Written by Christian Almanza/Contributing Writer
Brian Beard, Jr. is leading the league in steals and was nominated this week for C-USA Player of the Year. He has also been named FIU athletics’ “Panther of the Week”.
The dynamic floor general has been the catalyst for the team’s first winning season since 2012-13, breaking school records along the way and establishing himself as one of Conference USA’s best players.
Student Media was allowed the opportunity to chat with Beard, Jr. to ask about the current season, his experiences at FIU, and oh yeah… zombies.
“It’s been a good two years for me,” said Beard, Jr. “This year has been a real great year for me and my team. It’s just bitter-sweet knowing that it’s coming down to the end.”
As a relatively young university with a still-growing athletic program, FIU tends to go unnoticed at times throughout the country. The university is still working to become a household name. For Beard, Jr. He didn’t know about the university until he started attending the school.
“I honestly did not know where it was at,” said Beard, Jr. told Student Media, “The only thing I knew about it was that Isaiah Thomas used to coach here, but I had no idea it was in Miami.”
While unaware of the school’s whereabouts or history, Beard Jr. knew he had the opportunity to play for something special once he arrived at a Division I program.
“I think I came in here trying to get to the NCAA tournament,” he said with a calm and collected demeanor. “It’s a big stage, March Madness. You grow up watching that. When the championship comes at the end, that’s the best part.”
Beard said he grew up dreaming about playing at that big stage just as every young basketball-loving kid once does. Shooting hoops in the driveway outside of his parents’ California home, the young dreamer would attempt to embody his basketball idols.
“When I was really young my favorite player was Tracy McGrady. I wanted to wear number one,” he recalled. “Then I grew up and I started liking Steve Nash. The Phoenix Suns were my team. Then Chris Paul.”
And right now?
“It’s Kyrie,” he said.
The west coast product is a long way from home, yet he likes it down in sunny South Florida.
“It’s not even that much different. California and Florida are really similar,” he said. “They call this the ‘Sunshine State’ but California maybe has got more sunshine than Florida.”
But when asked to choose between the east or western side of the United States, Beard, Jr. was definitive on where his heart lies.
“I’m biased,” he admitted. “West Coast for sure.”
What about Tupac or Biggie Smalls?
“I was young. I was one [years old] when they passed away,” he said with a smile, “But if I had to guess, I’m going to go ahead with Tupac. My dad’s [with] Tupac, so Tupac.”
While he claims to not be so much of a fast food guy, Beard, Jr. did side with the East Coast on one topic.
“I’m definitely Five Guys. I don’t particularly like In-N-Out too much. The shakes are good though,” said Beard, Jr.
At the brink of graduation and approaching the final stretch of his last college basketball season, Beard, Jr. took time to reflect on how basketball all began for him.
“I have three older brothers and they all play this sport,” he said. “I was three [years old] when I first started playing and they just kept me into it. Those three and my dad. Mom [also] knows the game real-well, so it’s just a family affair.”
Support comes from all angles within the family, although his parents express themselves differently when spectating his games.
“Mom is the louder one,” said Beard. “Dad is the more subtle one, won’t say too much. But my mom, she’s a yeller.”
Both Mom and Dad trekked across the country to watch their son play during senior night, on Saturday, Feb. 16 against North Texas University at the Ocean Bank Center at the university.
The journey has been exciting and eventful for the sensational player however his story is still being written. Beard, Jr. is just one-point shy from reaching a thousand points for his playing career at FIU.
“It feels amazing. It really does feel amazing,” he said. “When I was in high-school I was a little bit over-looked. People really told me I couldn’t play at the Division I level. And now to see that I’m going to have a thousand points in two years, when the majority of people don’t get it in four years, it really feels good.”
That is not the only milestone Beard, Jr. has arrived at. During the team’s last game against Florida Atlantic, he surpassed previous FIU star– and ex-NBA player – Carlos Arroyo for second on the school’s all-time steals list.
Beard was unaware of the fact that he had passed Arroyo but spoke candidly of his mindset.
“I like to steal the ball. I want to be first,” said Beard, Jr.. “I don’t know how many more I have to be first, but I want to be first.”
He even quipped about his assist totals. “I wish I could pass him up in assists, but we’d have to play [a lot more] games and [my teammates] have to make a lot of shots,” he said while laughing.
While he has never met Arroyo face-to-face, Beard, Jr. says he has seen him around campus. The conversation provoked the question, who would win in a 1-on-1 match-up between Beard, Jr. and Arroyo if they played today?
Beard did not hesitate.
“Right now, me. Definitely,” he said confidently. “I got him right now. When he was in college, that’s different. But right now, I got him.
For now, Beard, Jr. must focus on the opponents directly in front of him. His leadership has been a big factor in the team’s success and their survival depends on him.
Yet the opportunity to ask another thought-provoking question could not be resisted. Who would Beard, Jr. depend on if there was a zombie apocalypse and he was forced to choose two teammates or coaches to be on his survival squad?
“Oh man,” he said while laughing. “Definitely need Coach [David] Cason. He doesn’t fear too much. Who else, let’s see?” he said and stopped to ponder. “I’m going to have to take Willy [Nunez, Jr.]. He’s got attitude problems, so I’m going to take him.
Beard, Jr. and the Panthers enter a home match-up against Louisiana Tech, on Sunday at 12 pm, riding a three-game win streak. He is one-point shy of the millennial scoring mark for his college career, but he made clear what his sights are set on.
“I really want to win these last three games in bonus play, and hopefully go into the tournament riding a six-game win streak,” he said. “Then win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA tournament. Those are my goals.”
Featured image by Brea Jones/PantherNOW