New coaches talk transition in Big 12

By Joel Jellison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Walker has barely been at the helm of the Texas Tech men’s basketball program, and already he’s being asked if his interim term of six months gives him enough time to start rebuilding the Red Raiders.

Walker had a witty response on Wednesday at the Big 12 men’s basketball media days at Sprint Center in Kansas City. The interim coach at Texas Tech said it all comes down to your attitude in the situation.

“I was remarking to somebody the other day there are a lot of interim coaches out there, they just don’t know it,” he said. “I look at this situation, and people look at it as if I’ve been diagnosed with cancer. It took me 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 was one of four new coaches in the Big 12 to talk on Wednesday, including new TCU and Kansas State coaches Trent Johnson and Bruce Weber, and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who returns to the Big 12 after leaving K-State for the Mountaineers in 2007.

Walker enters the Texas Tech job in arguably the toughest situation of any coach in the league, having replaced coach Billy Gillespie, who left the job under cloudy circumstances.

Walker said he hopes the situation can make his team stronger.

“We’ve grown as a group,” he said. “It’s just a forward-thinking mentality, they’re rallying around that. No one is in Lubbock feeling sorry for us. I tell the guys all the time that 85 percent of the people don’t care what’s going on, and the other 15 percent are glad you’re going through it. Those are guys that are playing hard for Texas Tech basketball.”

Huggins knows the challenge ahead of him after coaching one year at K-State. He said the transition from playing in metropolitan areas and NBA cities in the Big East, the college town atmosphere of the Big 12 will be felt early.

“I think teams in the Big 12 probably have the best home court advantage of any of the major leagues in the country,” he said. “We played in a lot of NBA arenas. There were a lot of teams that didn’t have their own arena, so it wasn’t on campus. I think it makes a huge difference.”

West Virginia faces a unique difficulty in its first season in the conference, as the only school outside of the Midwest. Huggins said they experienced tough travel last season after a trip to Wichita to face K-State saw plane problems both to and from Kansas, but the team still managed to win despite the short sleep and long travel times.

The Mountaineers are also the only team that doesn’t have a natural rival due to the regional differences. Huggins said he’s still trying to figure that one out.

“They asked me who our rivalry in the conference was going to be, and I said it’s probably Iowa State, they’re the closest — only 853 air miles,” he said. “So I don’t know.”

Johnson takes over at TCU after four years at LSU and one NCAA tournament appearance. As one of the new teams in the conference, Johnson said TCU is committing itself to building a successful basketball program.

Just don’t call it a rebuilding project.

“I tend to stay away from the word rebuilding,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where that label got thrown to me in my career. But make no mistake about it, I’m always in a situation where we’re trying to win as fast as we can, and play as fast as we can, and play well.”

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