The issues that plagued the TCU men’s basketball team in 2013-14 were obvious before the season began.
Preseason injuries to forward Devonta Abron and center Aaron Durley kept them sidelined the entire season, and transfers Chris Washburn and Trey Zeigler had to sit and watch because of NCAA transfer rules.
So coach Trent Johnson’s rebuilding job had to take a different approach than he’d hoped in his second season. A talented group of freshmen, including post Karviar Shepherd, were already expected to get plenty of on-the-job training, but injuries just about guaranteed that Shepherd, Brandon Parrish and Hudson Price were thrown to the fire.
For the most part, Shepherd was everything his high school credentials claimed he was. His time on the floor, facing some of the best players in the country during Big 12 action, should prove invaluable in the coming years.
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His improvement on both ends of the floor as he gained more confidence was obvious in spurts, including a three-game stretch in January against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma when he scored in double figures and averaged over seven rebounds per game.
Parrish played a lot of minutes early and perhaps it hurt him down the stretch. He scored in double figures in six of seven games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 11, when he led TCU with 16 points and added four assists at Baylor. But he didn’t score more than seven points after a 10-point effort against Texas on Feb. 4.
Forward Amric Fields, who missed almost all of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury, never was able to catch up physically after returning a week into the season. It didn’t help that almost as soon as he returned, he broke his hand, a setback for his stamina as well as his game. TCU, which finished 9-22, finally decided to rest him the final six games.
Price dealt with a serious illness that left him unavailable for six games and a nonfactor in a seventh during the first month of the season. Like Fields, Price battled endurance issues for the remainder of the season.
By the time Big 12 play arrived, Charles Hill Jr. was academically ineligible, leaving the team with eight scholarship players available, which was reduced to seven the final couple weeks with Fields resting.
The roster issues not only affected the Horned Frogs in games, but also affected how Johnson was able to run his practices.
“Obviously, the more competition you have in practice and the individual workouts, the better you’re going to be,” Johnson said.
“I’m looking forward to having a healthy group that you don’t have to worry about not being able to go full speed in practice and those kind of things. It’s going to be exciting; it’s going to be interesting.”
Although Johnson’s first TCU team won two Big 12 games a year ago, including an upset of then-No. 5 Kansas, you could argue that this season’s team, although 0-18 in the Big 12 regular season and losers of its last 19 games, was a more evenly balanced squad.
While both of his teams were beset with massive injury and roster issues, this year’s team relied on freshmen in major roles. Another hurdle was the much-improved Big 12, which will likely send eight teams to the postseason, including seven to the NCAA Tournament.
You can’t argue that 0-18 is an improvement over 2-16, because it isn’t. But in terms of progress for the overall program, the experience gained by Shepherd, Parrish, Price and Michael Williams during a torturous year of losing could pay future dividends.
“It should be a lot of fun,” said junior guard Kyan Anderson, who has played for two coaches in his career and often with a depleted roster. “I’m looking forward to it.
“Like we’ve been saying, we’re going to learn from this year. We don’t want to feel like this next year. So it’s me, Coach [Johnson] and Karviar’s job to get these guys ready. We went through one round and saw how it is, now it’s time to focus up and try to get a run next year.
Johnson didn’t recruit Shepherd, Parrish, Price and Williams with illusions that their class would turn the program around as freshmen. He made sure they knew what they were getting into, and their character and maturity were as attractive to him as their basketball talent.
Those attributes have served them and Johnson well through what could have been a demoralizing five months.
“It gave us experience,” an unflappable Shepherd said after the Frogs lost their opener in the Big 12 tournament to Baylor on Wednesday. “So we’ll be able to come out and do what we’ve got to do to help the players that were down and injured or didn’t get cleared, help them out and play hard in practice and do what we’ve got to do to make everybody improve.”
With the renovations ongoing at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, TCU will be forced to play its home games off campus next season. Athletic director Chris Del Conte has yet to announce a decision, but it’s likely to be either the Fort Worth Convention Center downtown or Fort Worth ISD’s Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center.
“I’m not concerned where we play,” Johnson said. “We can play outside for all I care. We’re going to have a heck of a spring and a heck of a summer. There’s a bad taste in our mouth and we’re going to get it out of our mouth next year.”