Back in the day, shortly after arriving at TCU as the top-ranked recruit in the history of the men’s basketball program, Karviar Shepherd envisioned Fort Worth as a place for a one-year stay on his path to the NBA.
“At one point, yeah,” Shepherd said during a recent interview. “But things happen for a reason. I’m blessed to be in the situation I’m in now.”
For the 6-foot-11 senior, today’s situation involves coming off the bench to play for a first-year TCU coach. It involves closing in on a bachelor’s degree that will make Shepherd the first member of his family to finish college.
And it involves being part of a TCU team that could leave a legacy as the group that finally led the Horned Frogs (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) to success as a Big 12 member after four long, hard seasons of initiation.
When TCU faces No. 7 West Virginia (12-2, 1-1) at noon Saturday Morgantown, W.Va., the Horned Frogs will arrive with a No. 30 RPI ranking under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, a former TCU player who fashioned a 12-7 career mark against the Mountaineers during his 13 seasons at Pittsburgh.
Among his players, however, Dixon will have no one sitting next to him on the TCU bench with direct knowledge of what it feels like to defeat West Virginia. The Frogs are 0-9 against the Mountaineers as Big 12 members, including an 86-66 loss in last year’s Big 12 conference tournament that dropped the curtain on the four-year tenure of former coach Trent Johnson, the man who brought Shepherd to Fort Worth.
At the time, Shepherd arrived from Dallas’ Prime Prep Academy as Rivals’ No. 46 player nationally in the 2013 recruiting class. He was ranked No. 48 by both ESPN and Scout. He turned down multiple offers, including one from Kansas, winner of the last 12 conference championships in the Big 12, to play for the Frogs.
It’s put a little bit more edge on it. There’s no next year. You just want to show people you can do your best. As a player, I want to be better at everything.
TCU forward Karviar Shepherd, on his opportunity to improve his skills for NBA scouts in his senior season
During a 2014 interview with the Kansas City Star, Kansas coach Bill Self acknowledged the school would not have been able to land center Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft after a one-and-done season in Lawrence, Kan., if Shepherd had accepted the Jayhawks’ offer coming out of high school.
“It’s weird how things work out,” Self said at the time. “We offered Karviar a scholarship, and we only had one to give. And if he’d taken it, then we would have been out on [Embiid]. But he committed to TCU.”
A new role
Shepherd has been a regular presence in the Frogs’ rotation ever since, starting in 94 of the 106 games he has played at TCU. But he’s yet to average double digits as a scorer for a full season, with a 9.1 mark in his freshman year the high-water mark.
He’s battled a recurring back issue the past two seasons and, for the past five games, has come off the bench in relief of 6-11 sophomore Vladimir Brodziansky, who has emerged as the team’s co-leading scorer (11.2 average) and top shot blocker (33).
But Shepherd is far from a forgotten piece in Dixon’s rotation. He’s averaged 14.4 minutes per game and has been a locker-room leader and key rim protector while averaging 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Things happen for a reason. I’m blessed to be in the situation I’m in now.
He’s coming off arguably his best game of the season in his new role. Shepherd scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a shot in 14 minutes of action during Tuesday’s 60-57 victory over Oklahoma. A pair of Shepherd free throws with 3:38 remaining gave TCU its first lead, 56-54, and Shepherd’s jumper with 2:03 remaining provided the Frogs’ final points during a 6-0 run in a comeback from a nine-point deficit with 14:12 to play.
“I was so happy for Karviar, with the plays he made down the stretch. He’s such a great kid with a great attitude,” Dixon said. “He’s not worried about stats. Obviously, he’s coming off the bench now. But we feel like we have a good rotation inside.
“I go over his career and health has been a concern, especially his back. And I think confidence has. Confidence is hard to gain when you’re hurt and you’re not winning and you’re not practicing and not on the floor on a consistent basis.”
Dixon cited confidence as the trait he’s tried hardest to instill in Shepherd since taking over the program in March. Shepherd indicated the Oklahoma game, which allowed TCU to reach the .500 mark in Big 12 play for the first time in any season, should do a lot to help him.
5.9 Shepherd’s scoring average in his senior season, down from a career-best 9.1 as a freshman.
“I just wanted to do something for my team, to contribute. Those free throws helped us out, and that’s all I want to do for my team is help them out and put us in the best position to win,” said Shepherd, one of four seniors who have been part of TCU teams with a combined regular-season mark of 7-49 in Big 12 play since joining the program for the 2013-14 season. But this year’s record is 1-1, including an 86-80 loss to No. 3 Kansas (13-1. 2-0).
Shepherd said he still harbors NBA dreams. But he is glad that he stayed at TCU for four seasons to complete his college degree and be part of whatever this team accomplishes in its turnaround season.
“For the four seniors who have been here throughout the whole Big 12 time, it’s been tough on us,” Shepherd said. “But we’re part of a team now that’s going to help us win more games. This is expected for us this year. We want to win more and we’re going to win more.
“Having a degree coming from TCU is obviously a great thing for me, being the first in my family to graduate from college. It shows I’m not just a basketball player. I’m more than that.”
As for the NBA, Shepherd said it remains “a top priority” but his college education offers a solid “Plan B” for life after basketball.
Dixon indicated Shepherd could earn more minutes if his back remains healthy and his production level continues to rival what he showed against OU. Rest assured, Shepherd understands what remains left to prove to NBA scouts.
“This is it. It’s put a little bit more edge on it,” Shepherd said, reflecting on his senior season. “There’s no next year. You just want to show people you can do your best. As a player, I want to be better at everything. Whatever [Dixon] tells me I need to be better at, I want to do that. He sees what I don’t see. I’m taking criticism in a good way.”
In retrospect, Shepherd is happy he did not follow the one-and-done college path he once envisioned upon arrival in Fort Worth.
TCU men at No. 7 West Virginia
Noon Saturday, ESPNU