For Clif Carroll and Xavier Webb, Thursday’s matchup holds special significance

Above photo of Clif Carroll (left) and Xavier Webb (right) courtesy of Sul Ross State Sports Information

BELTON, Texas- When UMHB faces Sul Ross State, it is more than just another conference matchup for head coach Clif Carroll. There is a sense of emotion tied to it. And SRSU head coach Xavier Webb shares the same sentiment. 

Six years ago, Carroll was in his first season as the Lobos’ head coach, and Webb was in his first season playing at SRSU, having transferred from Central Wyoming College. That 2015-16 team defeated UMHB twice and reached the semifinals of the ASC tournament, beginning a rebuild that included an NCAA Tournament berth two seasons later. Webb led Carroll’s first team in three-point percentage (41.7%). 

Now, a few short years later, Carroll is at the helm of the UMHB program, ranked No. 19 in the nation, and Webb is the Lobos’ second-year head coach. 

“That first game we played against each other was definitely emotional because you’re used to being on the same sideline with that guy,” Webb said in a recent interview. “So it’s still taking time to get used to being on opposite sides of each other.” 

The fourth meeting between the two as head coaches tips off tonight, at 7:30 p.m. at Belton’s Mayborn Campus Center. The Crusaders took two of three last season, with Webb and SRSU getting past a young UMHB team, 89-75, in Richardson, in the first meeting between the two as head coaches in December of 2020. 

The current SRSU coaching staff does not only feature Webb, who returned as Carroll’s assistant coach for the 2020-21 season, before being promoted as head coach. Patrick Mound and BJ Hollis both had roles to play in helping the Lobos capture the 2016-17 ASC title, the first under Carroll. 

“Those guys are my family,” Carroll said of the Sul Ross program. “Xavier was one of the first recruits I ever signed, and came back as my assistant in 2019-20. Then Pat Mound, who is his assistant coach, came in for me as a graduate assistant during the championship season. BJ Hollis, who is the current graduate assistant, played for me during the championship season. 

“It’s always tough to play somebody that you really care about. You kind of find yourself rooting for them. We’re trying to win. I’m proud of those guys and always love seeing them and seeing their team compete. They’ll be ready for us. It’ll be a lot of fun.” 

Clif Carroll led Sul Ross’ program for five seasons before taking over at UMHB (Photo courtesy of UMHB Sports Information)

The Lobos enter with a 5-8 record, but play tremendous defense, something that will be tested against the offensive duo of Josiah Johnson and Ty Prince, who have each tallied over 17 points per game. 

“It’s always a fun game,” Webb said. “There’s a little bit of weirdness to it, but we look forward to it and I’m sure they do as well. It’s, in a sense, a new rivalry. We’re just going to have to defend like crazy.”

Perhaps because the two worked in cohesion for quite some time, the UMHB and SRSU programs have a number of obvious similarities, both when it comes to on-court schemes, and off-court mentality. Hall of Fame college coach Bob Knight, who Carroll served under as a student assistant at Texas Tech, implemented the 4:1 philosophy, something that has extended to both programs under Webb and Carroll’s leadership. Simply put, it means playing physical defense. “The mental is to the physical, as four is to one,” many have said of the philosophy. 

“If you look at our programs, it’s the same culture, the Bob Knight 4:1 culture,” Webb noted. “And pretty similar systems. There are different kinks here and there, but for the most part, they’re pretty similar.” 

Toughness has been a key component of Carroll’s teams, both in Belton and years ago in Alpine, something Webb can attest to, especially when thinking about the 2015-16 season. 

“It was very grueling,” Webb said with a laugh. “I know myself, and all of my teammates on that team, worked harder that year than we ever had. It was a lot of running, mental toughness drills and culture building. I think that’s what helped turn it around because it really united us together and the offense finally clicked at the right time. We just went on a roll after that. But there was nothing easy about that.”

In turn, it produced a program that won three ASC West Division titles, and recorded 78 victories in five seasons. It also resulted in an incredible work ethic, something that remains clear in the way Webb and his staff have guided the Lobos. 

“I would much rather watch them coach against somebody else, but it’s fun, watching those guys grow in their careers, and as men,” Carroll said. “I always get choked up a little bit when I see those guys. 

“I have a lot of pride in both of those programs. I’ll always take pride in what Sul Ross does. I fought hard to turn around that program and make it a competitive program in our league. It’s great to see them continue doing that. I’m always going to root for them, except the couple of times they have to play the purple and gold.” 

Members of the SRSU staff: Austin Onofre (left), Patrick Mound (Center), Xavier Webb (Right) Not Pictured: BJ Hollis (Photo courtesy of Sul Ross State Sports Information)

Tonight certainly one of those times, though they each want nothing but the best for each other. Getting used to being on different sidelines, looking across, past the scorer’s table and seeing the other rallying his team is still new, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the almost daily conversations. 

“We talk three or four times a week, just to see how each other is doing, how the teams are doing,” Webb said. “Going into [a matchup against UMHB], we know what we’re getting into. It’s going to be motion offense based, and the same defensive principles. It’s just a matter of doing the little things right to try to get over the top against each other.”

Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He can be emailed at rileyzayas@truetothecru.com.

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