You might not know a whole lot about Chris Beard, and if you don’t, that needs to change immediately.
That’s because he’s done one of the best coaching jobs in America this year.
Beard has led Arkansas-Little Rock to a 27-3 record in his first year with the program. The Trojans started 10-0, 15-1 and have won 12 of 13 overall.
Even Beard has to be a little surprised by his team’s success, right?
“I don’t know if surprised is the word, but it’s definitely pleasing,” Beard said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think we have one of the best stories in college basketball this year. First-year coach, a lot of new players. We’ve got 17 players in our program – seven returning, 10 new players – and for everybody to come together this quickly and to be sitting here with the best record in college basketball, I think it’s quite a story.”
Especially since Beard inherited a team that went 13-18 last season.
“We did have some talent,” Beard said. “The record wasn’t what the previous coach would have liked obviously, but we did have some talent. We inherited seven players – two or three of them with all-conference-type talent. We did a good job with recruiting in the spring and summer to add to those guys, and really we’ve had a balanced team.”
Nine Trojans play at least 13 minutes a game. Their top seven scorers all shoot at least 33.3 percent from three-point range. In fact, Josh Hagins, who is averaging a team-high 13.0 points, is shooting 37.2 percent from distance, while Marcus Johnson Jr., who is averaging 12.7 points, is shooting 46.5 percent.
“It’s unlike any team I’ve ever coached,” Beard said. “We play about 11, sometimes 12 players, in every game. The depth of our team has been our identity and our strength. We just got a lot of really good unselfish players. We don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans, but we do have 10 or 11 really good Division I college basketball players.”
Oh, and by the way: The Trojans, who are allowing fewer than 60 points per game, lead the nation in scoring defense.
“It’s big,” Beard said. “It’s how he play. It’s the first thing we look for in recruiting. It’s the first thing we do every day in practice. It’s the identity of our program. We don’t hide from that. And again, we’ve just got some tough kids. We don’t have the sexiest of names, but we’ve got guys that bring it every day. They work. They work hard. They compete. A lot of defense is attitude and work ethic and doing the things that aren’t necessarily fun or pretty. These guys have really embraced that. Our defense has really been our backbone this season.”