Individually, the four seniors playing the final home games of their TCU careers Wednesday in Schollmaier Arena have seen better statistical seasons.
But this will be the first time the foursome has suited up for a season finale in Fort Worth with realistic talk of an NCAA Tournament bid still on the table for their team.
That opportunity, which the Horned Frogs (17-12, 6-10 Big 12) will carry into Wednesday’s 8 p.m. contest against Kansas State (17-12, 6-10), has helped make a long and often frustrating journey a special one for Karviar Shepherd, Brandon Parrish, Michael Williams and Chris Washburn.
“Sometimes, it feels like yesterday. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been here for eight years,” Shepherd said, summing up a four-year journey in Fort Worth in which half of the 12 victories he has experienced against Big 12 opponents have come this season. “This year has been a very big highlight because we’ve won more games.”
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12Combined starts by the four seniors on this year’s TCU men’s basketball roster. Last season, the same foursome combined for 88 starts.
Shepherd, a 6-foot-11 forward, arrived on campus as the highest-ranked recruit in the history of the men’s basketball program (No. 46 nationally by Rivals; No. 48 by ESPN and Scout). He’ll head into senior night averaging career lows of 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game but with zero regrets about being a role player on the most successful TCU team during the school’s five seasons as a Big 12 member.
“No regrets, man. I love TCU,” Shepherd said. “I love everything it brought to me. I became a better man here.”
The program, in turn, has made significant strides since Shepherd and Parrish, an Arlington Seguin graduate, made a combined 60 starts as freshmen on a team that failed to defeat a Big 12 opponent while posting a 9-22 record during the 2013-14 season.
All four of them, they practice hard. They play with great energy. They bring leadership. They’ve been a part of progress. I think they’ve paved the way.
TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon
As the talent level has increased under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, the playing time has decreased for the four seniors who join Dixon on the cover of this year’s media guide. Dixon has dubbed that foursome “the believers” because they have sacrificed playing time but stepped up as locker-room leaders in a turnaround season.
“All four of them, they practice hard. They play with great energy. They bring leadership,” Dixon said. “They’ve been a part of progress. I think they’ve paved the way.”
As a group, the seniors have combined for 12 starts this season: nine by Shepherd, three by Parrish. A year ago, the group combined for 88 starts. They’ve combined to average 14.2 points per game as role players on a team tied for sixth place in the Big 12, a league that has sent seven participants to the past three NCAA tournaments.
By closing the regular season with victories over K-State and Oklahoma (10-19, 4-13), two teams the Frogs defeated earlier this season, TCU would secure a solo sixth-place finish in the Big 12. Dixon and players envision that translating to the school’s first March Madness invitation since 1998.
It means a lot, coming from where we were my freshman year to where we are now. It took a lot of resilience. It took a lot of leadership. It took a lot of heart.
TCU guard Michael Williams
“Year in and year out, the Big 12 has been getting seven teams in the tournament, regardless,” Parrish said. “Even if they say this isn’t a year when we get seven, if we put ourselves in position to finish sixth … we can go.”
Parrish said coming to TCU and helping rebuild a downtrodden program “definitely gave me a work ethic that will help me push through whatever I go through in the rest of my life. It’s shown me that I can overcome anything.”
Washburn and Williams offered similar thoughts about the opportunity to cap their college careers as postseason tournament participants on a team picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason coaches poll. That places a premium on a Wednesday victory over K-State, the team tied with TCU in the league standings.
“It means a lot, coming from where we were my freshman year to where we are now,” Williams said. “It took a lot of resilience. It took a lot of leadership. It took a lot of heart.”
Washburn said: “This has been a great season. We’re just trying to finish it off strong and get to where we want to be at the end of the year. We’re going after this game like it’s a have-to win.”
TCU men vs. Kansas State
8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU