From Texas Western to Texas Tech: Basketball is Back in the Lone Star State
As confetti flew from the ceilings in Minneanapolis and Virginia was crowned to be a first-time title winner, an outpour of UTEP fans flooded social media with the mundane statement that we've all heard before.
"UTEP is STILL the only men's basketball team in the state of Texas to win a National Championship."
For the fans that simply rooted against the Red Raiders and were ecstatic last night, do you really feel accomplished as a Miner fan? Texas Western's Nevil Shed told us on SportsTalk yesterday that he was rooting for another team in Texas. Heck, the late Don Haskins would have probably rooted for Chris Beard, who in many ways resembles the teams Haskins assembled.
And to those that suggest it is used as a recruiting tool—even UTEP head coach Rodney Terry suggested it does work on our show last week—I beg to differ. Having a team win a title in your state boosts everyone in the state, big or small. With recruits in that regard, the pitch to recruits then changes to "we were the first team in Texas to win a National Championship." Also worth to mention, did everyone forget that Texas Western was the first team to start an All-Black starting lineup during a championship game? That topic is for another day.
Nonetheless, it's been too long since Texas basketball programs have attained national relevance. The seasonal Texas one-and-done player, the revolving door rebuilds on smaller programs (like UTEP) and the occasional hoo-rah Baylor-A&M-Houston-SMU bracket buster has gotten tiresome.
There needs to be a new energy in the state for basketball and now it has begun to assemble in Lubbock.
Chris Beard proved you can win with four-year players; he proved you can win in Texas; and, he's proved Texas Western's 1966 championship is not immortal, as many fans would suggest otherwise.
Kelvin Sampson, who announced his intentions to stay at Houston, might be the next prove-it coach. Baylor's Scott Drew continues to reach the post-season and maybe he's poised for a deep run. Buzz Williams being hired at Texas A&M shows their quest for relevance in the SEC. Even Shaka Smart's NIT Championship with Texas is something to build upon after having been in the hot seat rumor mill. Also can't forget about Rodney Terry's dark horse recruiting class that he will debut in 2019.
Having the state of Texas excel in basketball reshapes the recruiting standards for basketball in the state. If these programs continue to elevate their teams and make deep NCAA runs, they will reap the benefits by bringing in high-caliber recruits and keeping top recruits in the state.
But will these coaches stay?
It takes a coach like Don Haskins, who built a program that took decades worth of time. Nowadays, we hardly see that in college sports. Chris Beard could be that coach for the state. But what if Beard's former school in Austin calls his line? What if UCLA threw serious dollars his way? What if a major coaching vacancy is up next year in the ACC? I wouldn't blame him if he bit on it.
But Texas needs anything at this point. A trip to the Big Dance where the Red Raiders went toe-to-toe with Virginia is a start. But this eventual master plan of making Texas a better basketball state as a whole won't be complete until someone snaps the 53-plus year drought and is crowned champions. The question becomes now, who will it be and how much longer until the streak is broken?