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Beard’s mission to unite Texas basketball family continues with Texas Lutheran exhibition

Wacker on Beard’s push: ‘He’s done just an unbelievable job of reaching out to players of every single generation’

Texas ex Mike Wacker heads into his sixth season as Texas Lutheran's men's basketball coach. He brings the Bulldogs to the Erwin Center for an exhibition game against No. 5 Texas on Monday. Wacker was an All-Southwest Conference performer at UT.

Chris Beard’s laser focus on uniting the Texas basketball family “is real,” he says. Forget the talk. The first-year coach has backed it up with serious action.

Beard took his entire new team over to Leon Black’s home just before the former coach passed away recently. Tom Penders, the architect of the Runnin’ Horns era of the 1990s, was just inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor and given a hero’s welcome. 

Players from multiple generations have been to practice recently, like 1968 all-conference pick Billy Arnold, Lance Blanks and Travis Mays of BMW fame, Kris Clack, Chico Vazquez and Javan Felix. 

Mike Wacker, a Texas ex from the 1980s, just about fell over when Beard asked if he’d bring Division III Texas Lutheran to the Erwin Center for a preseason exhibition. He’ll be coaching the Bulldogs on Monday, but the 1985 All-Southwest Conference pick is ecstatic about where Beard is taking his alma mater.

The exhibition starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Admission is free.

Recrruiting:Texas coach Chris Beard lands 2022 commitment from five-star forward Dillon Mitchell

“For him to come up to me and see me at a summer event during recruiting and he asked me to play this game, I almost teared up,” Wacker said. “It was one of the neatest things for him to do.

Wacker, 59, even bought two season tickets on the 19th row just catty-corner from the bench. It’s about an hour from the Texas Lutheran campus in Seguin to Austin. He genuinely believes UT basketball is about to take flight.

“He’s done just an unbelievable job of reaching out to players of every single generation,” Wacker said of Beard. “That just means so much to those of us who are a little more seasoned in our years.”

Current Texas men's basketball coach Chris Beard, left, visits with former UT men's coach Leon Black during a recent trip that Beard and his players took to talk to Black. Black died on Oct. 12, 2021 at the age of 89.

Don’t read too much into the starting five Beard uses against Texas Lutheran or how minutes are distributed. Beard said the coaching staff wants to see different player combinations and how players respond in various situations. 

Some questions are obvious, though. How does Marcus Carr fit in with Andrew Jones, Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey at guard? What kind of inside chemistry does Timmy Allen have with Christian Bishop and Tre Mitchell? Is Brock Cunningham still the all-heart, all-hustle machine fans enjoy. On that last one, odds are yes.

“So I wouldn’t read much into anything other than does it look like we’re playing Texas defense or does it look like we’re paying some offense that can win us some games in March,” Beard said.

More:Texas has jumped into the men's basketball transfer portal. Will the Horns find success?

No. 5 Texas has already played one closed-door exhibition against Houston, a game staged in San Antonio. NCAA rules prevent teams from even publicizing those games. “I can’t talk about that,” Beard said. “I’d love to talk about what I can’t talk about.”

What Beard openly talks about is bringing back anyone who’s ever coached, played, filled up a water bottle or washed a towel for Texas basketball. That’s the theory behind the creation of the Abe Lemons Classic, three non-conference games in late November, to honor the former UT coach. Beard will also welcome former coach Rick Barnes back to Austin later this season; Tennessee faces Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

All of this coincides with the final season of the Erwin Center. The Longhorns move into the new Moody Center for the 2022-23 season.

Inviting Wacker back into the Drum was a LaSalle Thompson slam-dunk decision.

Texas forward Mike Wacker once scored 32 points against Houston's famed Phi Slama Jama team and would later become a seventh round draft pick by the Utah Jazz. He would later win 703 games as the coach at Converse Judson High School as the Rockets played in three UIL state championship tournaments.

Wacker averaged 15 points and seven rebounds per game during the 1981-82 season as Texas started 14-0, getting as high as No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25. But Wacker suffered a serious knee injury that required two operations and 2 1/2 years of rehabilitation.

He returned for the 1984-85 campaign and earned All-Southwest Conference honors. Wacker finished his UT career averaging 12.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 57.1% overall. He was inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 1999.

“I guess 41 years ago, almost 42, I signed with Texas, arrived in the fall and my life changed for the better,” Wacker said. “Other than marrying my wife Susie, it was the best decision I ever made.

“When I started out, the Erwin Center was almost brand new, and it’s just truly a full circle event for me,” he added. “Anybody that’s been around a long time and had as meaningful, impactful playing experience and collegiate experience as I did, it’s just truly a joy for me. I know our team is really excited to go, too.”

When his playing days were over, Wacker followed in his father’s footsteps as a coach. He worked at Texas State and then UT-San Antonio, but Wacker became a high school coaching legend at Converse Judson. He was 703-196 as the Rockets made 25 playoff appearances and reached the UIL state tournament three times.

Wacker was inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach in May 2011.

More:After Chris Beard’s busy offseason of recruiting, Texas jumps to No. 5 in AP Top 25 preseason poll

Wacker couldn’t resist going to Texas Lutheran prior to the 2016-17 season. His father, the late Jim Wacker, led the school to NAIA-II national titles in 1974 and 1975.

“My dad believed that if he recruited within a 200-mile radius of Texas Lutheran that he could win a national title. And he did it,” Wacker said. “I believe the University of Texas can get the best players in the state of Texas and the best players from around the country and attract them and compete for national championships. I believe it to be true.”

As a Division III school, Texas Lutheran does not offer athletic scholarships. But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t any good. The pandemic shortened last season. The 2019-20 squad went 16-12 and finished tied for third in conference play during the regular season.

“Obviously we won’t play this level of athlete again this season,” Wacker said. “But you’ve still got to do all the things like dribble, pass, shoot, not turn the ball over.”

Texas Lutheran’s baseball team once came to Austin and beat Cliff Gustafson’s squad. Beat Augie Garrido’s Horns, too. Both the baseball and softball programs are on the upswing right now. Anything is possible for “a boy, a ball and a dream,” Wacker said. Winning big should always be the expectation, regardless of level.

“There’s no reason we can’t do it in basketball,” Wacker said of Texas Lutheran’s long-term outlook. “You can do it here. But you can for sure do it at Texas.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.