The TCU men’s basketball program features a first-year coach with a stellar pedigree, an intriguing collection of heralded newcomers and a four-senior nucleus that has bought in to the fresh approach espoused by coach Jamie Dixon.
But the same set of meager expectations surround the Horned Frogs, at least among outsiders. TCU, a 12-21 team last season, has been projected to finish last again among Big 12 teams in a recent vote by league coaches. That is not shocking, considering the Frogs have a combined mark of 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four seasons.
What is new is the amount of pushback from veteran players during Tuesday’s Big 12 media day at the Sprint Center about how league coaches missed the mark when casting ballots.
“Honestly, that just gives us a chip on our shoulder when Big 12 play starts. The world is thinking of us as a last-place team … but we definitely know that we’re not,” said guard Brandon Parrish, a senior who started all 33 games last season. “We know that we’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.”
If so, it would mark the program’s return to the Big Dance for the first time since the 1997-98 season. TCU last won an NCAA Tournament game when Dixon, who led Pitt to a combined mark of 328-122 over the past 13 seasons, was a player on the Frogs’ 1986-87 team.
The world is thinking of us as a last-place team … but we definitely know that we’re not. We know that we’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.
TCU guard Brandon Parrish
TCU is banking on a turnaround season being led by freshman point guard Jaylen Fisher, a four-star signee who is the highest-ranked recruit in program history (No. 34, ESPN), and six other newcomers who join nine returnees in efforts to try and carry this team to its first postseason berth since the 2012 College Basketball Invitational.
In addition to Fisher, Dixon’s list of projected impact signees includes 6-foot-5 guards Desmond Bane and Arlington Seguin grad Josh Parrish (Brandon’s younger brother). Guard/forward Kenrich Williams, who averaged 8.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during the 2014-15 season, returns after missing last season with a knee injury. Guard Alex Robinson, a Mansfield Timberview grad and transfer from Texas A&M, is eligible to play after sitting out last season.
Plus, there are the four seniors Dixon considers essential components and team leaders: Brandon Parrish, forward Karviar Shepherd, forward Chris Washburn and guard Michael Williams. The four seniors join Dixon on the cover of this year’s media guide for a reason.
“We’re really relying on these four guys to be our leaders this year, and I’m excited about what they’ve done so far,” Dixon said.
What they did Tuesday was let everyone know that more will be expected of this team under Dixon, starting with a Nov. 11 season opener in Fort Worth against the University of St. Thomas.
We decide where we finish. Not the polls in October. We’ve got work to do and it’s up to us to decide our future.
TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon
“We’re capable of many great things, like winning a conference championship and, hopefully, making the NCAA tournament. Just winning,” said Shepherd, the highest-rated recruit in TCU history (No. 46 nationally) until being surpassed by Fisher earlier this year. “We’re not real concerned about what other people think of us.”
Michael Williams said the last-place projection in the Big 12 provides “fuel for our fire,” although it was hardly a surprise.
“We have no problem being picked 10th. We have no problem with that, at all,” Williams said. “Our excitement level is through the roof. We’re looking to make the NCAA Tournament and go from there. We’re not worried about projections.”
Dixon, a scrapper who played with a chip on his shoulder during his college days, welcomes the approach his seniors are taking in regard to being picked to return to the Big 12 basement. He acknowledged that the slight from rival coaches “may come up once or twice” in motivational talks as the season progresses.
“We recognized that was probably going to be the case and we’ve accepted it. At Pitt, we always seemed to finish higher than what we were picked,” Dixon said. “You need to have that … chip on our shoulder as a program. Fortunately, we don’t have to create it. It’s right there for us, hitting us right in the face. But we decide where we finish. Not the polls in October. We’ve got work to do and it’s up to us to decide our future.”