WVU basketball: Texas Tech trying to put problems in the past
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What's happening at Texas Tech this season isn't especially noteworthy.
The Red Raiders have won nine of their 18 games. They're 2-5 in Big 12 Conference play, same as West Virginia as the two meet Saturday in Lubbock, Texas.
What they're doing is important, though. They're moving on, creating new memories, writing fresh headlines after an ugly offseason.
"I'll just say this: It's not a tough situation anymore," interim head Coach Chris Walker said. "I think some of the things that happened on the outside are colored a different way on the inside."
In September, players met with Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt to protest the way Coach Billy Gillispie physically and psychologically treated his team. Scary and private details went public and Gillispie eventually resigned under considerable criticism.
The entire episode was tragic, and perhaps more so for an athletic department still trying to distance itself from a similar situation that ended up costing Mike Leach his job as the football coach.
Eventually, though, the season started and Texas Tech started playing games again. There was a likable coach with a ubiquitous smile, a roster of players committed to the cause and a style of play that entertained and inspired people ready to root for something new.
"I think the community did a good job not making such a big deal out of it," said leading scorer Jaye Crockett, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound redshirt junior forward.
"Everyone really wanted to just focus on the season and how good the team could be. We've got a lot of players on the team who are hungry and want to go out and win for all the people who support us."
It hasn't been easy, though. The Red Raiders have four losses by at least 25 points and are 8-6 at home, but they can make it back-to-back wins at United Spirit Arena by beating the Mountaineers (9-11, 2-5) after beating Iowa State. The 1:30 p.m. game will be televised by the Big 12 Network.
It's been a task finding players, too. Six left the team after last season and have been replaced by six first-year players - three from high schools, three from junior colleges.
Those who have remained have led, including Jordan Tolbert, the leading returning scorer who came out after the initial story broke and said he wouldn't play for Gillespie. That was unwanted attention, though, and the 6-7, 225-pound sophomore forward said he's had to learn from that ordeal.
"I didn't know it was going to get out like that, I didn't know it was going out in the media like that," Tolbert said. "I was shocked. I've got to think before I speak."
Texas Tech goes as its coach goes. A longtime assistant at Loyola Marymount, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Villanova, Walker was named the interim coach in September.
He doesn't like that label.
"There are a lot of interim coaches out there," he said. "They just don't know it. I look at this situation where people look at it as if I've been diagnosed with cancer. I've got six months to live. I've really flipped it and said, 'It's six months to give.' I'm head coach for the first time in the Big 12. I'm going to give everything I have to the University, to the players and the community of Lubbock. "
Walker and his players don't want the 2012-13 season to be defined by what happened in the fall, by something that's no longer under their control. They want to be remembered by their results and by the effort it took to get those.
Walker isn't concerned if he's the bridge between the past and the future. He can't fix the past. He can't manage the future. All he and the Red Raiders have is the present.
"That's why we don't focus on those things," Walker said. "I treat each day as a different day and try to become a better person, a better man, a better coach. It's about the journey because I don't know what the destination is going to be. All I know is I have to take each day as its own, so I wake up every day and try to make the program better. That's the journey."
The Red Raiders play different than they did last with Gillispie. Walker has taken bits of offense and defense and practice habits from his time working with Jay Wright at Villanova and Steve Alford at New Mexico, with Jan van Breda Kolff at Pepperdine and Vanderbilt and Steve Lappas at Villanova and UMass.
Texas Tech pressures teams on both ends. The offense averages 69.7 possessions per game, third-most in the Big 12, and the defense forces a conference-leading 8.6 steals per game.
"We're going to play a little more up tempo," he said. "That is my nature and personality."
The players have latched on to Walker's philosophy and persona, which was just what the program needed.
"He's positive and has good energy, good concepts and a good attitude," Crockett said. "His attitude is how we approach things. Sometimes in practice there are going to be things we don't want to do, but we have to have a good attitude about it and get through it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.