*Editor's note: In Part I of this two-part look at how Texas Tech is reloading its basketball roster in the offseason, Joe Yeager took a look at how Chris Beard and the coaching staff boosted the backcourt with junior college signees Josh Webster and Hyron Edwards. In Part II, Yeager explores the four sought after high school recruits and transfer additions Tech is adding to the fold.*
One of Texas Tech’s most prominent flaws last season was the lack of a genuine interior scoring presence and physical mauler. Help may be on the way in this respect, too.
DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton, at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, is a true big in every sense of the word. His athleticism is not sky high, but he is a polished player who has the ability to score inside and out. The general word has been that he doesn’t give consistent effort on the court, but with Chris Beard as his coach, Hamilton will either learn to play hard or he won’t play at all. If Beard has the magic motivational touch, Hamilton could finally live up to his considerable potential and solve some of Tech’s inside problems into the bargain.
In addition to Hamilton, Tech will welcome back Norense Odiase who missed all but three games of last season with a foot injury. It is the second such injury of Odiase’s Texas Tech career. If, however, Odiase can avoid a third medical setback, he will help the Red Raiders immensely.
Odiase is strong, physical player who can establish post position and score both with his back to the basket and facing up. Indeed, his jumper out to 16 feet is sweet and deadly. Odiase is also an on-court enforcer who will elevate the team’s toughness and bolster morale when the Landen Lucases of the Big 12 begin throwing elbows and body blocks.
One other interior option could be Tech’s most recent commit, Malik Ondigo of La Mirage, Arizona. Ondigo is 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds, but actually looks more physically developed than those numbers would suggest. Along with Zach Smith, Ondigo could well be Tech’s most athletic front-court performer next season. His overall game is salty, and having played organized basketball only three years, his best days are decidedly ahead of him. If Ondigo continues his rapid improvement, Odiase stays healthy, and Hamilton plays with some passion, Tech’s interior game will be much better.
Finally, Tech’s talent will be augmented by four gifted wing players-- Zhaire Smith, Jarrett Culver, Daniel Mading and Brandone Francis. Smith, Culver and Francis are all in the 6-foot-5 range, and all three are premier athletes.
Smith, a product of Garland, Texas, is an extraordinarily explosive player, a true elevator man who can rise and rain with the best of this crop of high school hoops products. He’s also a extremely hard worker whose dedication and devotion to his craft has produced a very reliable jump shot. Beard and his staff beat the likes of Texas, Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Kansas State for Smith’s services.
Jarrett Culver, the brother of Texas Tech All-American high jumper Trey Culver, is regarded by some as the most talented basketball player ever to matriculate through Lubbock’s high school ranks—although a certain Craig Ehlo would have something to say about that. Culver, who chose Tech over Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Illinois, can become as good as he chooses to be. He can score from anywhere on the court, plays the game under control, and actually has good enough court vision and passing ability to conceivably play some point.
Culver was not challenged all that much by the competition in west Texas, but a stint at a Nike camp in Brooklyn, where he faced off with some of the nation’s best players, called forth his best. Hence, he scored 18 straight points to open the game in a victory over an Ohio all star team. The Big 12 will certainly challenge Culver, and all indications are that he will rise—literally—to the occasion.
Mading is a 6-10 forward with the skills of a three or stretch four who will add significant length and versatility to the roster. In fact, the one-time four-star prospect is the highest ranked recruit of Tech's 2017 class by Scout as the No. 4 forward in Florida and No. 29 at his position in the nation. The Australia native and one-time Arizona State commit chose Tech over a dozen other offers such as Kansas State, LSU, Missouri, Pitt, Providence, South Carolina, TCU and USC.
And finally, after sitting out a season following a transfer from the University of Florida, Brandone Francis will get to display his wares in scarlet in black. Coming out of high school, Francis was considered one of the top 50 players in the nation, and it’s not clear that Texas Tech has ever signed a basketball recruit of such empyreal repute. But Francis never hit his stride in his lone season with the Gators and has much to prove in Lubbock. It is possible that Francis was a poor fit for Mike White’s run-and-gun attack. Francis is a tough, physical player, and could find his niche with Texas Tech as a defender, rebounder and distributor. Do not be surprised if Francis gets many of his minutes at the three spot.
As the foregoing attests, Chris Beard has many interesting pieces with which to work. Certain facets of the jigsaw puzzle seem fairly clear, but some eight months before tipoff, others are turbid. Specifically, just how Beard deploys Culver, Francis, Mading and Zhaire Smith could be the most interesting aspect of the mystery. At any rate, 2017-18 is shaping up as a captivating basketball season for the Red Raiders.