MINNEAPOLIS — The floor show started just before 2 o‘clock. By the time it was over 25 minutes later, everyone knew the identity of the best story-teller at this Final Four. If there were a scoreboard, it’d be Texas Tech’s Chris Beard by 25 points.
This Final Four doesn’t have Sister Jean, but Beard will do for entertainment. He’s the coach who showed up at the giant U.S. Bank Stadium Thursday and decided, “This facility is bigger than 25 Super Walmarts put together.” Now there’s a Final Four first in description.
So maybe the best thing to do is just let him have the microphone.
First, about how his relationship started with his key aide Mark Adams, when Beard was an assistant at Texas Tech and Adams was an assistant at nearby Howard Junior College.
“We were big movie guys. I spent my whole career going to the late movie. I'm that guy at the 10:30 movie where I'm the only person there, and I actually ran into Coach Adams a number of times. It wasn't really about the movie. It was about the release of turning your phone off and sitting there for two hours. Coach and I shared that.
“We'd literally go to the movies two or three times a week together. I got screwed every time. I'm sure he'll tell some of you different, but I had to pay for the tickets and concessions. He would always tell me he forgot his wallet in the car and that kind of deal.
“We got there one night, and we were going to go to the 10:35 show at the Cinemark 16. It really didn't matter what movie it was, but the only movie left was Sex and the City. I remember kind of looking at him like, man, I don't know about this, Coach. He looked around. There's only three cars in the parking lot. That's Bill who runs the place, and I think a car that’s been there for two weeks. All right, let's go see Sex and the City.
“So this was the only time that we didn't sit right next to each other at the 10:35 movie. So we thought we were good, but then right before the lights went down, about four or five other people walked in the movie theater. Me and Coach, we felt a little insecure. But I'm actually not against Sex and the City. I thought it was a great show. I'm just against going to the 10:35 movie with another friend of mine and watching Sex and the City.”
Then there was the tale about how he’d go to the Final Four just to see it, as a young coach with modest means. He delivered that parable to his players this week. Moral of the story: Enjoy and appreciate the red carpet treatment. Or, as the Red Raiders kept repeating Thursday, smell the roses.
“It's about when I was an assistant and you come to the Final Four and you don't have a room, and you just beg one of your buddies that's in Division I to crash on their floor. I've been in a lot of rooms where it's two guys in each bed without the comforters, because you got two more people on the floor with the comforters, and then one maybe in the bathroom bathtub with the pillows. We put eight deep before in a Marriott Courtyard, I promise you.
“The problem is in the mornings with the towel situation because — I guess I'll share a bar of soap if you wash it really good, but I'm not sharing a towel with any other man, you know? We used to come to the Final Fours and bring our own towels. True story.”
Or the one about how he first learned the value of defense, in playground basketball.
“I grew up in Irving, Texas, and we played two places, Northwest Park and Conflans Park. You get there Saturday morning and 25 people (are playing), and I was never the guy who would get picked. When it's my turn, I try to pick the best four players — actually the best team, the guys that could help us win, because if I lose, I'm done. So to win in that park, you got to play defense. You can't win on a foul, either. So we foul a lot at the last possession. Doesn't work at this level.”
And finally, his relationship with former Texas Tech coach and athletic director Gerald Myers.
“I was in eighth or ninth grade, and I had one chance to go to camp. The camp I chose was Texas Tech. I had never been to Lubbock before, but they ran an ad in the Irving Daily News, and I saw it. Saved my money and got on a Southwest Airlines flight and went to Lubbock. That was the first time I got a chance to meet Coach Myers. I won the hot shot camp, and they ran out of trophies. I was so pissed off, I wrote letters. There was no Internet, and long distance phone calls were about 60 cents a minute. I wrote a bunch of letters to the Texas Tech office saying, where's my hot shot trophy? And I never got it.
“Years later when I got the Texas Tech job, I asked Coach Myers where my trophy was. Finally, when they announced me as head coach, I shook a few hands and went to right to Coach and explained the story and said, I'm not pissed off. I'm kind of upset; 30-something years I still hadn't gotten my trophy. We all laughed about it.
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“Story over? No. Coach comes to my office, and he has my 1980 hot shot trophy from the Gerald Myers Basketball Camp.”
A half-hour after practice Thursday, Beard was named Associated Press national coach of the year. When he accepted the award — “First, I’d like to thank the game of basketball”— he said he had one thing previous winners probably didn’t have.
His entire team was there in the first row, still in practice gear, to cheer him on.
He might win, he might lose, but every Final Four could use a Chris Beard.