DES MOINES, Iowa -- Sir'Jabari Rice came to Texas like a lot of his teammates, for the chance to win championships -- Big 12 and NCAA.
He couldn't help but wonder, if only for a brief moment, whether his dreams were ruined on the morning of Dec. 12, when he received word that the coach he joined the Longhorns to play for, Chris Beard, had been arrested.
"It was a whole bunch of emotions, a whole bunch of things going through your head,'' said Rice, the Longhorns' second-leading scorer. "How the day was, how the routine was, those things were knocked off.
"With things like that, either you want them or you don't. We wanted these things so bad. We wanted them more than anything. When you're in that position, you're either going to fold or you're not. We did a great job of not folding, looking past that and focusing on every day.''
Texas went on to finish second in the Big 12 regular season and won the conference tournament with a 20-point victory over top-seeded Kansas.
The Longhorns are still alive as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional in the NCAA tournament for the biggest prize of all. After wins over Colgate and Penn State in the first two rounds, Texas will face Xavier in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Kansas City, Missouri.
For this, Rice and his teammates give credit to not only a talented roster that showed some steely resolve with the unusual circumstances surrounding Beard, but also a 54-year-old Texas assistant who was a calming influence during a tumultuous time.
Rodney Terry was named interim coach and took over under conditions far less than ideal. Beard was arrested after his fiancé called 911 and told police Beard had strangled, bit and hit her during a confrontation in his home.
Beard was fired on Jan. 5 and in February charges against him were dropped.
"It was a tough time,'' Texas forward Dylan Disu said. "Obviously there were a lot of things that were unknown at that time. What would happen with the coaching situation? Would [Beard] be back? Would he not be?''
"When the leader at the head is someone who is calm and poised, it makes it that much easier for me as a point guard to continue to be calm and poised. It just flows throughout the whole entire team. He does a great job of that." Marcus Carr, the Longhorns' leading scorer
Terry was charged with holding everything together. Terry was in the second season of his second stint as a Texas assistant, with head-coaching stops at Fresno State and UTEP in between. Texas players are so comfortable in their relationships with Terry that they don't refer to him as Coach, but by his initials.
The Longhorns had a game at home against Rice on the night Beard was suspended. During his first team meeting that day, Terry talked about much more than just the game plan.
"He kind of sat us down and said everything we still wanted was all ahead of us,'' Disu said. "We could still achieve all of those goals we had set before the season. It wasn't easy. It was an adjustment. Big 12 play hadn't even started yet.
"Maybe outside the program the expectations for us had changed but inside the program, no. What happened with the coaching change didn't have to derail us and the things we wanted from our season. You couldn't really tell if we had our coach or we didn't. RT took over and let us know how he wanted things done. It was really no different than how things were.''
The Longhorns beat Rice that night, though they had to go to overtime to do it. They won their first five games under Terry, albeit against lesser competition.
Still, the winning streak gave Texas a good start on its new journey. The Longhorns were responding to Terry's demeanor, which is calmer and more soothing at a difficult time than that of Beard.
"There is a sense of calmness from RT,'' forward Tim Allen said. "He embodies what we are and what we try to be every day. Someone who has been there before, never shakes at adversity, somebody who wakes up and tries to attack the day to be great. When I've got somebody like that in my corner I'll do anything for them.''
these guys are special 🤘 pic.twitter.com/RyWILiSV16— Texas Men's Basketball (@TexasMBB) March 20, 2023
Leading scorer Marcus Carr said, "When the leader at the head is someone who is calm and poised, it makes it that much easier for me as a point guard to continue to be calm and poised. It just flows throughout the whole entire team. He does a great job of that. Whether we're in timeouts or small moments, whenever it is, he does a pretty good job of keeping us calm and collected.''
Terry often uses pet sayings when he wants to get his team's attention, such as, "Be where your feet are,'' when he wants them in the moment, or "The hay's in the barn,'' when he wants them to know they're as prepared for a game as he thinks they can be.
Beyond getting a message across, the sayings provide a lighter moment for the players as they anticipate the next one.
"He's got a ton of them,'' Allen said. "He has a lot of comic relief moments and it's good for us.''
Terry entered the season with a heavy heart after the death of his father, Calvin, a long-time high school coach in Texas. Terry dedicated the season to his father, who died in August, though he had no way of knowing then how much his responsibilities would soon change.
Being the Texas head coach, even as an interim basis, would fulfill his father's dream for Terry.
"He always saw me in a bigger light than even I saw myself,'' Terry said. "He saw me doing the things that I'm doing right now at this level, even before I thought I could be at this level. He believed in me that much.
"He said, 'You are a high-major coach. You are a guy that can do exactly what those other guys are doing and you should have one of those jobs.' ... He always saw more in me in terms of the bigger picture and really instilled me to dream big.''
making history 🤘 pic.twitter.com/z4pI4vuy2W— Texas Men's Basketball (@TexasMBB) March 20, 2023
Beard isn't exactly forgotten as the Longhorns chase a national championship but he's no longer a part of their everyday thoughts. His recent hiring at the University of Mississippi got little reaction from many of the players.
Most typical of the responses came from forward Brock Cunningham, who said an emotionless "Best of luck to Beard and the University of Mississippi.''
Their thoughts have shifted to winning a national title and whether Terry will be Beard's permanent replacement. As for winning a title, Penn State's Seth Lundy endorsed the Longhorns as a legitimate contender after the Nittany Lions were ousted by Texas in the second round Saturday.
"Texas is a really good team,'' Lundy said. "They have a really good group of guys. They have guys that can shoot and guys that can make plays for themselves with their guards and I feel like they have the pretty good bigs as well. I think they can definitely make a run in this tournament.''
The Longhorns are aware Terry's chance for being Beard's replacement get better the deeper they advance in the tournament. They won't say that's their motivation for winning a national championship. A title has been their goal since they began practice long before Beard was fired.
But they are aware that perhaps they wouldn't be in position to win a national championship if Terry wasn't the one chosen to replace Beard on an interim basis.
"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else right now,'' Rice said. "RT is the man. I thank God and I thank RT for you putting me in this position, us in this position, to be successful.''