At Big 12 Conference media day in Kansas City, Mo., last week, Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie explained the method he has used to help rebuild basketball programs at two other Texas schools — Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.
It takes a strong chemistry forged among players, Gillispie said. It takes a willingness to interact with the community and an effort to engage the student body. It also takes ... chicken wings?
Well, maybe spicy snacks aren’t part of the equation, but they didn’t hurt on Tuesday night, when about 500 people showed up for the inaugural edition of “Basketball with Billy” at United Spirit Arena. The event was an open-house-style gathering, where fans paid $10 to watch Tech practice while chowing down on appetizers.
After the practice, Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt introduced Gillispie to fans who are anxious to see what kind of product the new coach will put on the floor when the team plays its first exhibition game on Nov. 3.
As the Red Raiders endured a typical high-intensity practice, Hocutt said he has been impressed with the framework his first coaching hire has put down since arriving in Lubbock back in March.
“I see a level of excitement that doesn’t appear to have been associated with our basketball program in the recent past,” Hocutt said. “I see a group of young men who want to do things the right way. ... They’re forming a bond of brothers on this team who do everything together, that know each other.”
Fans got their first chance to meet members of that tight-knit unit on Tuesday, as players greeted those in attendance and signed autographs.
Gillispie told fans after the practice that he believes the framework he is laying now on a team loaded with newcomers can lead to success this season, even though the conference’s coaches have slated Tech to finish tied for last.
“We have 10 new guys here,” Gillispie said. “They couldn’t care less about trying to win next year. We’re trying to win this year. You won’t hear me make any excuses. We’re going to try to win every game we play starting right now.”
Gillispie invited fans at the event to attend any of Tech’s practices this season, and he offered a prediction sure to excite a fan base.
“This is not a show,” the coach said. “This is what we do. I guarantee you nobody’s going to play harder. I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we’re going to have some banners in here before it’s all said and done.”
Gillispie then drew laughs by introducing his “senior class,” which, of course, consists of a lone player: Robert Lewandowski. The forward from the Kansas City area has transformed his body since the spring, as he prepares for a season that will require him to make a large impact.
Lewandowski — serenaded by chants of “Lewww!” — said the team has been motivated by the kind of support present Tuesday night. It has left him to imagine what kind of envioronment a filled-to-capacity United Spirit Arena could produce.
“That’s the dream,” the senior said. “I think I’ve had it once or twice, where I can really remember it being packed. ... Obviously, we have a lot of opportunity this year. A lot of new things are going on. The more (fans) the better. We’ll do our part.”
Kader Tapsoba, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Midland College, has suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, Gillispie said on Monday.
Gillispie didn’t give a timetable for Tapsoba’s return.
“Unfortunately, he’s got a stress fracture, so he’s going to be out a little bit,” the coach said. “He’s a mature guy that does everything right. He caught a bad break, but he’ll be back before too long.”
Exhibition times set
Tech has set times for its two exhibition games.
The Red Raiders will host Southwestern Oklahoma State y at 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Tech’s exhibition game at home against Our Lady of the Lakes will also tip off at 7 p.m.
Admission to both games is free.
The Red Raiders host Troy in their regular-season opener on Nov. 11.
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