During celebration photos and videos that captured the joy of TCU’s 2017 NIT championship secured in Madison Square Garden, it is easy to spot point guard Jaylen Fisher.
The highest-rated recruit in program history is the one shouting with teammates while wearing a protective wrap on his left wrist. Fisher, who led all Big 12 freshmen in assists last season (140) while averaging 9.9 points per game, missed the Horned Frogs’ final four games of their NIT title run because of a broken left wrist sustained March 15 in a 66-59 victory over Fresno State to being the team’s NIT journey.
A healthy, smiling Fisher also was easy to spot during Wednesday’s practice on the TCU campus as the Horned Frogs continued preparations for an Aug. 5-16 trip to Australia for its men’s and women’s basketball programs. Fisher, rated as ESPN’s No. 34 high school player in the country when he joined the Frogs, led drills and showed no ill effects from his injury during the portion of the workout open to media members.
“I’m pretty sure I’m 100 percent. I’m just focusing on getting better,” Fisher said Wednesday, moments after coach Jamie Dixon identified him as an improved shooter based on the summer practice sample.
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Fisher said he looks forward to the bonding opportunities with new teammates and returnees that the Australia trip will provide for a team that returns its top six scorers, as well as all five starters, from a 24-15 squad. TCU plans to use last year’s NIT title as a springboard to the 2018 NCAA Tournament and already has received Top 25 acclaim in three different sets of preseason men’s basketball rankings (Yahoo Sports, USA Today, Sports Illustrated), with a high of No. 17 by Yahoo Sports.
“I definitely expect a tournament run and we’d be blessed if we could go far in the tournament,” Fisher said. “Right now, it’s within us to get better. I’m excited about everything … even the 16-hour flight.”
To prepare for the Australia trip, a foreign junket allowed once every four years under NCAA rules, TCU teams are allowed 10 practices before facing international competition in Sydney and Melbourne. The schedule calls for the women to play four games while the men play five. On three occasions, the teams will play double-headers. Dates for individual games have not been announced.
Australia marks a key recruiting territory for TCU, with two men’s players from that country on next season’s roster: forward Kouat Noi, a redshirt freshman, and forward Lat Mayen, an incoming freshmen. In addition, women’s player Ella Hellessey hails from Australia. All three players have represented their home county on age-group national teams.
Dixon said two of his November signees, Mayen and center Kevin Samuel, have yet to enroll and will not be part of the trip. Both players, Dixon said, are expected for the fall semester.
To guard Kenrich Williams, the healthy return of Fisher and the chance to develop chemistry with new teammates during international competition gives TCU a jump-start to a season marked by lofty expectations for a program that last reached the NCAA Tournament in 1998.
“It’s great to see. He’s back to being the Jaylen he’s been since he stepped foot on campus,” Williams said. “This summer is big for us. After winning the NIT, I think we’ll be able to really reach our peak as a team this year.”