THE WOODLANDS — All the memories came flooding back for Chris Beard. Even after three decades, his time playing high school basketball in The Woodlands still encapsulates some of his fondest memories within the sport.

Beard, now the head coach at Texas Tech, and other members of the 1990-91 McCullough High School team gathered at their alma mater on Saturday evening to reminisce about the times they shared together.

Sporting matching white polo shirts, the old teammates joked around on the court, shooting baskets and recalling some of the offensive sets they used to run. Forward Ray Doakes, who stands at 6-foot-7, even got up for some one-handed dunks.

“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also really emotional,” said Beard, who was shooting guard for the Highlanders. “Basketball has been great to me. I’ve had a lot of great weekends, but I would put this at the top of the list.”

Beard, 47, returned to his old stomping grounds over the weekend for the team reunion just a few months after the passing of the Highlanders’ first-ever head coach, Terry Priest. Priest, who led the program for 22 seasons, died May 29 at 76 years old. Beard delivered the eulogy for his memorial service at First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land.

Beard attended Irving High School before his family relocated to The Woodlands for his upperclassmen years. He maintained a close relationship with Priest after his graduation from McCullough and often leaned on his former coach for guidance.

“He meant everything to me,” Beard said. “He’s really the reason I’m a college coach today. He instilled confidence in me, and he was just a special guy. I stayed really close with him all the way until his death this summer, so I was really kind of the connection between Coach Priest and my teammates. I took that responsibility really seriously. But we love Coach Priest, he’s a hall of famer, and I guess the ultimate sign of respect to him is that we’re here 30 years later, a bunch of grown men sitting here shooting the basketball and thinking about our coach.”

Priest had plenty of success during his tenure with McCullough, which was converted to a junior high school when The Woodlands High School opened in the mid-90s. Priest guided the Highlanders to a 379-314 overall record, four district titles, nine playoff appearances and a trip to the regional finals during his final season in 1998-99. Priest finished his coaching career with a 459-366 overall record, according to an online resource for Texas high school coaching victories.

The McCullough team from 1990-91 was among the most successful during the Priest era with a 23-11 record, according the Highlander basketball website. It was an impressive bounce-back year for the squad, which won just 10 games the previous season.

Other members of the 1990-91 team included guards Brandon Nelms, Shannon Frazure and Brent Tucker, and forwards Tim O’Connor, Chad Lowry, Terrence Reed, Eric Endicott and Steve Wright.

“This is still home,” said Doakes, who became a national champion high jumper at the University of Arkansas. “Just to be back in the gym with these guys again, the thing that I find the most amazing was that it took about 10 seconds for us to get right back at it with each other. We had some great times. ... There’s more to be said about being teammates than what the eye tells you. It’s a feeling in the heart, and I love being back with my original team of guys.”

The lessons Beard learned from Priest have served him well in the coaching profession. He has a 216-74 combined record from all his coaching stops and is 94-34 during his four years at Texas Tech. The highlight of his tenure with the Red Raiders was an appearance in the national championship game in 2019 when the team lost 85-77 in overtime against Virginia. Beard was selected as the Associated Press National Coach of the Year for his efforts.

Despite the disappointment of their season-ending loss, the Red Raiders had established a new standard for a program that had reached the Sweet 16 just twice in the 40 years before Beard took the reins in Lubbock.

“We’ve always kept in touch, and I’ve always followed his career,” Endicott said. “I knew he would be successful because he’s a smart guy. ... He just had a really high basketball IQ. Watching him put in the workhorse work through the college ranks to get to where he is today at Texas Tech University, it’s amazing. I’m really, really happy for him. I go up to Lubbock a lot and watch basketball games, and we all follow him, but he’s never changed. He’s still the same guy — very down to earth and genuine.”

Texas Tech posted an 18-13 record during the 2019-20 campaign and was preparing to compete at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the season.

“I thought we were primed to make an NCAA Tournament run,” Beard said. “Then, when they canceled the season, there were so many emotions, but really, I felt really bad for our two seniors. Hopefully, the rest of us will get to play another game and coach another game, but T.J. Holyfield and Chris Clarke, those two seniors, that’s where my heart went. It was a crazy ending to the season.”

Despite the setback caused by the virus, Beard is excited for the future of his program.

“I think anybody involved in basketball would agree when I say what we miss the most is the game,” he said. “Sometimes when things are taken away from you, it gives you a greater appreciation for what you had before. I know for us, as basketball players and coaches, we just miss the game. I can’t wait to get out there with this year’s team and just start competing again.”

jpoorman@hcnonline.com

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