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Notebook: Beard previews the 2017-18 basketball season

Texas Tech men's basketball coach Chris Beard met with members of the local media on Tuesday afternoon to preview the upcoming season as the team prepares to get things started in a little under a month. Here are the major notes and quotes from his press conference...


-Coach Beard's initial thoughts on his team this year:

"Like our team. Of course, if you're a coach and to this time of year and don't like your team, you're in real trouble."

"I think we're a more athletic team this year. We have a real chance to be a better defensive team. Really the most impressive thing I think has been most of our young guys contributing. Some of these true freshmen are going to play real minutes in our games here in a few weeks, so that's exciting."

-On adding Sean Sutton to the staff:

"The people that will benefit the most is our players having another great mentor figure to be around. We're positive Sean can help our team this year, so that's a major positive."

-On what kind of team he thinks this is shooting-wise:

"It starts with our returning players becoming better shooters. I think maybe the best example in my coaching career would be Keenan Evans last summer when we went from playing as a sophomore where the three point shot was really not one of his great weapons to last year one of arguably the better shooters in all our league, so we want all of our players to improve."

"We've recruited some guys that we can shoot the ball. (Davide Morretti) at the top of that list. Jarrett Culver and Z (Zhaire Smith), just a lot of guys on our team can shoot, so hopefully we are a better shooting team this year."

-Coach Beard said that while Matt Temple's waiver appeal to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility has been denied, Temple will be a practice player for the team this season. They're hoping to get him a job in professional basketball when all is said and done.

-I asked Beard what it was that made him want to bring in both Hyron Edwards and Josh Webster as JUCO guards for this team:

"They're winners. They both played for great programs," he said. "We knew we would get guys who'd been coached at a high level and would know how to win. We really felt a responsibility to get some experience in our back court with the senior class we have in Keenan, Justin, Zach, Niem, Tommy. We just wanted those guys to go out with a bang, and to do that we needed experience in the back court. I think both Josh and Hyron have been great additions to the team, and we look for them both to contribute this season."

-On what he saw from Zach Smith after he returned from his time learning and performing throughout the NBA Draft process:

"I just saw his approach when he returned to Lubbock become a little more professional. Zach's always been a guy that plays with great effort. He plays very, very hard. But I've known a change in consistency. He's really taken care of things off the court in terms of weight room, individual workouts, discipline with his diet. I think you guys will be pleased to see him today. His body looks different. He's probably 10 to 12 pounds heavier right now than he was a year ago at this time. So, I'm supportive of all our guys playing in the NBA, thought that was a great opportunity for Zach, so I support that in every way. I thought that was a great process for him, gaining great data and real like info on this is what I've got to do next season, so I thought that was a positive thing."

-Beard spoke in his four scholarship freshman each individually. On Italian guard Davide Morretti:

"Morro has come in at a real disadvantage, cause he wasn't with the team this summer. He's the only guy that wasn't with us this summer. There's a great difference between international basketball and college basketball, especially in the Big 12 with physicality and weight room stuff. But, he's really competed, and he's made great strides. I think he's gained close to 10 pounds since school started, which is very difficult cause we're practicing so hard and long. But he brings experience at both guard spots. He can shoot the ball, and he's got a great demeanor. He's a guy I think is gonna get on the floor."

-On guard/wing Jarrett Culver:

"With Jarrett Culver, right from here in Lubbock, is a special player. Jarrett too at a bit of a disadvantage this summer coming off a shoulder surgery where he couldn't be a part of team activities until I think late August. But, he's made great strides. If we played a game today, Culver would be in the rotation."

-On wing/small forward Zhaire Smith:

"From the Metrolpex, is maybe the best athlete on the team. Yes, I remember that Zach is on the team. Those guys are in the same class of athleticism. Z is a guy that's really embraced the process as well as any young player we've ever seen. He's mature beyound his age. He's a guy who kind of gets it. He's definitely going to play."

-On power forward Malik Ondigo:

"He's going to give us some much needed depth in our back court. He's really competing with Norense and Tommy on a daily basis, so I think he's going to be an active member of this year's roster. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he played a major role."

-Beard was asked how he and his staff have managed to recruit so well so far:

'Above all, we're selling a product that's easy to sell. It's a great college town, great community with a great fanbase. Other sports are having great success. It doesn't take us long to point to what baseball is doing, what track and field has done in terms of championships. Tech football has great tradition and is off to a great start this season. Women's basketball has won a national championship with Coach Sharp. So, we're selling something that's been done before. There's a lot of success within our own program as well. We have a great product, and I think we have a great coaching staff that's on the same page. I hear this all the time that it's important to have coaches who want to be in Lubbock, and I've never understood that. I don't know why you wouldn't want to be here. I know I can tell you this: Our staff and our families and everybody are 100 percent committed to what we're trying to get done here together. I think it's great having the whole staff back from year one to year two, we've added Coach Sutton, and it's a special group of coaches that our players can learn from."

-On what this team needs to do to close out the close games, which the failed to do often last season:

"We don't hide from it. We were in a lot of close game situations, and we've got to get to where we're on the better end of those more than the tail end. It starts with a truth telling atmosphere on the team and just putting it out there. So here's the situation, and here's what we've got to do to get better. Specifically, we've really been focused on the idea of finishing, and not just on the court. In the weight room every day all summer and fall, after the workout, John (Reilly) would do one more thing with the team with the idea of finishing. When we're in the film room, we do our normal film work and then show one more teaching clip about finishing. In practice, everything we do is competitive, and everything we do has a winner and a loser. That's when we talk about finishing the game."

"The objective isn't to win every close game. That's the dream, but not the objective. The objective is to play every game to the bone, play it the right way, and play it on our terms. Low turnovers, getting good shots, get some offensive rebounds. Defensively, don't foul, don't make mistakes, stay committed to the scouting report. We really have a plan this year on trying to finish close games. I think we're going to coach better, I think we're going to play better, and I think everyone is on the same page."

-On strength coach John Reilly, and what he's done to help Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton transform their bodies by losing so much weight:

"He's a guy that gets it, and he understands how to produce. He does it in a relationships-based way, and he's basically been a huge part of Tommy's life, losing weight, getting stronger, more confident. He's also been a huge part of Norense's life, changing his body while he was injured, couldn't work at certain things, so I give John most of the credit. I give those guys credit for embracing it. It's been great."

-Coach Beard went on about Odiase a bit more, noting that he wanted Norense to have a good season because of all the trials he's gone through. On that as well as his hopes and prayers for his children and Bob Seger (Yes, you read that right):

"With Norense, I just think he deserves a great season with everything he's gone through. Every night before I go to bed, I pray for my three daughters, Avery, Ella, and Margot. From time to time, I have selfish prayer in there, maybe that Bob Seger is back - You see this, that Bob Seger postponed his tour to have surgery on his back? - Been praying for Bob. But I pray for Norense, and I mean that in sincerity, because this is a guy who lives his life right, he's a good person, good student, and he deserves a break. So, I would do anything for Norense to get through a full season this year, and that's what I'm hoping and praying for."

-For those that are unaware, Beard is a MASSIVE Bob Seger fan.

-The head coach was asked about Niem Stevenson, his offseason limbo, and what he's seen from the former JUCO player this offseason:

"With Niem, it's been a real soul-searching offseason. He's improved more mentally than he has physically. Niem and I had some real honest conversations after the season that extended all the way through the summer about our team, about his future, and about him individually, and he's answered the call. From time to time, I think I heard the other day that I gave Niem a second chance. That's not true. Niem gave himself a second chance. Everything Niem's done to this point has gotten him back on track, and as of today he's our starting shooting guard. A lot can change, but today he would be. He's making his best grades he ever has as a student. He's on track to graduate, he's living his life with more discipline off the court, and I'm proud of him. He deserves all the credit. He's the one who's made all these changes."

-On the mental-makeup of this team after what they went through last year:

"I do see an extra kind of reality-based perception. These guys are hungry to get back to the tournament, hungry to compete for a championship, to be a part of the fight, but I think I have seen a kind of change in overall maturity, and not just in practice but off the court. I think we kind of have a kind of professionalism in our practice that you guys will see today. It's just kind of a different feel than it was last year."

-Coach Beard finally noted that he'd like to have a 10 man rotation on this team if possible. He likes having that many players in the mix so the best players can rest more, particularly