College basketball: New, returning squad high on Texas Tech basketball
Chris Beard isn't sure he's seen anything like it during his time as a coach.
Every single Red Raider was back in Lubbock for the second summer session.
"The team's coming together," Beard said. "This summer the players made a huge commitment. ... In all my years of basketball, I don't know if I've ever had a 100 percent participation rate in the summer."
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Merely the taste of March Madness five months ago has this group desperately wanting more.
"It is different because you usually don't see everyone coming back during the summer a lot," senior Devon Thomas said. "We want to do great things here. As a team, it's expected to put work in. Everyone expects everyone else to come back so we can get a head start. It's pretty good."
The primary message Beard tells players is simple: If they want to go to a place where a spot is already set out for them and all they have to do is show up, Texas Tech isn't the place for them.
"Our whole environment is based on competition," Beard said. "We compete daily in practice and the classroom. The returning players wanted help. The new players wanted to go somewhere where they had the chance to win."
One of the returning Red Raiders who went to Beard asking for more competition at his position was junior Keenan Evans.
As the starting point guard in every game for Texas Tech a year ago, Evans only battled Thomas in practice. Evans wasn't dissing Thomas' game. He just wanted different guys with different strengths and weaknesses to refine his talents against.
Now the two returning Red Raider point guards will go against Giovanni McLean, who led Quinnipiac with 12.9 points per game and added 95 assists to 86 turnovers, and Shadell Millinghaus, who racked up 16.9 points per contest at Northwest Florida State College.
Along with getting more competition at all five spots, Beard had a couple of key things he focused on during recruitment.
"We needed to get some size and experience," Beard said. "I think we got a good recruiting class, especially under the circumstances of getting started late."
From McLean, a 6-foot guard from The Bronx, to John Brown, a 6-foot-10 forward from Magnolia, Texas, the average height of these newcomers is 6-foot-5.
Three graduate transfers -- Anthony Livingston (Arkansas State), McLean (Quinnipiac) and Thomas Brandsma (Little Rock) -- have played plenty of minutes at the Division I level, while a pair of junior college all-Americans (Niem Stevenson and Millinghaus) bring even more talent.
While those five will be eligible immediately, along with the lone freshman Brown, sophomore guard Brandone Francis has to sit out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules after coming from Florida.
Every new addition points to the bright future ahead for Red Raider basketball.
: Let's meet the newcomers to Red Raider Hoops, including one player that can serve it up on and off the court. https://t.co/HG87zysVNl— TexasTech Basketball (@TexasTechMBB) August 8, 2016
"They all bring different things to the game," junior Norense Odiase said. "They make us a better team. Gio passes and can shoot it. Niem can score. Shadell likes driving. Brandone can shoot it. Thomas gives us knowledge because he's been in the system. Anthony gives us a midrange presence and can drive it. John Brown works hard every day. That's what I respect about him. As a freshman, it's all about making an impact and working hard."
With all the talent and competition across the roster, Beard isn't sure whether Texas Tech will imply a seven-man rotation or up it to at least 10. That, Beard said, will be based on the players and what works best for them.
Style of play
To compete in the Big 12 the Red Raiders need to have something that makes them unique and gives them a chance. That edge is what Beard saw from Texas Tech football during his first stint with Red Raider basketball.
"Texas Tech football was wide open and ran the spread years before anyone else was doing it," Beard said. "That gave the program the chance to compete with other styles. Basketball-wise, we have to do those kinds of things too. ... With things like commitment to defense, an offense that shares the ball and has balance, our competitive spirit will pour in to give [our team] a chance to compete."
Things won't change much on the defensive end.
One of Beard's five losses at Little Rock last season came against Texas Tech in Lubbock in December. He liked what he saw defensively and will continue to use that scheme moving forward.
Offense, however, is where the unique style comes into play as Texas Tech will implement some European pick-and-roll action within their motion.
Constant movement from off-the-ball cuts, paired with ball screens, opens up a plethora of options within an offense such as: wide open three-pointers; layups off backcuts; and driving lanes to the basket.
"It's been a beautiful thing so far," said Livingston, the Arkansas State transfer. "I'm looking forward to this upcoming season. We can do big things."
There will be no moral victories this season. As Beard enters his first year at the helm, he expects Texas Tech to take the Big 12 and college basketball by storm.
With six seniors on this year's squad, he wants each of them to have the chance to compete for a championship.
"What's unique about our team, and will be an identity of our team, is our seniors," Beard said. "I think the most sacred thing in college basketball is the senior. Sometimes when you get a job, what's lost is the seniors as people think your first year [on the job] doesn't matter. I don't believe that. Every decision we've made in the last three to four months have been based on winning now for those seniors."
One of those decisions was putting together a schedule that includes four matchups against the Southland Conference, a road game at Richmond and the Cancun Challenge. But before the schedule was even announced on Aug. 11, more season tickets had already been sold for the 2016-17 season than all of last season.
The Red Raiders, like their fans, are eager for this season to start.
And the Texas Tech men's basketball team already has plenty of motivation. It didn't go unnoticed when Bleacher Report, at the end of July, projected Texas Tech to finish sixth in the Big 12.
"Everyone saw that," Evans said. "It's in the locker room. It's making us push ourselves even more. We want to get better. We want to win."
This article was written by KRISTA PIRTLE from Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.