Chris Beard came to Texas Tech from Arkansas-Little Rock bringing a hard-nosed, defensive-minded approach that’s paid immediate dividends. The Red Raiders reached the Elite Eight of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and a year later, came just minutes away from a national championship.
Such a style does not come without aggressive attention paid to defense in practice. It’s an unglamorous mindset that, on the surface, feels like the antithesis to the almost historically high-scoring brand of basketball being played in the NBA currently.
And yet, Tech sent Zhaire Smith into the first round of the 2018 NBA draft, just beyond the lottery at No. 16. Jarrett Culver’s projected to go in the lottery next month, perhaps in the top six. Lubbock transforming into a reliable launch pad for pro prospects may well become a trend, too.
The Red Raiders are in the mix for blue-chip recruit R.J. Hampton, who announced this week he is reclassifying for the 2019 signing class.
5-star recruit, RJ Hampton reclassifies to the 2019 class. He is down to Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis, and Texas Tech. https://t.co/vNOqvJlNJk— FloHoops (@FloHoops) April 30, 2019
Along with this declaration, the Little Elm High School product’s father told 247Sports Hampton is no longer considering Duke, and instead eyeing home-state school Texas Tech.
Talk about a seismic shift in the basketball landscape. Tech’s capitalizing on the moment of reaching a Final Four and national championship game to continue battling with basketball’s blue bloods.
“History’s great, because you get attention and you get eyes on you, like recruits,” Culver said.
For Beard, being able to recruit players of an NBA caliber was one of the first big differences he was excited to enact when moving from mid-major UALR to the Big 12’s Texas Tech. At the NCAA West Regional, he said he first became interested in Culver while at UALR, but “knew we wouldn't be able to recruit someone of his status.”
“The very first thing we did at Texas Tech was called [Culver] up,” he said. “It was not some kind of great eval. The guy can score on all levels and has great character.”
But Culver’s also an example of a player who has developed above his projections as a recruit, coming to Tech with modest, three-star status. He was a player who fit the Red Raiders’ unspoken recruiting rule, and maximized his opportunities.
And that unspoken rule?
“We recruit guys [who] understand you are going to play defense, we're going to hold you accountable,” Beard said before Tech’s Elite Eight win over Gonzaga in March. “[We] do a lot of listening and recruiting, and players will tell you what they want. Guys [who] are talking about me, me, me and [getting] shots and ball, not so much with us, they don't really succeed.”
Forward Malik Ondigo elaborated from a player’s perspective.
“During the recruiting process, they don’t really talk about defense, like, ‘We’re recruiting you for defense,’” he said. “That’s a given when you come to Texas Tech.”
It may not be glamorous, but it’s proven effective in the college game, and even becoming a calling card for the program’s NBA-caliber prospects. An oft-repeated strength of Culver’s as a future lottery pick is his aggressive perimeter defense.
Meanwhile, Beard said highlighted Zhaire Smith as a great example of that. Smith went from top 100 recruit to the 16th pick in the draft.
“He [was] drafted because he [can] guard.”
And Hampton’s interest shows recruits are catching on.