Skip to main content
Original Issue

RED MENACE

A stifling defense crafted by an assistant who grew up on football and boxing (and rewards extra effort with candy) carried Texas Tech to the school's first Final Four

MIDWAY THROUGH the first half of Texas Tech's Sweet 16 matchup in Anaheim, assistant coach Mark Adams frantically sought out his boss, Chris Beard. Their team had just allowed Michigan to score off a backdoor cut, an egregious sin for the best and most efficient defense in college basketball. Adams was livid. "Coach," Beard said, laughing, "it's 6--6."

That's Adams—or Mr. Negativity, the (mostly) endearing nickname bestowed upon him by his players, who applaud on the rare occasions when he says something favorable. A former Golden Gloves boxer and high school quarterback in Brownfield, Texas, Adams has carried his passion for contact sports over to the hardwood in Lubbock.

Texas Tech's defense on fall Saturdays more often resembles a sieve; last year, it allowed 31.1 points per game. The basketball Red Raiders, on the other hand, was tops in that nation, thanks largely to Adams, one of a new wave of defensive specialists in college hoops. New football coach Matt Wells stopped by the basketball offices last week "to [plan to] get together and talk a little X's and O's," Adams says. They'll have even more to discuss after Anaheim, where the Red Raiders first held the Wolverines to 16 field goals—and one three-pointer in 19 attempts—in a 63--44 win, then limited No. 1 seed Gonzaga's top-ranked offense to 26.9% shooting from three to take the West Regional final 75--69.

"It shouldn't be surprising that most young men don't want to play defense when they come here," says Adams. So he incentivizes them. He stuffs two jars full of candy to reward players who come to his office for extra film sessions. Those who take the most charges get to use the massage chair in the training room. Adams even hangs statistics over the urinals in the locker room. The team lost six of its top eight scorers from last season's Elite Eight team and were tabbed in one poll to finish seventh in the Big 12, even with 6'6" sophomore shooting guard Jarret Culver, an NBA lottery-level talent. So Beard added a rim protector in 6'10" forward Tariq Owens, who transferred from St. John's, and flew into a snowstorm to court 6'3" grad transfer Matt Mooney from South Dakota, whom Adams transformed into one of the Big 12's top defenders. Now the basketball team from the football school is headed to its first Final Four.