Column: The key is within the dust: Faculty basketball’s return to its roots


Texas Tech coach Chris Beard has three daughters, which, if you understand something about it, means they’re going to ask for a canine.

So he went to the pet retailer in Lubbock subsequent to the Chick-fil-A. He noticed this little, white, fluffy canine that everybody was petting.

“I requested what it price, and it was ridiculous,” Beard stated. “However as a result of I’ve three daughters, I used to be influenced into shopping for a pet retailer canine, and the pet retailer canine was nice. It bought residence, it whined a bit of bit, however I had no downside with the pet retailer canine.

“However I’m additionally a man who has purchased a canine on the humane society, and people are canine extra like road canine. They’ve bought about 48 (hours) to stay. They stay with a bit of extra urgency, they usually perceive accountability and self-discipline a bit of bit higher. They’re lucky. They’re not entitled as a result of they have been within the pound, man.

“So with all due respect to pet retailer canine, I actually choose road canine.”

That’s Beard and his hungry, humble basketball group, in a nutshell.

That’s Virginia, too, their opponent Monday evening for the nationwide championship.

That’s faculty basketball proper now.

This Remaining 4 was extra notable for who isn’t right here than who’s, with out Zion or RJ or PJ or any of the opposite freshman one-and-done, NBA lottery picks from basketball blue bloods. There have been yawns of boredom at scores within the 60s, cries for extra factors and stars, fears of the development persevering with with the NBA’s imminent rule change permitting gamers to be drafted out of highschool.

However the faculty recreation has all the time been about groups and ways, about assist protection and movement offense, about adversity and resilience, about development and growth, about road canine snarling at pet retailer canine, about unsung, unbelievable March heroes.

About Kyle Man and Matt Mooney.

And for one weekend in Minneapolis, at the least, it has refreshingly rekindled these roots.

“That is simply two basketball groups,” Man was saying Sunday. “Each groups form of have the identical sense: It’s not about you, it’s about everybody in your group. I feel that’s nice for the game.”

Texas Tech gamers put on T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Don’t lose the chip.”

Their beginning lineup has no five-star recruits, no 4 stars, none rated even within the high 100 in highschool. Mooney had one Division I supply, to Air Power, and took it earlier than transferring to South Dakota after which to Texas Tech for his last season.

Virginia adopts an identical philosophy.

“We’re lucky to seek out guys which might be higher than individuals suppose,” coach Tony Bennett stated. “Whether or not they have 4 stars, 5 stars or regardless of the rankings are, that stuff’s insignificant, particularly in basketball. It’s extra what do they do once they get right here and the way do they develop? I feel we all the time attempt to discover guys which might be sneaky good – that’s the phrase we use – and go after them.”

Chips, not stars.

It’s greater than that, although.

“We’re all the time speak about a chip,” Texas Tech assistant coach Mark Adams says, “however now we have numerous scars, too.”

That’s a well mannered method of claiming they’ve fallen off their bike studying how you can journey it. They’ve misplaced and discovered. They’re older and wiser. They’ve been by some stuff.

And that, as a lot as scoring averages or superior analytics, is the good benefit these groups possess. The good equalizer in faculty basketball.

“I’ll always remember the evening we bought the Texas Tech job and sitting round, pondering, ‘OK, how are we going to win a recreation?’” Beard stated final week. “Are we going to outcoach individuals? No. Invoice Self, Lon Kruger, Bob Huggins, all of them (within the Huge 12) – that’s not going to be our plan right here.

“Are we simply going to out-talent individuals? Recruiting is bettering, and we’d like to get to the purpose at some point the place now we have 4 or 5 McDonald’s all-People, however proper now that’s not who we’re. In order we went down the listing and tried to get an id, one of many issues we thought was attempting to be previous. I feel expertise is all the pieces.”

They misplaced 5 seniors from final 12 months’s group that was knocked out within the Elite Eight by eventual champion Villanova … and added fifth-year grad transfers in Mooney and Tariq Owens from St. John’s, plus a high junior faculty ahead.

Virginia has 5 guys on its roster who redshirted.

Being older means extra bodily and psychological maturity. It means a greater understanding of opposing offensive schemes, of how you can defend ball screens, of when to move and when to shoot, of how you can make subtle tactical changes on the fly. It means unhealthy habits from the AAU tradition have been damaged. It means coaches can coach, not run the watered-down offense Coach Okay did at Duke this season with 4 freshmen starters.

It additionally means the blokes getting coached have a greater sense of mortality, higher engagement, higher focus. Higher buy-in.

“That is their final likelihood,” Adams stated. “They’re counting the times and making the times rely. They wish to make the easiest of this.”

No group has extra scars than the one they’re dealing with Monday evening. A 12 months in the past, the Cavaliers turned the one No. 1 seed in event historical past to lose to a No. 16, falling – by, gulp, 20 factors – to the College of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. They obtained demise threats. Gamers had police escort them to their resort rooms.

As a substitute of subjecting his two seniors to the post-game press convention, Bennett despatched Man and fellow sophomore Ty Jerome – two guys who could be round this season – to reply questions. To face the music.

“You probably have a battle, attempt to hit it head on,” Man stated. “That’s the one method you’ll get previous it. That’s one thing I’ve discovered through the years: In case you draw back from it, typically it is going to come again to hang-out you. We’ve tried to hit it head on and transfer previous it collectively, and never be afraid of it.”

Bennett has a door-knocker he brings in all places, a reminder that regardless of how rudely the door is slammed in you face, you retain knocking and finally it is going to crack open.

He additionally had his group watch a “Ted Speak” just a few weeks after the UMBC loss.

“In case you use adversity proper,” Man stated of its theme, “it is going to purchase you a ticket to some place you couldn’t have gone every other method. That’s essentially the most highly effective factor. We’ve worn that on our chest all 12 months.”

And there was Man within the semifinals Saturday evening, refusing to lose, insisting “that it doesn’t finish like this,” making a 3-pointer with seven seconds left after which three free throws with .6 left to beat Auburn 63-62.

Beard says “I’ve by no means seen a extra mentally powerful group” than Virginia, the best way they run down the shot clock and nonetheless rating with scary effectivity, the best way they twice pulled rabbits out of hats on this event to advance, the best way they steeled themselves after the heartbreak and humiliation of final 12 months.

Road canine.

Mooney stated he “fell in love with the tradition” when he visited Texas Tech final spring and noticed guys within the health club on an extraordinary Thursday evening, getting pictures up, grinding. He made 4 3-pointers and had 22 factors in Saturday’s semifinal.

One other of their slogans: “The key is within the dust.” It implies that what you need isn’t on the floor however buried within the dust; it’s important to dig for it.

Their head coach who toiled in junior faculty and Div. III and Div. II epitomizes that. The gamers embody it.

“He’s by no means happy, he’s all the time working, all the time pushing, all the time holding individuals accountable,” Mooney stated Sunday afternoon. “Even this morning, some guys have been drained and stuff. He was like, ‘Hey, you don’t have any time to be drained. We’re taking part in for a nationwide championship. So get up and produce it.’”

Chips, scars and shovels.


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