College Sports

Why Myrtle Beach serves as proof of Texas Tech coach Chris Beard's underdog journey

Don't tell me it was coach speak.

When Texas Tech coach Chris Beard referred to himself and his team as underdogs in a postgame interview following the third-seeded Red Raiders' win over Florida on Saturday to reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16, I fully believed him. He also talked of not having all the top recruits, but instead having hard workers who overachieve.

There's evidence to back that up. The preseason polls had the Red Raiders finishing seventh in the Big 12 this season, and they've proved that it wasn't exactly Nostradamus doing those polls.

Beard talked about how he's used to being the underdog, something I read into further that goes far beyond Lubbock, Texas.

In fact, it wasn't all that long ago that I'd be sitting in The Sun News office each Sunday when my phone would ring and it would be Coach Beard.

This wasn't a Big 12 coach calling, it wasn't a Sun Belt coach dialing in, nor was it a Division II or III coach wanting to talk. Instead, it was an ABA coach - no, not that ABA, the one that Julius Erving and others starred in - and he was in charge of an upstart team based in Myrtle Beach.

Somehow, a man who had been a Texas Tech assistant coach under Bob Knight and later Pat Knight landed here in 2011-12, when he would take on a daunting challenge, one that many coaches of his stature would consider beneath them. Winning with the South Carolina Warriors would be an uphill battle, but there was a much bigger obstacle in this coaching stop: simply keeping a team in business.

These teams rarely survive for long. In fact, during seasons some teams will have to alter schedules upon learning that a team (or teams) on their slate had folded.

Using his connections to former college players and coaches, Beard assembled a powerhouse, one filled with some former Coastal Carolina players like Joseph Harris and Jack Leasure and other former Division I players who had played at a high level.

Piecing together this group couldn't have been easy, but Beard got the group synced to where they played a fast, exciting style of basketball. It didn't take long for them to gel, and in the end the Warriors lost just one regular-season game and made it all the way to the ABA Final Four.

What Beard was able to do in his time here was impressive, and it wound up helping him move up the coaching ladder. He left after just one season and began a modest climb up the collegiate coaching ranks.

Soon after leaving the Warriors, he landed a job as the head coach of Division III McMurry in Abilene, Texas, where he would remain for a year before moving to Angelo State, a Division II school in San Antonio. After a couple seasons there, Beard made his return to Division I with Little Rock, a team that went 30-5 and knocked off No. 5 seed Purdue in the NCAA tournament as a 12th seed that year.

Soon, he'd be on the move again. UNLV came calling and Beard accepted the job. However, when Tubby Smith left Texas Tech and that job opened, Beard's dream destination was vacant and he wound up taking that job just 19 days after agreeing to coach at UNLV.

It was hard to blame him. He had to strike while the iron was hot. Now in his second season in Lubbock, he has the squad two wins away from a Final Four appearance.

After Beard's departure from Myrtle Beach, the South Carolina Warriors remained a strong team on the court. However, off the court it was struggling and eventually folded before Year 3 despite building a decent following in the Carolina Forest community, whose recreation center hosted their games.

The Warriors ultimately suffered the fate that many of these ABA squads do. While the exact reason for the team folding was never explained, I had heard from players who believed that the money had dried up, which makes total sense.

Some former South Carolina Warriors standouts earned jobs overseas through their play under Beard and John Kefalas, a former Coastal Carolina assistant who took over head coaching duties when Beard left. Others joined coaching ranks and some began careers outside of basketball.

I've talked to some of those guys in the years since, and all of them still speak fondly of Beard and root for him whether it's from close or afar.

Wherever they are now, it's certain those guys will be rooting for the Red Raiders as they take on second-seeded Purdue at 9:57 p.m. Friday.

It's hard not to. Everyone loves an underdog.

I'm not supposed to be rooting from the press box, so I won't. But I will say that it would only be fitting for Beard and Co. to be playing on a Sunday.

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