MINNEAPOLIS — When Texas Tech’s celebrity superfan filled out his NCAA tournament bracket, he started with his presumed winner. Patrick Mahomes scribbled his alma mater in the champion’s block in his bracket, then worked backward. He also tabbed Duke, Virginia and Auburn as Final Four teams, meaning that Mahomes crushed friends in his bracket pool, correctly predicting three of four teams, and he stands to extend his lead should the Red Raiders defeat the Spartans here at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday.
Mahomes, of course, won MVP honors last season as the Chiefs transcendent quarterback. But it wasn’t all that long ago (2014) that he arrived at Texas Tech as a freshman signal caller who would back up Davis Webb. Mahomes also pitched for the Red Raiders baseball team, mostly in relief efforts, for two seasons, before giving up baseball to concentrate on his best sport.
In a Final Four-related phone call on Friday, Mahomes warns not to sleep on his basketball skills. He says he knew little about the basketball team at Tech when he arrived there, other than that Bob Knight had once been the coach. But Mahomes says he often played in pick-up basketball games against his basketball counterparts, in ’14, ’15 and ’16. He can still recall one lob he threw to Zhaire Smith, who slammed home a thunderous dunk. (Insert pithy line here about Mahomes being a superb passer even on the basketball court.)
Over all those pick-up games, Mahomes came to know many players, like Smith, who last season keyed Tech’s first-ever Elite Eight run. He also became friends with Trey Culver, a high jumper from Lubbock. Trey won a pair of NCAA titles in the high jump. He also told Mahomes about one of his brothers, the best basketball player in a family of athletes who wanted to lift his hometown school to unprecedented heights. That would be Jarrett Culver, the star of the current Tech basketball team and future NBA lottery pick. “He just took off,” says Mahomes, who should know what that feels like.
Mahomes remained a Tech basketball fan throughout his college career. He knew all about Chris Beard when the school hired him as coach in 2016. Mahomes even knew that Beard was well traveled, that he had lifted Little Rock into the NCAA tournament and that he had coached under Knight. He thought Beard to Tech would be a good fit; he had know idea just how good. He says he’d give Beard however many millions it might take to keep him in Lubbock. “He’s even went over my expectations,” Mahomes says. “He’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
The quarterback watched the basketball team from the football school reach those unprecedented heights last March. Just as Culver had predicted. Mahomes did most of that viewing at home in Kansas City, and he thought the Red Raiders challenged Villanova better than other opponents in the Wildcats' championship run. Not this year. Mahomes plans to travel here to watch Texas Tech in person. There’s some thought he may even address the team, but no plan confirmed yet.
Mahomes remains particularly close with senior center Norense Odiase, who Mahomes called after the Red Raiders sealed their Final Four appearance. Mahomes wished his basketball friend luck, told Odiase to remain focused. The quarterback says he may even travel to Lubbock should Texas Tech win the national championship. He doesn’t want to miss the parade. “The whole athletic department is on the rise,” he says. “But it’s good that basketball is back on the map and in the Final Four.”