Have you ever been to Lubbock, Texas?
Didn’t think so. Lubbock isn’t a bad college town. It’s just a remote college town.
You can’t accidentally stop by Texas Tech. It’s a five-hour drive from Dallas and five-plus from El Paso, and there is little but gas stations and diners in between.
You really have to want to get to Texas Tech and, traditionally, top basketball talent has preferred not to make the trek.
That’s why the Texas Tech team that made it to the Final Four in Minneapolis is unique.
Tech had never qualified for an Elite Eight before Chris Beard arrived. Beard has engineered the two best basketball seasons in Red Raiders history by taking mostly undervalued players willing to emphasize defense and adding one great scorer in Lubbock native Jarrett Culver.
Beard tries not to take all of the credit. He worked for Bob and Pat Knight at Texas Tech and credits them for teaching him how to coach major college basketball.
He even credits Tubby Smith, who was fired from Minnesota in 2013 and landed at Texas Tech. Smith led Tech to the NCAA tournament the year before Beard arrived. “I love Coach Smith so much, I bought his house from him,” Beard said.
In the past two years, Beard has changed the question basketball fans ask about his program.
Before it was: Can they ever be better than pretty good?
Now it’s: Can they sustain this kind of exceptionalism?
“I think there’s a poise to our team,” Beard said. “Every team we’ve played to this point has given us a real punch to the face, and we’ve handled it.”
The reward: Beard and his staff will attend the open Friday practices at Final Four week as participants instead of wannabes.
“I grew up going to those open practices,” he said. “I used to say, deep inside, ‘I know I can do this.’ There’s great coaching at every level. I’m speaking from experience. It’s very hard to beat Tarleton State.”