DALLAS, TX (KTRE) - In College basketball, March is all about winning. Teams clash on the courts for the ultimate prize of being the last one standing in San Antonio on April 2.
The road for one of the 68 remaining teams will end Thursday night when the final buzzer goes off between SFA and Texas Tech. The journey will be over for one of the coaches of the teams but the friendship will go on.
SFA's Kyle Keller and Texas Tech's Chris Beard have a relationship that goes back over two decades and one game will not end it.
"On one hand, it is a shame that only one of us will not be playing on Saturday," Keller said. "On the other hand, it will be great to see one of us play. We know we have an unbelievable mountain to climb in Texas Tech and what a great coaching staff they had, but hopefully I think our kids will try pretty hard."
The words from Keller are not just 'coach speak' out of respect for his opponent, they are geniuine words.
"We were all living in San Antonio when we were trying to figure it out, and he was at Incarnate Word as a GA and Jeremy Cox and I were at UTSA, and we were all trying to figure out where we were going, hoping to make it in this career and if we could be somebody, just hang on," Keller said. "Then all three of us go junior college coaching, and then you never know, you take a chance. And Chris obviously has won everywhere he's been, just like Jeremy has, and I've been blessed. And I just think the Lord has blessed all three of us."
The two have moved on from those early years but they have always remembered the lean times when they relied on each other.
"Kyle Keller is a guy that all of us in basketball know Kyle," Beard said. "We know of his success in the Big 12, an assistant for Coach Sutton and Sean. We know he was at Texas A&M and built the program quickly. I know he was a great junior college coach back at Tyler. Kyle and I after recruiting events, we'd go to McDonald's. Neither one of us could afford the regular meals, so we'd order two things off the dollar meal and then we'd get the water cups, and I'm not proud of this, but when they weren't looking, we'd put Sprite in the water cup. Nobody respects Coach Keller more than I do."
Keller might agree that the early days were rough but he has a hard time remmebring the details of their lunches together.
"I have amnesia pretty good, so I'm not really referencing what he's talking about but I think he would really hate if I aired some of my dirty laundry on him through the last 25 years that I could throw back at him," Keller said. "I think my hand just slipped on what lever to push. I didn't hit water, it just slipped off the water tab. I think that's what happened and Sprite accidentally came out into the cup versus water. I don't know if he remembers it exactly like that because I think I threw it in the trash versus drinking the Sprite. Everybody that knows me knows I hate Sprite. I'm a root beer and iced tea guy."
Beyond the stories from off the court, the success of both coaches as they have risen through the ranks is what pleases both coaches.
"He's a special guy and a special coach, Keller said. "He can do anything. You know, he's a magician as a basketball coach. You know, you can imagine how excited I am that we get to play them."
"I make sure that our players understand you're playing against a really good team," Beard said. "You're playing against a team that's good enough to beat anybody in this tournament in a 40-minute game, and you're playing against a team with a coach that knows what he's doing."
Tip off for the two is set for 6:27 pm. The winner will play the winner of the Florida vs St.Bonaventure game that will follow theirs in the American Airlines Center in Dallas.