If you blinked too long you may have missed the flurry of activity surrounding the team formerly known as the UALR Trojans. Even if a certain statewide paper refuses to accept the name change, but regardless the Little Rock Trojans are in every way not UALR of old.
Along with new branding and names comes a new coaching staff and philosophy to the men’s basketball program. Coach Chris Beard also wants to bring something else, long-term success to the program. The possibility for that is part of the reason he wanted the job to begin with.
“The recent success of the women’s team, competing at a national level. I thought the opportunity to come here and do that on the men’s side would be a wonderful opportunity,” Beard says. “There is a lot of good basketball here with some of the best high school coaches in the country in Arkansas. Some of the best AAU basketball in the country is in Arkansas. So from a basketball standpoint I think a lot of people around the country would share my view that this is a good job.”
Beard has quickly risen to become one of the hottest coaches in the country with a school record 8-0 start, but Beard says he is much more interested in winning the last eight games than the first eight.
Beard is no stranger to success, he holds a .768 winning percentage as a head coach. Much of this success he says comes from doing things the right way over a long time. Something he learned from spending eight years with the legendary coach Bob Knight at Texas Tech.
“I’ve been blessed to work for some really good people in college basketball. I was with coach Knight the longest, eight seasons,” Beard reflects. “I am proud to be associated with someone who has the best graduating rates in the history of college basketball, was never involved in an NCAA violation. He won at the highest level and he won with character and he won following the rules. A lot that we do here is based on coach Knight.”
“We have everything we need to build a successful program. We have the best facility in college basketball, a great Capital city, a great university, history,” Beard continues. “I do not see any reason we can’t get it done. Our mission is why not us from the first recruiting call. I beg these guys to take one of their official visits here, we will show you what we have to offer. Then I ask why can’t we build a successful program here. For the most part every kid that came agreed with us.”
One of the new things with this year’s Trojans are the rebranding to be Little Rock’s team, which includes an official name change from UALR to just Little Rock for the athletic program. The change is more than just a marketing ploy according to Beard, it is a commitment to the city.
“We take a lot of pride in being Little Rock’s team. It is not something we just say or put on a t-shirt, but it is something we believe,” Beard says. “The common thing from teams like Butler, Gonzaga, Wichita State, is fan base. These schools are used to playing every game in front of sold out crowds. That revenue gives them the opportunity to play more home games. 10-15 years ago, Wichita State wasn’t what Wichita State is now. 15 years ago Gonzaga wasn’t Gonzaga. So the first thing is just having a vision and a belief.”
Beard acknowledges that a key part of this is the belief from the fans that they will have a good team to support. He says that is their part, to put together a quality team with sustained success. Then build trust with the fans to build a strong program for the future.
A lot of it is about trust. Fans have to trust that we are going to put a good team on the court every year that is playing the game the right way,” Beard explains. “If there is anyone out there that hasn’t had an opportunity to see our team play, I would not ask but beg them to give us a chance. We need 5,500 people to come to these basketball games.”
The Trojan’s take on University of Central Arkansas tonight in Conway, a non-conference team they have already met once this season.
“We have a lot of respect for their program. I got an opportunity to get to know Coach Pennell over the summer. He is a great guy and he is building a program there,” Beard says. “He is one of the toughest teams we have ever had to guard over the years because of the ways he sets up his offense. Personally I don’t enjoy coaching against friends, and I believe we are early friends. ”
Beard also believes that playing other in-state schools is important and for the better interest of basketball as a whole in the state. The Trojans will also play Arkansas State twice later in the season in conference play.
“I think that all Division I schools in Arkansas should play. I think it is good for basketball in the state. It is even good for high school basketball and AAU basketball, it is just good for Arkansas Basketball,” Beard explains. “It is a special opportunity to play a Division I game right down the road. UCA is a team we pull for all year-long other than the two times we play them.”
The next opportunity to catch the Trojans at home is this Sunday when they take on Northern Arizona at 1:00 pm. Tickets are still available for that game.