Texas has jumped into the men's basketball transfer portal. Will the Horns find success?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Roster cards are paramount this season in college basketball, especially in the Big 12. Thanks to the transfer portal, all previous rosters went into a blender.
Texas has seven new transfers, for example, including a new coach who made a Big 12 intraleague switch himself. Players going this way. Coaches going that way. “Business decisions” being made everywhere.
At the Big 12 men’s basketball media day Wednesday, it was frankly too hard to tell who came out on top. Maybe it’s just too soon. Let’s leave all the bad calls to the refs.
Chris Beard, formerly coaching at Texas Tech and now at Texas, looks around and sees former Tech guard Micah Peavy now at TCU and Tyreek Smith at Oklahoma State. Got all that?
Even the players themselves can’t believe how crazy it gets. Take Marcus Carr, who came to Texas via Minnesota. High school recruiting gradually builds. This transfer portal business is a totally different animal.
“Your name hits the portal, all the coaches get the notification, and it’s bombs away,” Carr said. “It was pretty overwhelming. I wanted to turn my phone off at first. Everything you could imagine. Instagram, phone calls, text messages, everything.”
The coaches — and their sky-high expectations — are about the only thing that stays true. Kansas’ Bill Self and Baylor’s Scott Drew were hanging around T-Mobile Center, presumably not comparing the size of their national championship rings. Heck, Kansas State’s Bruce Weber is still here (surprisingly) and so is West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (not surprising).
First-year coaches, like Beard, Texas Tech’s Mark Adams and Oklahoma’s Porter Moser, had to live in that transfer portal just to assemble a roster. For what it’s worth, there are some folks in the Big 12 ecosystem who think the Longhorns came out the best.
Texas will start the year No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and is picked to finish second in the Big 12.
“I know Chris, I know he doesn’t work that hard,” Self said. “But he and his staff, I think, have done a marvelous job at maximizing the situation that they went into last year.”
Beard has known Self since the late 1990s; Self was at Tulsa, Beard was at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. How good a friend was Self? “He paid for draft beers but never mixed drinks,” Beard said.
There won’t be much of a lovefest when the season begins, at least not for the Horns. This year’s crop of players may be new, but the opposing fan vitriol toward UT is not.
“With the whole SEC deal, people are more mad at that, too,” Texas forward Timmy Allen said, a transfer from Utah. “Did we know it was going to be like this? No. But I’m ready for it. I’m excited. I’m ready to represent the University of Texas to my full potential.”
Count Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby among them. Bowlsby told the American-Statesman on Wednesday he felt it was a “personal betrayal” the way Texas and Oklahoma schemed to leave the Big 12 this summer.
Players have no control over that piece of business. Best they focus on what they can control, like winning the Big 12 title or reaching the Final Four.
Just how much have things changed? In previous years, Texas would have never brought newcomers to Big 12 media day. Normally, they’d bring veterans who have some name recognition. This year, that could have been Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey, Brock Cunningham or Jase Febres — the only four returning veterans from Shaka Smart’s final team.
Instead, Texas brought Smith and Carr, the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year. It’s a new era at UT. Time to break some rules. The old ones weren’t working anyway.
“Truthfully, I didn’t know what it would be,” Allen said about transitioning from Utah to Texas. “When I initially committed here, I wasn’t too worried about the personnel. I knew coach Beard was ready to build an army, because I knew who he was and I know he’s a winner.”
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Allen has been a winner his whole life. That was, of course, until he got to Utah. His three seasons in Salt Lake City, Allen’s Utes went a combined 45-42.
Same with Carr. His freshman year at Pitt, Carr’s team went 8-24 while he averaged 10 points per game. He sat out the 2018-19 season after transferring to Minnesota. The next two seasons, the Gophers were 29-31 while Carr was getting All-Big Ten recognition.
Asked to describe losing, Carr said, “It’s terrible. I’ve always prided myself on being a winner. I won a lot at every stage that I played at until my collegiate career. So, it was super tough. The worst part is that internal feeling. As a competitor, you want to win every single time.”
Enter Beard, a taskmaster with a defense-first mindset hellbent on turning his alma mater into a winner again. “I’m three feet in,” he said.
Beard was a student manager under former coach Tom Penders, who was just inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor. He knows the program history and how it should be better than what it’s been recently.
Don’t ever say Texas can’t acquire talent. The Horns had 14 former players on active NBA rosters when the new season started Tuesday night. It’s the third most of any major school, Kentucky (27) and Duke (24) being the top two.
Recruiting is one thing. Winning at Texas is something different, as football coach Steve Sarkisian is learning in quite a painful fashion.
“As you guys know as much as me, in Austin during the lunch hour, you’ve got some pretty good options,” Beard said. “You want to hear some live music on a Thursday night, you’ve got pretty good options. Just eliminating distractions and try to stay focused on what we’re supposed to be doing, but just enjoying life.
“But in terms of the responsibility to win, the expectations and the stage and all that, nothing changes,” he added. “I’ve always felt that way.”
Beard believes that Texas is a “Monday night program,” meaning that UT should be playing for a national title eventually on the NCAA’s signature Monday night stage. He’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen, too.
Too bad there’s not a portal to jump from losing to Abilene Christian in the NCAA Tournament’s first round to a Monday night championship game. That would be fantastic.
Beard is going to try and make it happen, though.
“If you’re ever going to win the fight,” he said, “you’ve got to be in the fight. I think we have a team that can play with any team in the country.”