The Texas Tech men’s basketball team celebrated its season at the United Supermarkets Arena on Thursday with Red Raider fans.
Fans ate dinner before the celebration, and the honoring of the basketball team started with a video of Tech Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt telling the team how proud he was of what they accomplished this season.
“What made (this season) special was we were supporting a team that was easy to love,” Hocutt said. “These were student-athletes and coaching staff that represented (Tech) in the best possible way. I’ve heard from several presidents around the United States who reached out to congratulate us on the incredible run.”
Gary P. Nunn performed "Adios Amigos" at the celebration before sophomore Jarrett Culver and seniors Norense Odiase, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Brandone Francis took the stage, along with the rest of the basketball team.
The five players were then interviewed on stage to say their last words as Red Raiders.
“It’s been so special,” Culver said. “The first day (Chris Beard) got the job, he called me, offered me and ever since then he coached me hard every day, he never lied to me his whole coaching self. I just trust everybody in this program. It’s been a blessing to be a part of something so special.”
Culver then went on to express his appreciation of being able to play college basketball in his hometown.
“It means everything to me,” Culver said. “My support system is so strong here. Everybody has my back, and I mean every night I come out and play, I got teachers in the stands, my family and just everybody behind me. It’s a pleasure to be able to play in front of Lubbock.”
After Culver spoke, Owens was passed the microphone and expressed how grateful he was to be able to play for Tech.
“This year has meant a lot,” Owens said. “From (the team), to the coaching staff, to the fans, everybody just embraced me since I got here. It just meant so much to me, coming from where I come from. I didn’t really have too many people in my circle, so just being accepted by all you guys was just amazing and means so much to me.”
The fans cheered after he expressed his appreciation of their support and Owens continued to say he will miss getting snacks from assistant coach Mark Adams’ office and how he feels like he was born with his teammates because of how close he was with them.
“Really just our relationship, I mean one through 15, these are all my brothers, coaching staff, I mean I look up to all of them,” Owens said regarding what he will remember about the team. “They all work extremely hard. I’ve learned so much about just being consistent and working hard and you know, bringing it every single day. That’s something I will never forget and you know I love every single one of these guys like they are family.”
Following Owens’ emotional time on the microphone, Mooney was the next player to speak to the fans.
“It’s pretty simple, coach Beard, you know he was the main reason,” Mooney said on why he transferred to Tech. “I came on my visit and I just saw the guys, I saw the culture. I saw Jarrett working, (Davide Moretti) working, these guys in the gym and I was just like, ‘Man, this is the place I want to be.’ Just an unselfish culture, and I knew if I came here I’d get out of the comfort zone.”
Mooney continued to say he was grateful he decided to come to Lubbock and explained the difference in cultures of his team at South Dakota and Tech’s team.
“We’re just different here,” Mooney said. “At my old school, I was kind of one of the only guys, there was one other guy, we would always be in the gym, and I came here and everybody was in the gym, every day, all day. That’s why we were able to have a good year.”
After taking the role as the sixth man as a senior, Francis spoke about how much he has changed since he got to Tech.
“It was very difficult when I first got here,” Francis said. “I had a lot of good guys in my corner like Casey, Darryl, kind of taught me the way that helped me get used to coach Beard and his coaching so, he was tough but I mean, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It just made me a better player, a better person.”
The leader of the team, Odiase, was the final player to speak to the fans about the season.
“From the day coach Beard came in, he gave me a bunch of books to read about leadership the year I was injured,” Odiase said. “Even Tubby Smith told me about leadership early on, and I’ve always been called a natural leader, but when (Beard) came in, he really helped me focus and zero in on leadership. I just want to thank him for playing a huge part in my development as a person and human being, because I know if any trait I take from here, is leadership.”
Odiase would not change anything about his college career at Tech, he said, including the injuries he has faced.
“Many people don’t know, we have never told the story because, in a competition, you never want the other person know what’s going on,” Beard said. “(Odiase) basically had an injury and had to decide whether basically was he going to forego his senior year and have the operation or if he’s going to play hurt. Once again, Norense answered the call for Tech basketball. He played hurt all year, a lot of people don’t know this. The guy is a warrior.”
Odiase and senior Andrew Sorrells are the all-time most winningest players in the history of the program, Beard said, and they are the last remaining players who played under former head coach Tubby Smith.
Adding onto the statistics, Beard gave a shout out to sophomore Davide Moretti, saying he was the most improved player in college basketball from his freshman to sophomore season. Beard also said Moretti was the first player in Big 12 history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from the three and 90 percent at the free-throw line.
After speaking for almost an hour, Beard thanked the players, assistant coach Mark Adams, every member of the coaching staff, the team managers, fans, his girlfriend and everyone else who impacted the team’s success.
“We’ve always kind of embodied the idea that we always just wanted to keep that chip on our shoulder,” Beard said. “We wanted to be who we are. We don’t want to change for anybody. This team executed it better than any team I’ve ever coached. We were always the underdogs.”