Big 12 Summer Update: Texas Tech Red RaidersPosted by dnspewak on August 6th, 2012
In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Texas Tech.
2011-12 record: 8-23, 1-17
Billy Gillispie knew he had a major reclamation project on his hands at Texas Tech when he took over prior to the 2011-12 season. The program, which has always traditionally lagged behind the rest of the Big 12 in attendance and overall support, had slowly faded from a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Bob Knight to a cellar-dwellar under Pat Knight in just a few seasons. So when Gillispie landed in Lubbock after Knight’s firing and brought in a boatload of junior college transfers and freshmen, it was no surprise his team finished with eight victories and showed almost no signs of life in his first season. Apparently, that did not sit well with half the team, since six players decided to transfer during the offseason. Gillispie had originally oversigned with his 2012 recruiting class, so it’s not certain what exactly transpired this spring, but it wasn’t strong publicity for Gillispie. Before you accuse him of losing control of his program, though, look at the actual defections that occurred. He’s not losing his entire team by any means. Only one starter (Javarez Willis) transferred. That’s not good, obviously. But the others? As harsh as it sounds, they’re replaceable. And the fact is, Gillispie’s best player and leading scorer returns for his sophomore year in Jordan Tolbert, and he inked eight — yes, eight — newcomers, a class with decent potential on paper. There are still roster questions and other potential defections to worry about this summer, so much that the team hasn’t even officially published its roster online yet. But minus Billy G’s tumultuous tenure at Kentucky, the rest of his track record affords him the benefit of the doubt at Texas Tech. It might not be all that pretty in 2012-13, but the rebuilding process has entered its critical first steps here. Now, we just need to figure out who’ll actually play on the team next year.
Summer Orientation: As much potential as this Class of 2012 may have, it already lost one member when juco forward Rodrigo Silva left the team this summer to pursue a pro career in Brazil. It’s important to note that the move isn’t yet official, but the word around Texas Tech circles is Silva’s father is ill, and his family has serious financial needs. Understandable. On the court, it’s difficult to lose a 6’10” forward with the largest frame of any recruit in the class, and he’s not the only one who might not make it back to Texas Tech. Fellow forward Wannah Bail, one of the most highly-touted freshman in this bunch, had problems in the classroom this summer and had to temporarily go home. Gillispie said he expects to see him on campus for the fall semester, but this situation poses a serious problem for everybody involved. Bail, a 6’8” tweener and a top-150 prospect, needs to add considerable strength but has the athleticism and defensive potential to log a lot of minutes in his first season– if he plays. That’s why this is such an important development for Gillispie right now. He played high school ball with Michael Carey, who also committed to Tech in February but may not qualify. To be quite frank with you, we’ve attempted to look into Carey’s status for the 2012-13 season, but it appears completely unknown at this point. We know he signed, and we know there’s questions about his eligibility, but that’s all we know. Again, that’s a trend this summer. Who in the heck will really play for this team this season? Here’s another example: Blake Nash, who did officially transfer to Texas Tech but may or may not play in 2012-13. The former South Florida guard wants a hardship waiver after logging decent minutes as a backup during USF’s NCAA Tournament run in March. If he’s eligible, he’ll likely find his way into the rotation in some capacity for Gillispie in his first season and will help stiffen that point guard battle in off-season and fall practice even more.
As for the rest of the newcomers, get ready for a whirlwind. Where do we start? There’s another top-150 player in point guard Josh Gray, a late May signee who originally inked with Mississippi State but chose Tech after Rick Stansbury stepped down. Gillispie never found a consistent point guard a year ago and lost Willis to transfer, so Gray could actually start right away. He also appears good enough to do so and fits the mold of a score-first point guard, according to those who’ve seen him. High school teammates Aaron Ross (6’7”, 220) and Dusty Hannahs (6’3”, 200) are on board, too, after starring at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark. Ross signed with Arkansas in 2011 but didn’t qualify, so he now finds himself in Lubbock. Trency Jackson is an interesting guard prospect out of Florida and has already earned a reputation as a physical defender and tough-nosed bully (in a good way). Like Ross, he signed at Southern Mississippi but left for junior college after failing to qualify.
That leaves us with two final newcomers, both point guard prospects from the juco ranks. Daylen Robinson had a lot of big-time offers and drew interest from Missouri, since he played just up the road at Moberly Community College less than an hour north of Columbia. A few months after he comitted in September 2011, Illinois native Jamal Williams signed in November with Gillispie. Hailing from Lake Land Community College, he’s a little unknown but has true point guard skills and even grew a few inches since high school. Josh Gray may have that gaudy top-150 ranking from Rivals.com next to his name, but Robinson and Williams have every right to compete for that point guard spot this season. The fact that Gillispie has competition at that spot is promising, since this position was such a problem in 2011-12.
Looking Good: Even with a handful of new point guards, Gillispie could really benefit from an improved year from Ty Nurse. The very successful junior college point guard did not fare well with Willis in the backcourt last season. They turned the ball over at a horrendous rate and contributed to the overall lack of offensive execution in the halfcourt. Nurse, who was the second-leading scorer in 2011-12 but finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio of near 1:1:, will have to fight this summer for his minutes. The one guy who’s safe on this team is Jordan Tolbert. In every way, this guy is a budding star. He’s also easy to root for. Even during that disastrous stretch a year ago, the freshman forward brought an energy and consistency to this team every single night. He was wise beyond his experience, fighting night after night for a young team that could not buy a victory. Foul trouble often limited his productivity, but when he played, he played well. He rebounded well, grew into the team’s leading scoring option and had a knack for scoring over taller defenders and scrapping his way to chip in 10 or 15 points on any given night (he averaged 11.5). He’s also a hard-working rebounder, a solid defender and an underrated shot-blocker, the kind of guy Gillispie can easily build around. Jaye Crockett also performed like a dependable building-block down the stretch during Big 12 play, averaging 13.4 points per game during the season’s final five contests. The junior forward became an aggressive, attacking forward and looks like an encouraging part of this roster in 2012-13.
Besides Tolbert and perhaps Crockett, though, it’s hard to count on anybody at this point. Gritty senior leader Robert Lewandowski graduated, Willis transferred and the rest of the starting lineup is in limbo. Watch out for center Kader Tapsoba, who missed last year with an injury after transferring from junior college. He’s earned a lot of praise from Gillispie for his efforts this summer and might be one of the team’s better defensive presences and post options. The 6’10” big man has never played at the Division I level, but it may only be a matter of time before he blows up. “I think he’s had a real good summer,” Gillispie said in the aforementioned article. “He’s made a lot of progress. Obviously he has to get some game experience. We have to see how it goes, but I’m excited.” He’ll battle with Dejan Kravic, another redshirt freshman, for minutes up front. He transferred from a Canadian university and had to sit out last year, but Gillispie apparently likes what he has with both Tapsoba and Kravic. Kravic’s a true center, too, with a 6’11’, 230-pound frame and good shot-blocking ability.
As for the returning guards, only Nurse, Toddrick Gotcher and Luke Adams remain from last year. Gotcher missed most of the year with an injury but played well in limited action. At 6’3”, he’s a good defender and might even be in the mix for a starting spot, depending on how everything shakes out this summer. Adams was the surprise of the team in 2011-12 after walking on to the program. He’s generously listed at 5’9” and was actually born deaf, but it didn’t seem to affect him much. The freshman earned his way into the starting lineup during a stretch last year and played big minutes for the Red Raiders, occasionally showing off an impressive shooting touch. He scored a career-high 15 points against Kansas State in February and turned into a nice story for Gillispie’s team. With new blood in the program this year, it’s unknown what his impact will be now, but it’d be silly to bet against this kid.
Roadblocks: This roster isn’t solidified yet. What we’ve presented above is an educated guess at who you’ll likely see on the court for the Red Raiders this season, but until that official roster comes out, there are so many unknowns with this program because of the scholarship situation. It’s been an odd summer for Gillispie in light of all these transfers. Just for clarification, here are the six players he lost (at least, we think these are the only six– it’s almost impossible to gather all of this information with such a fluid roster): Javarez Willis, Terran Petteway, Kevin Wagner, DeShon Minnis, Jaron Nash and Cameron Forte. Willis was a starter, but the rest contributed mostly in a reserve role. Forte didn’t even play last year. Again, we’re not into ripping Division I basketball players, but this won’t cripple the program. The circumstances surrounding all these defections are unknown, sure, but bottom line is this: Gillispie probably has better players coming in. This roadblock may turn into a benefit eventually.
State of the Program: Texas Tech basketball is on life support right now. Forget TCU — this is the program with the most dire situation in the new Big 12. Bob Knight and all his glory may not have ever reached an elite level in Lubbock, but his staff sustained a model program and overachieved to reach four NCAA Tournaments. With the help of his son, Pat, he recruited solid four-year players and built a winner at a place with little basketball support. He squeezed every bit of life out of prospects and developed stars like Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno. He even coached up the school’s all-time leading scorer in Andre Emmett near the beginning of his tenure. Eventually, though, Knight ran out of gas, and Pat was not up to the challenge. When Bob resigned, his recruiting had fallen off and the program had slipped, and Pat just never recovered. That left Billy Gillispie in this giant mess. It really could take years to get out of this one. That’s why Year One was a complete throwaway. He’ll need to see some sign of progress in Year Two, but it’s still hard to gauge Gillispie at this point. He appears to have recruited well from both the juco ranks and with potential stars like Wannah Bail and Josh Gray. But he’s taken chances on several players who failed to qualify at other schools, and Bail has already run into a little academic trouble before ever playing a game. Gillispie’s reputation as a no-nonsense stickler backfired on him at Kentucky, but this man won big at UTEP and Texas A&M and seems tailor-made for this job in Lubbock. Even if we’re not entirely sure who technically will make the roster in 2012-13, Gillispie has assembled some athletes and pure basketball players to compete a little better in this transition period of the Big 12 Conference.