KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During Big 12 media day, Chris Beard commandeered a TV microphone and conducted his own interview with Texas Tech players.
Some might say it was appropriate — Beard on a fact-finding mission to learn more given the major roster churn at Tech after reaching the NCAA championship game last season. The Red Raiders lost to Virginia in overtime.
Nope, Beard said, even though his roster contains 10 new faces, with grad transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and T.J. Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) and seven freshmen, including Duncanville product Jahmi’us Ramsey.
“I know quite a bit,” Beard said. “I’m a relationship guy. That’s not a secret. That’s how we recruit. That’s how we coach. If you’re going to do elite-type things, if you’re going to ask guys to do things that nobody else one wants to do, you’ve got to have a relationship with them.”
Junior Davide Moretti, the only returning starter, has been through this twice before at Tech.
He’s used to change being a constant.
“We were a great team last year because everybody knew each other. Everybody loved to play for each other,” Moretti said. “It’s like a brotherhood. The earlier this team gets close as a family, the better we can be.”
A key will be how quickly and effectively Clarke and Holyfield contribute.
Holyfield, a 6-8 forward who had 1,081 points, 595 rebounds and 134 blocked shots in three seasons at SFA, was contacted by Tech after entering the transfer portal and just before the start of the NCAA tournament. He watched all his suitors with interest.
Clarke, a freakish 6-6 athlete with triple-double potential, was struck by Beard’s straight-forward approach.
The common thread is that Clarke and Holyfield already had a keen defense-first mind-set, a non-negotiable part of Beard’s approach. Clarke was suggesting Wednesday that’s how this team will come together.
“Defensively, we’re still in the process of figuring out how to defend well — not defend … but defend well as this program has been doing,” Clarke said.
Beard was careful to stay that Holyfield and Clarke don’t have be what Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney were last season as impact grad transfers.
“What does have to happen is they have to meet expectations,” Beard said. “There is no backup plan. Those guys have to be good players for us this season.”
After the quick rise under Beard — with Tech charting new territory in the NCAA tournament and sharing the Big 12 title with K-State — the question is whether Tech is built to sustain.
“Year four, nothing changes,” Beard said. “We just need to validate what we’ve been doing with a new team and new players. Certainly that’s the challenge. It’s always been our idea to be consistent.”
As usual, Beard had the perfect food anecdote to illustrate just how far Tech’s program has progressed the past couple of seasons. The item in question: a breakfast burrito, his morning staple.
“Where I like to go, you have to ask for the salsa.” Beard said. “They charge you for it, which is a little bit ridiculous.”
His first year at Tech in 2016-17, the Red Raiders missed the NCAA tournament.
“The lady would charge me 30 cents, 33 cents with tax. Some mornings I wouldn’t have cash, which is a common thing, take my credit card out, and run it for 33 cents for salsa.”
After the Elite Eight run, Beard didn’t have to wait in line but he still had to pay.
“We played for the national championship, and now I’m pleased to say I get free salsa,” Beard said. “If we would have beat Virginia, maybe I could have gotten a free burrito.”