Last year’s team had lost five seniors and Zhaire Smith, a freshman who turned pro and was selected in the first round of the N.B.A. draft, from a team that reached the N.C.A.A. tournament’s East Region final. Texas Tech is not Kentucky or Duke; its coaches knew they could not restock the roster with new plug-and-play lottery picks. So Coach Chris Beard brought in two graduate transfers — Mooney, who played at Air Force and South Dakota, and Tariq Owens, who played at Tennessee and St. John’s — along with four freshmen and a junior college transfer. He also had new coaches, like Cyprien, and staff members, like McAllister, who would need to be integrated.
It was hard, then, to argue with Texas Tech’s being pegged for seventh place in the Big 12 in a preseason vote.
But Beard knows what it is like to build on the fly.
He has coached at junior colleges, Division II and Division III programs, and spent a year in the semiprofessional American Basketball Association and a summer coaching Switzerland’s national team. In his one year at Arkansas-Little Rock, Beard took a team with 10 new players to the second round of the N.C.A.A. tournament.
And so, fighting the clock to forge relationships, Beard regularly ate lunch and checked in last summer with Mooney and Owens, knowing how important the former, a scoring point guard, and the latter, a shot blocking forward, would be to his team.
“It’s not arrogance, it’s just the truth: we’re really good at coaching one-year guys,” Beard said. He added: “My experience in professional basketball, the rosters always change — guys come in on contract and just leave. I think there’s an art to it.”
The court, then, is a canvas.
Watch Texas Tech play defense, with its persistent switching on screens, and its disciplined funneling of dribblers toward the baseline. Trust is essential. And on offense, with its high volume of motion sets — the ones plucked from the playbook of his one-time boss in an earlier stint at Texas Tech, Bobby Knight — all five players are moving and reading one another with no predictable path for the ball. Communication is critical.
The transition has not always been seamless.
In mid-January, the Red Raiders lost three consecutive games. After a couple of wins, they were routed at Kansas and what had started as a promising season was turning sideways. Mooney and the redshirt senior Norense Odiase invited the players to their apartment, letting people get things off their chests and reminding everyone that there was still time to accomplish what they wanted this season, time to become a team that left enduring memories.