LUBBOCK, Texas – Tubby Smith believes Texas Tech can have a winning program again.
The Red Raiders' new coach arrives in West Texas with a sterling resume and a mission to restore some glory to a program that has fallen on hard times of late.
Texas Tech put together four consecutive 20-plus win seasons during Bob Knight's nearly eight-year tenure, including a 2005 appearance in the NCAA regional semifinals. Before Knight, James Dickey led the Red Raiders to a top-10 ranking and a 30-win season.
The Red Raiders have won just four Big 12 games the past two seasons under Billy Gillispie and interim coach Chris Walker.
"I think we're on the right track with some good returning players that I think will help us," Smith said. "Because they were not far away last year."
Smith, 62, won a national title at Kentucky in 1998 and has gone to the NCAA tournament 17 times in 22 seasons. His teams have tallied 20-plus wins in 19 years, including five seasons in the past six at Minnesota.
The Red Raiders return four starters, including junior Jordan Tolbert who averaged 9.9 points per game. The leading scorer last season, Jaye Crockett, is getting used to his fourth coach in as many seasons. He'll probably move into a starting role after coming off the bench under Walker. He averaged 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
Crockett said he feels like the Red Raiders will be much improved from the past two seasons.
"A lot of people probably doubt us and don't have too much confidence from the past year," he said. "I think we're going to shock some people."
Five things to watch for with Texas Tech, which opens its season at home Nov. 8 against Houston Baptist:
THE RIGHT CHEMISTRY: Smith is working to find the best mix of starters. That means the lineup, which likely will go with three guards and two forwards, could change during the season, said Crocket, who's being working on his ball-handling skills. "Coach just wants to get a feel for who plays good together," he said. "Basically, who goes out and gives their all every day in practice. That's basically what he's going off of."
JUCO CONTRIBUTOR: The Red Raiders are looking for strong contributions from junior point guard Robert Turner, Smith's first recruit, who averaged 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season at New Mexico Junior College. The 6-3 Georgia native helped lead his team to the National Junior College Athletic Association's national tournament last year.
UP-TEMPO STYLE: Though Smith has given players a playbook of 50 pages, the Red Raiders want to score in transition. "It's easy to score when you're out in transition," Tolbert said. "You don't have to run a play because the defense is already broke down." He said he's studying the playbook that sets out "wrinkles" off no more than five formations. Crockett said the playbook seems to grow: "We're putting in plays every day so we can mix it up on teams."
3-POINT THREAT: Sophomore Dusty Hannahs, who finished 13th in the conference in 3-pointers made (43-119 for 36 percent), will continue to put shots up from beyond the arc. Crockett says he intends to be a force in hitting 3s as he'll be playing outside as the third guard. "I want to go out and take that spot," Crockett said. "I've been working on my outside game a little bit but Dusty is amazing from the 3."
FAN SUPPORT: The past three years have seen attendance wane, especially as the less-than-successful seasons wore on. Players want to change that and are looking to this year's football team for inspiration. "The football team is motivating me to go out there and want to win because they're playing their hearts out," Crockett said. "When you're underlooked, that just motivates you to go out there and prove people wrong."