LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas Tech coach Chris Walker is working quickly to teach his players what he wants to see when the season begins.
He doesn't have much time.
Walker was named the interim coach on Oct. 4, taking over a struggling Red Raiders program two weeks after Billy Gillispie resigned for health reasons. It probably won't be difficult to follow Gillispie's lone season with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders won just one Big 12 game last year on their way to an 8-23 record, the program's worst since 1990-91.
Walker, 42 and in his first head coaching job, seems to have good rapport with players, who know they have plenty to learn about Walker's up-tempo style.
"I think our team has a long way to go but with Coach Walker being the head coach, he's really good at talking to his players and getting the best out of his players," sophomore guard Luke Adams said. "I think he's really the right piece to get us where we want to go."
The Red Raiders have seven new players this season, including two who sat out last year. One of those is 6-foot-11, 240-pound Dejan Kravic, a junior transfer from York University in Toronto where he averaged 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds.
With a 7-foot wingspan, he could be a strong inside compliment to forward Jordan Tolbert, the leading scorer last year with 11.5-point average.
The Red Raiders are led by Ty Nurse, Jaye Crockett and Tolbert, who last season combined to average 29.2 points.
There may be times the Red Raiders play with four guards, including freshman Josh Gray, who averaged 24 points as a high school senior in Houston. That approach plays to players' strengths, athleticism and speed, Walker said, and allows the Red Raiders to push the pace at both ends of the court.
"They may take a couple of shots that we may cringe at," he said. "But I think that the freedom that they're going to have to a degree, as long as they're shooting uncontested shots, I think is going to free them up a little bit more to be a little bit more confident when they shoot the ball."
The Red Raiders want to press. When it works, it could get the Red Raiders steals and easy layups, said Crockett, a junior who averaged 8.8 points last season.
"Everybody's trying to catch on right now, so it's not looking as good as it will be once the season starts, but I think everyone's getting a hold of the whole program as far as our press on defense," he said.
Walker worked as an associate coach under Gillispie last year. That followed two seasons at his alma mater Villanova, where he was an assistant under Jay Wright. He has 17 years of college coaching experience, including four teams that went to the NCAA tournament — Villanova twice, Vanderbilt and Pepperdine. Before coaching at Villanova, Walker was an assistant for Steve Alford for two years at New Mexico.
Texas Tech fans had pinned their basketball hopes on Gillispie after he turned around two other flagging Texas programs — UTEP and Texas A&M — and they had hoped he would do the same for the Red Raiders. But on Aug. 31 the school announced it was looking into allegations of player mistreatment after several on the team brought concerns about Gillispie to athletic director Kirby Hocutt.
Gillispie, who the school reprimanded in January for exceeding practice-time limits last season, was to meet with Hocutt on Aug. 31. But hours before their scheduled meeting Gillispie called 911. He ended up being hospitalized twice — once in Lubbock and again at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., — for high blood pressure, abnormal headaches and kidney problems.
Doctors in Minnesota ordered him avoid stress for 30 days. After his resignation, the school said it would pay him about $467,000 for the remainder of this contract year.
Crockett is playing for his third coach since coming to Texas Tech in 2009. He redshirted his first season and played the next year under Gillispie's predecessor, Pat Knight. He said circumstances surrounding Gillispie's departure taught the players a lot.
"Any time someone goes through adversity it just makes you stronger," he said. "It's a learning experience. So, I believe that's going to help us in the long run."