Seniors Benson and Febres bring continuity, experience from both sides of Beard’s transition

Nicholas Pannes, Sports Reporter

Everything about Chris Beard’s time so far at Texas screams “new.”

Of his 15 players on the team, 11 are fresh faces. Beard  revamped the coaching staff, hired a new managing director and has promised a new culture centered around fan and student engagement.

But amid all this change, Beard still found some pillars of stability to lean back on.

Meet seniors Avery Benson and Jase Febres.

Febres is the undisputed veteran of Texas basketball. He played in 104 games in four years under Shaka Smart and will play his last under Beard as a “super senior,” thanks to the NCAA COVID-19 eligibility extension. He’s one of four players that remain from last year’s roster.

Beard spoke of his reverence for seniority and team continuity in a media availability on Tuesday, highlighting Febres’ experience as indispensable to his team.

“To me, seniors (are) a special part of college basketball,” Beard said. “The guy that’s grinded for four, sometimes five years. There’s something about the seniors that has been and always will be sacred in our program.”

“(Febres) is somebody that we definitely wanted to re-recruit when we got here, somebody that from afar we always had a lot of respect for.”

Beard also praised Febres as one of the best shooters in all of college basketball, a claim backed up by the 6-foot-5 guard’s career 36.2 shooting percentage from three. Beard believes Febres has the necessary work ethic, skill and eagerness to learn to fit into his defense-oriented, positionally fluid coaching style.

Yet at just this time last year, Febres’ basketball future was uncertain. He was still recovering from a debilitating knee injury that required surgery and was several months away from returning to play.

“Last year was all a grind for me,” Febres said Tuesday. “It was some of the darkest times of my life, just as far as trying to get back on the court.”

Eventually, Febres would recover and go on to help the team to an NCAA Tournament berth, excelling in key conference games against Iowa State, Oklahoma and Beard’s former team, Texas Tech.

Avery Benson represents the other pillar of stability for Beard. Beard recruited him out of high school for Texas Tech, where Benson played for three years until transferring to follow his coach to Texas.

Benson never had a flashy stat sheet at Texas Tech —  in fact, he never averaged more than 10 minutes a game there.

Instead, Beard recruited Benson for the tenacity and grit he brings to the team, factors that Beard finds critically important to his coaching style.

On Tuesday, Beard illustrated Benson’s toughness by recalling the first time he saw him play at the Nike EYBL Peach Jam Basketball Tournament, a showcase tournament for top high school prospects.

“Avery was involved in a collision on the court. It was pretty heavy,” Beard said. “There was thick blood on the court. People were getting up and leaving the gym.”

“Then the game started back up. And the same kid was in there — (Benson) was back in the game with two teeth missing. I just told (my assistant coach): ‘this will be our first scholarship offer.’”

Still, Beard affirms that Benson is a star player good enough to make the team on his skill alone, noting his breakout performances in big games against teams like Louisville.

“He’s had those moments several times throughout his career,” Beard said. “Yes, we’re glad he’s here for leadership. Yes, we’re glad he’s here because he’s my guy. But don’t get it twisted, he’s at the University of Texas because he’s a good basketball player.”