Texas Tech basketball: Grad transfers have to bring experience to young team

BLACKSBURG, VA - FEBRUARY 26: Chris Clarke #15 of the Virginia Tech Hokies celebrates after dunking against the Duke Blue Devils in the second half at Cassell Coliseum on February 26, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)
BLACKSBURG, VA - FEBRUARY 26: Chris Clarke #15 of the Virginia Tech Hokies celebrates after dunking against the Duke Blue Devils in the second half at Cassell Coliseum on February 26, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images) /

With only two seniors, the Texas Tech basketball team needs grad transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield to bring an element of experience to the roster.

In the modern era of college basketball where players leave school for the NBA as early as possible, juniors and seniors are often viewed somewhat negatively.  The thought is that if they were good enough to play in the NBA, they would have already done so before their third year on campus.  That’s why teams that are loaded with upperclassmen seem to be a rarity, and that’s something that worries Texas Tech basketball head coach Chris Beard as the 2019-20 season dawns.

"“You guys have heard me say ‘Get old and stay old’ around here before,” Beard said Friday as he previewed Tuesday’s season opener against Eastern Illinois."

Beard was quick to point out that the Panthers are possibly the oldest team in the nation with a roster comprised completely of juniors and seniors.  That’s a stark contrast to the Red Raiders, who have only two seniors, grad transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield, and one junior, Davide Moretti.

Thus, it will be imperative for Clarke and Holyfield to bring a stabilizing influence to a team with seven freshmen, five of whom were still trying to line up a date to their high school’s winter formal at this time last year.  Clarke appeared in 79 career games at Virginia Tech where he averaged 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.  Holyfield saw action in 101 games at Stephen F. Austin where he put up 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

That gives them 180 career games played, more than the rest of their teammates combined have seen in college.  Thus, Beard believes that his seniors’ impact will extend beyond the box score.

"“Their roles on this team need to exceed the stat sheet,” he said.  “It’s not just about points, and rebounds, and stops.  It’s about them giving us a veteran experience.  They’re the only two seniors on our team.“Now, there’s a relationship in college basketball between experience and winning.  That’s why this first game is very very concerning to me, because again, [Eastern Illinois] is one of the oldest teams in college basketball.”More from Wreck'Em RedTexas Tech football: Red Raider fans need to know about these MountaineersTexas Tech football: Red Raiders land first commit for class of 2025Texas Tech football: Why have the Red Raiders struggled on the road under McGuire?Texas Tech football: Why the Red Raiders can compete for a Big 12 titleTexas Tech football: Plenty of questions remain as conference play arrives"

Beard’s belief in the correlation between winning and experience flies in the face of the modern-day one-and-done culture.  But we have to look back no further than last year’s Final Four to see how important age can be for a college basketball roster.

National Champion Virginia had five upperclassmen, four of which were juniors.  All were integral in the Cavilers’ title run.  Meanwhile, Michigan State had seven juniors or seniors and Auburn featured 13 upperclassmen out of the 18 players listed on the roster posted on their official website.

Of course, Tech had four seniors last year in Norense Odiase, Brandone Francis, Matt Mooney, and Tariq Owens, the latter two of which were grad transfers.  It was the success of those two one-year Red Raiders, the new college version of one-and-done players, that has made Tech the poster child for how to utilize the NCAA version of free agency to enhance your roster.

Just as he did in bringing Owens in from St. John’s and Mooney from North Dakota, this year Beard is counting on a grad transfer with major conference experience and one with experience at the highest levels of the mid-major world to lead his team through the fierce Big 12.

Clarke has been through the wars in the A.C.C., the most intense and rugged conference in college hoops.   He’s registered 10 double-doubles and one triple-double in his career.

Meanwhile, Holyfield has seen far less major conference competition but he does have a 19-point game against Miss State and a 17-point game against Missouri on his resume.  Perhaps most importantly, both Clarke and Holyfield have been in the NCAA Tournament.  They know how to get there and along with Moretti, they must show their new teammates the way back to the Big Dance.

It will be fascinating to see how Beard deploys his three upperclassmen on Tuesday night.  We assume they will all start along with sophomore Kyler Edwards and true freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey.  But at times, it’s likely that each of them will be called upon to lead a lineup on the court that features as many as four freshmen.

Therefore, the learning curve for the two grad transfers must be quick.  They do not have the luxury of wading into the season and figuring out what their head coach wants them to do as they go.  Clarke and Holyfield have to be rocks of Gibraltar for their new team from the moment the ball tips on Tuesday.

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If the current team stays mostly intact, maybe in a couple of years Beard will have an old team as he prefers.  But this year, all of his team’s age is imported and how well that experience translates to this rebuilt roster will be a key in how this season unfolds.