Sometimes I’m left to wonder exactly what the culture of Texas Tech actually is. I think it is defined by Chris Beard. He sets the tone, without question, he’s got the plan. Mastered over time, from all stops, you sort of figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be applicable to every team.
A team also has to have personality. I don’t know that all teams have personality, but I do know for sure that Beard’s team needs to have his personality. There’s a certain sense of pride for Beard in being very tough, hard-nosed, diligent, hard-working, a constant chip that no one gives you respect, and everyone, yes everyone, has to do their part. It is not just required, but is is expected. From the managers, to the coaches, to the players, and the head coach himself.
After Tuesday night’s upset win over No. 1 Louisville, the hero from the game was Avery Benson, but Benson is really an ancillary part of the story. I know that’s unfair to Benson at this point, but Benson is really a bigger part of the entire process. He is a cog in the Beard-machine, an intentional and obvious player that Beard needs in his program.
Anyone remember Thomas Brandsma? He was Avery Benson before Avery Benson, a senior walk-on that followed Beard across the country, from McMurry, to Angelo State, to Little Rock, and Brandsma finished his playing career year at Texas Tech. And my guess would be that Beard will always have a Thomas Brandsma or an Avery Benson on his team because Beard can always point to either one of them and just say, look how hard that kid works and is here because he wants to be part of something great.
Yesterday I tweeted out the terrific piece by NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster write about Benson, but maybe more importantly, you get further proof of the culture of Texas Tech basketball (FN 1). Dauster writes about exactly what Texas Tech is about, using a quote from Chris Clarke who obviously gets it and he’s only been here a short while:
Beard values culture and work ethic. He wants guys that play with a chip on their shoulder, definitely, but the trait that defines his teams is winning. He wants his program built on the ideal that winning matters above all else, that sacrificing for the betterment of the team is the most important part of being on a team, that everyone’s role in this fight is as important and valuable as the next’s.
“Make sure everybody from our head manager to our f—ing best player is just like that,” Clarke said, driving the point home by dapping up the head manager, who happened to be walking by, as he said it.
More to the point, the term “walk-on” is, as Benson put it, “is not in our dictionary of words.”
“I respect you saying he’s a walk-on,” Burg told me, slightly annoyed, “but he’s a player.”
Benson “epitomizes what Texas Tech is about” because he does his job as well as he possibly can and as hard as he possibly can. He sets the tone and the rest of the roster follows. As long as everyone does that, “we have everything here that we need to be successful,” Beard said.
And Dauster does a really nice job of telling Benson’s story, works construction in the summer to help pay for his tuition and this bit of selflessness from Benson, right after the National Championship game, Benson didn’t want to go anywhere else, this was home and without Benson, which Beard very much recognizes, Beard cannot say that damn walk-on who has to earn literally everything is out-working you, a 4-star player who has had everything given to them.
For Beard, that is absolutely critical:
“Avery came [into my office] Tuesday, the day after the national championship game,” Beard said in the bowels of the Garden Tuesday night, “and I asked Avery if he wants to talk about [transferring], and he said, ‘No, coach. I’m staying the course. I’m not going anywhere.’ I told the coaches that day that this is one of the biggest things that will happen to us. We’ll recruit four and five star guys that will get all the ink, but what just happened with Avery Benson is big.”
“Our culture is everything. Our culture is what got us to the Final Four and won the Big 12. Players come and go, coaches come and go, but if culture stays the same, there’s a way to keep winning. The Patriots wide receivers change from time to time. Alabama gets a new quarterback, but they keep winning. We got a long way to go at Texas Tech basketball, but we like to think our culture is real.
“And having guys like Avery means the world to us.”
That last part is 100% true, it literally means the world to the coaching staff, to Beard, and to the rest of the team because without guys like Thomas Brandsma and Avery Benson, there’s no tone-setter other than Beard. Beard understands that this isn’t enough, and that sort of humility is what makes Beard so smart as a coach.
Oh, and I’ll make you click on over to read the last quote, which you need to read, but Benson believes (rightfully so) that Beard would take a bullet for him and I’d guess vice-versa (FN 2). That loyalty is earned and it is very real. Other players see that and that’s what makes Texas Tech basketball different than any other place. I don’t know any other coach that embraces players like Brandsma and Benson like Beard does.
They are necessary cogs in the Beard-machine.
FN 1. When I hear Chris Beard talk and Matt Wells talk, I am often reminded how much they sound alike in a lot of respects. I know the results are drastically different, but this often strikes me, especially at this time of the year when football is done and basketball is ramping up. I tend to think this is what drew Kirby Hocutt to Wells as they appear to be cut from the same cloth from my point of view.
FN 2. Since I’m using footnotes to talk about football, this is the one thing that we simply don’t know yet, which is that Beard has created a culture where the players believe (again, rightfully so) that Beard will be willing to do anything for them and do the football players believe that Wells would be willing to do the same? That’s not something that happens automatically, but I think this is the one area that Wells needs improvement. I think the way this team competed all year despite the result is a testament to part of that, but these players are emotionally invested in Beard and I don’t know how they feel about Wells.