite his former coach becoming a part of Beard’s staff. Freakish athlete Adonis Arms has proven to be arguably the gem of the entire portal. Mylik Wilson’s defense has been suffocating. Davion Warren is a playmaker. Daniel Batcho and KJ Allen have shown flashes of future greatness.

The players that stayed in Shannon, McCullar, Santos-Silva, Nadolny, and Agbo look better than ever. Perhaps most impressively, the roster plays together regardless of who is on the floor, and everyone contributes. Tech’s depth is its greatest strength, as it has proven in winning multiple big games despite having starters out with injury. There was a time in the offseason when this was truly unthinkable.

Over in Austin, things have gone far less smoothly. Beard’s team, while not bad, has been far from the elite team they were purported to be. The motion offense continues to look obsolete and has the Longhorns ranked 241st in scoring. Highly-rated recruit Jaylon Tyson, who briefly followed Beard to Texas, has already returned to Tech. This was an apparent realization that it was Tech and not Beard that was something special. Forward Tre Mitchell has also recently left the Texas program.

On some level, it also simply has to bother Beard that someone he viewed as fitting only to be his subordinate in Adams has a team in the Big XII title mix that his Texas team is all-but-eliminated from. While Beard may well get things going in Austin eventually, year one has not been what any Longhorn wanted or hoped.

There’s an occasional temptation to have some pity for Beard, as undeserving of it as he may be. For some reason, he seems to be legitimately surprised that people were/are upset with him. Beard left the place that made him on the very day his buyout dropped. He also attempted to take the entirety of the program with him without so much as a goodbye until releasing a canned statement a week later. His inability to comprehend the jeers he gets these days is perhaps indicative in and of itself of his ego.

This past week’s incident where Beard confronted a fan in Norman for calling him a traitor and later spoke of the fan who was nowhere near him as if he were “within touching reach” in an attempt to play up some threat against his person speaks volumes. There’s no reason for Beard to even acknowledge a relatively harmless jeer from an opposing fan unless he knows that deep-down there’s some truth to it. He obviously doesn’t possess thick enough skin to handle that.

Contrast that with Texas Tech’s February trip to Morgantown. The game featured lots of “chippy” plays, including several hard/malicious fouls leading to a pair of injuries. This situation easily could have gotten out of hand. It would have been completely understandable for either of those plays to have caused a brawl on the court. The Tech players stayed remarkably calm and poised, and while they deserve significant credit for that, it is also emblematic of the Mark Adams culture.

Gone is a red-faced Beard berating players courtside or throwing on-court tantrums to get ejected, and in his place is a steady, confident presence who rises above. It’s evident in the incredibly mature manner in which the Tech players conduct themselves. They deftly compartmentalize emotions and channel them productively. Witnessing how the players feed off of each other and off of the rabid Tech fanbase is a joy to behold. That isn’t possible without Adams’ composure and leadership keeping everyone grounded.

Texas desperately wants such a fanbase, just as they undeniably covet all things Texas Tech basketball of late. To Beard’s credit, he makes it a priority to try to appeal to the fans. At Texas, it is a daunting task, to say the least. It bears mentioning that the United Spirit Arena (yes, I’ll always call it that) wasn’t packing them in when Beard first arrived at Tech, either. It would be foolish to claim Beard played zero part in building Tech’s fan support, as distasteful as that is to admit. What credit Beard deserves for selling the future to the Tech fanbase is also attributable to Tubby Smith and Mark Adams.

The real irony is that Tech’s fanbase showing out is jarring the usually apathetic Texas fanbase into some activity. With everyone watching on February 1st, Texas was utterly outshined in several ways to massively bruise their collective ego. They attempted to galvanize and emulate the Tech gamedays that thoroughly impress everyone, including converting former Tech hater Jeff Goodman into a fan.

This attempt…didn’t work. Aside from hilariously offering mimosas to Texas fans again because even the university itself views them as posh Sunday brunch types, Texas went to great lengths to try to limit the number of Tech fans in attendance, unsuccessfully. Most Tech fans purchased tickets far before Texas could try to stop them from doing so. Many Texas ticket holders opportunistically favored the money they could make selling their ticket over actually attending. The Erwin Center became USA-South, with plenty of red in the stands and Tech’s chants audibly overwhelming the “home” crowd.

Unsurprisingly, Tech left with the win and gave the Big XII’s worst arena the farewell it deserves. Tech may as well have swung the first wrecking ball to level the place. It seems likely that the mini-momentum Texas had with its fanbase will wane for the remainder of the season following a disappointing result for them in their biggest game of the year. A game that also effectively takes them out of the running in the conference title race. Perhaps the debut of McConaugheyland next year will excite the Texas fans to attend if only to view the new arena, but that remains to be seen.

That hill is one for Beard and Del Conte to climb. Texas Tech happily sits high on the mountain already in every respect with Adams, and every Red Raider is enjoying the view. However, our gaze needs to stay up at the group of blue-bloods Tech is rapidly becoming a part of, not down at the well-trodden ground. At this point, it isn’t in question which coach and which program is better. As fun as it may be to keep reminding Texas fans of that, such a discussion allows Texas to pretend that it’s far more relevant in basketball than it is.

Beard treated Tech like a stepping stone, but slipped off of it and fell. This has been well-worth mocking and doesn’t need to be forgiven. Perhaps this does need to be forgotten a bit as merely a part of Tech’s journey to the top. There is much to be gleaned from Texas’ offseason pride before the actual season’s fall. Tech, on the whole, would do well going forward to retain the West Texas humility and focus on a deep tourney run. Mark Adams is a walking example of how to take the high road, and it’s time for all Red Raiders to follow suit instead of beating the dead ‘horns. 

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Mike White
Mike White
9 months ago

excellent review putting whole fuss into perspective. I too am ready to remove the hate, insert the partial credit Beard is due (remember he did some good recruiting, brought us Mark Adams on a platter ready to serve, got the fan base excited as he rapidly built on what Tubby Smith, the Knights and others started and put Ŧ on the map). I am now ready to be passionate about Ŧ and forget about Beard and the longhorns, not that they deserve forgiving, but forgetting I can do. J Mike White

Leonardo
Leonardo
9 months ago

Amen!

Jan Rigsby
9 months ago

Very good…

Bob adams
Bob adams
9 months ago

Extremely well written article. Expresses many points I have thought but was unable to articulate.

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