Tyreek Smith can easily identify the hallmarks of Chris Beard’s coaching style.
Beard likes to run motion offense and utilize screens. His teams have a proclivity for taking charges. The adaptability of his rosters allows him to mix up his typical 1-5 lineup.
Smith listed all of those characteristics as he sat in front of reporters Thursday afternoon, sporting a gray warmup shirt featuring the logo of a program that had been his conference opponent only one season ago. The Oklahoma State men’s basketball team will host the University of Texas at 1 p.m. Saturday, and for OSU forward Smith, it’s a reunion with Beard, his former coach.
Smith and Beard have each found a new destination in the Big 12 Conference since spending two seasons together at Texas Tech. If Beard hadn’t left Lubbock for Austin, then Smith likely would have never joined the Cowboys.
“I originally went to Tech because of Coach Beard,” Smith said. “And once he left, I just figured I should leave, too, because he had a specific plan for me.”
The initial domino fell when Shaka Smart accepted the head coaching job at Marquette in March, creating a vacancy for the Longhorns. Quickly, attention turned to Beard, who had led Texas Tech on a historic run into the NCAA Tournament’s championship game two years earlier. By April 1, only a few days after Smart’s departure, Texas had already announced its decision to hire Beard.
Without the leader who recruited him, Smith started exploring other options. The transfer portal reconnected him with a familiar team in Stillwater.
When Smith played at Trinity Christian High School in Cedar Hill, Texas, before he chose Beard’s program, he had caught the attention of OSU coach Mike Boynton. Smith’s journey reminded Boynton of point guard Avery Anderson III’s story: building a basketball career in the Dallas-Fort Worth area after spending early years in Louisiana. On the court, Smith evoked a comparison to Cowboy forwards Keylan and Kalib Boone.
"He was a skinny, athletic guy, and you can tell that he really embraced changing his body when he got to Tech," Boynton said. "It’s the reason that he has been able to come in here and have an impact, because he brings a different kind of physical presence to the game for us.”
The Cowboys had to wait for that to happen.
Despite Boynton’s efforts, Smith decided to sign with the Red Raiders just a couple of months after their runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament. Boynton couldn’t blame him.
Throughout his young career, Boynton has frequently crossed paths with multiple recruits the Cowboys couldn’t land. That group includes Kansas standouts David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji, as well as Texas guard Courtney Ramey, whom OSU will encounter Saturday – and Boynton respects their choices.
“I’m big on building bridges, not burning them,” Boynton said. “And so whether something goes the way I want it to in recruiting, I still talk to several guys that I recruited who never came here.
“...It’s not because I hope that they come back eventually. It’s just because kids get to make the decision that they think is best for them, and my job, however close we were or not, is to wish them well and support them and hope that things go well unless we gotta play them.”
Although Smith took a medical redshirt during his first year with the Red Raiders, he faced OSU twice as a redshirt freshman. Both times, Texas Tech fell to Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys in overtime thrillers.
Those games didn’t work in Smith’s favor, but he had a productive season, making the most of limited minutes to lead the Red Raiders with a 60.9 field-goal percentage.
After Smith entered the portal, Boynton promptly contacted him. Smith said he was comfortable with Boynton because of their prior connection, but OSU’s coach wasn’t the only person keeping the communication bridge sturdy.
Several of Smith’s future teammates, including Anderson, Keylan Boone and Chris Harris Jr., reached out to him. Smith didn’t have to introduce himself to Anderson and Harris, who shared his background in the DFW high school hoops scene and the AAU circuit.
“I already knew a lot of people here,” Smith said. “And it kind of just felt like home before I even got here.”
Smith arrived as one of four Cowboys adjusting to a different program this year.
OSU’s newcomers are all transfers: Bryce Thompson from Kansas, Moussa Cisse from Memphis, Woody Newton from Syracuse and Smith from Texas Tech.
Although the Cowboys can benefit from increased depth and height – at 6-foot-7, Smith adds to their size – they are still working through growing pains while tinkering with lineups. Boynton said the fluidity of the offense improved against Kansas, but the Cowboys (7-5 overall, 0-1 Big 12 Conference) couldn’t get enough shots to fall.
With 8.9 minutes per game, Smith might not be one of the most active players on OSU’s roster, but he provides a spark off the bench. Smith, who described himself as an “energy guy,” has a field-goal percentage of 67.9, the best of any Cowboy who has appeared in every game so far.
“He’s somebody who’s a joy to be around,” Boynton said. “He loves the game. He loves to work at it. He enjoys being coached. He wants to be challenged, and he’s somebody who I can see his role growing as we move forward.”
As Smith continues to settle into the Cowboys’ lineup, a grueling stretch of their schedule provides him with more than one opportunity to reconnect with people he knew at his former school. Because COVID-19 issues have altered the Cowboys’ schedule, they will face three opponents in a six-day span: Texas, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
In Lubbock, Smith will compete against his former Red Raider teammates and their new coach, Mark Adams. Every time a team undergoes a leadership change, it’s a process of blending old habits with new principles, and Boynton recognizes this.
He said he still sees Smart’s influence on Texas (12-2, 2-0), so the Longhorns’ system isn’t entirely courtesy of Beard – but Smith has an idea of what to expect from Beard, even if he wears a burnt orange tie instead of a red one.
“He always coaches his team well,” Smith said. “They’re gonna play hard, but we do the same thing, so we’re ready.”