Six days after Texas was upset by 14th seed Abilene Christian in the first round of the 2021 NCAA tournament, Longhorns coach Shaka Smart accepted Marquette’s job.
Six days later, Texas announced the hiring of Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, who was seen as a favorite for the job basically from second Smart left for Milwaukee.
Brian Davis, Texas basketball and football beat writer for the Austin American-Stateman, covered the coaching change, as well as getting Beard four transfers in his first month on the job.
The number of transfers eventually rose to seven and the Longhorns placed No.5 in the AP preseason poll, setting up one of the best non-conference clashes in college basketball: Saturday’s clash. against No.1 Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
We caught up with Davis, who covered Texan basketball for nine seasons, to learn more about Beard, transfers and the showdown against the Zags.
RS: How much excitement has Beard generated in Austin with his accomplished coaching resume, the roster he put together and the No.5 preseason standings?
BD: Beard pressed all the right buttons, both on the recruiting trail and off the pitch with marketing. The fact that Texas put together a good enough roster to rank fifth in the country was sort of proof of concept that hiring Beard was smart. Or at least it is respected.
However, this program has not been able to live up to the occasion and the present moment. This is one of the main reasons the Horns had a change of coach in the first place. There will be a lot of fans curious to see if this is something different or just the same.
RS: Three Texas players were selected in the NBA Draft, but Beard replenished the roster through the transfer portal. Of the seven transfers, who is most important to the success of the team and why?
BD: In my mind, Marcus Carr is probably the most important because he will be the primary ball handler. Carr gives them a skilled veteran at arguably the most important position in the game. But the other two newcomers to watch out for are Timmy Allen and Tre Mitchell. Allen was a solid producer in Utah and has to continue like this in Austin. Mitchell was arguably the star of UMass. He came off the bench in the exhibition game and went wild, showing a nice portfolio of moves to score 16 points. Dylan Disu, who was one of the SEC’s top rebounders before a knee injury, is expected to be a strong and important force when he is healthy.
RS: How do the roles of backcourt starters Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey change with the arrival of transfers?
BD: Jones is a fan favorite in Texas because of his history. He was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2018 and has come a long, exhausting road to recovery. To his credit, Jones came back and led the Horns in score (14.6) last season. He also starts the season fourth in all-time points scored. Ramey is one of the fiercest competitors you’ll find. Beard wants him to channel that energy better this season and not lose his temper.
They will have different roles, given that there are so many new faces. But they’re like all newcomers; Jones and Ramey just want to win.
RS: In evaluating the Gonzaga-Texas game, what are the biggest key (s) for the Longhorns?
BD: One of Gonzaga’s biggest advantages in this game is established team chemistry. The Zags played together last season. It’s a whole new team in burnt orange. If the forwards are supposed to cut, will the goalkeepers make the right pass or throw it into the stands? No one really knows that yet. It will therefore be interesting to see how quickly the Horns integrate into a team.
Another key is transition defense. This is how the Beard teams have done so well in Lubbock. The Red Raiders would force a turnover and go the other way for a quick bucket. His attack on half court was not as effective as the others. What does it look like in Austin now?
RS: Gonzaga and Texas will play next season in Austin. Will the new Longhorns arena be up and running by then?
BD: Yes, the new Moody Center is scheduled to open at the end of April 2022 with two George Strait and Willie Nelson concerts. Obviously, everyone here is pretty excited about the arena and these shows.
From a basketball perspective, the new arena will be configured to accommodate around 10,000 fans. The student section is going to be in the lower bowl and wrapped around the court for viewing on TV. Gonzaga is set to be one of the best marquee season ticket games in Texas next season.