Overlooked? Counted out? Desmond Bane knows what TCU is facing all too well

TCU needs to flip the switch at Texas on Saturday.
TCU needs to flip the switch at Texas on Saturday. AP

Desmond Bane likes TCU basketball’s position.

Nobody is giving the Frogs much of a chance to win the Big 12 tournament. Nobody has them a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Nobody is counting on a program down to seven scholarship players and with an assistant coach linked to the FBI’s college basketball corruption case to make much noise.

“I love it. It’s just extra motivation, always being counted out,” Bane said. “That’s kind of why I went to this school. TCU hadn’t done much, so carrying that chip on the shoulder all the way through.”

Yes, TCU is not known for its basketball history.

This is a program that has not made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances since the 1952-53 season. This is a program that has never won a postseason conference championship. This is a program that hasn’t had big-time recruits flooding through its doors.

Instead, it’s players such as Bane who have helped put TCU on the map. Bane, much like TCU’s program, flew under the radar in basketball-crazed Indiana.

He didn’t draw interest from any of the state’s schools. Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame didn’t call. Not even smaller schools such as Indiana State expressed much interest.

Bane eventually landed at TCU and has developed into the top-scoring threat.

He joked that teammates nicknamed him “Honey Bun” when he first arrived on campus with 16 percent body fat. He’s now down to 6 percent body fat and led the Big 12 with 35.7 minutes played per game in the regular season.

The “Honey Bun” nickname no longer exists after hours of work with strength and conditioning coach Steve Gephardt.

“Coach Gephardt and I have put a lot of time and energy into my diet, going as hard as I can in the weight room, extra conditioning,” said Bane, who has started 47 straight games for TCU dating back to last season.

“That really helped me improve my game. Just constant hours in the gym.”

All of the work came to fruition Saturday when Bane dropped a career-high 34 points in TCU’s 69-56 victory over Texas in Austin, and the next day earned All-Big 12 second-team honors by the league’s coaches.

TCU (19-12, 7-11 Big 12) kept its postseason dreams alive with Saturday’s win, and gives it momentum going into the Big 12 tournament. No. 8-seeded TCU faces No. 9 Oklahoma State on Wednesday at 6 p.m., a critical game that likely pushes TCU into the NCAAs with a win.

“Getting a win on the road and a sweep of Texas is always big, it’s a big confidence booster,” Bane said. “We’re feeling good going into the tournament.”

Unique upbringing

Bane’s mother had him when she was young. She wasn’t ready for the demands of parenting at the time, opting for a similar social life of her peers.

And his father, Etieno Ekiko, lives in Nigeria.

So, at the age of 2, Bane’s great grandparents, Bob and Fabbie Bane, took him into their home and raised him. They took him all across the state, from Cincinnati to Dayton to Indianapolis, for select league basketball and baseball games.

Desmond arguably shined more in baseball than basketball in his younger days, belting countless home runs out of the park.

“He was a natural athlete from Day 1,” Bob Bane said. “I have dozens of baseballs that he hit out of the park. You wouldn’t believe how hard he hit a ball.”

But Desmond loved basketball the most. He’d shovel the driveway during the winter months just so he could shoot despite the freezing temperatures.

Desmond went on to have a stellar career at Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, Indiana. But Seton Catholic played in the lowest division of the state, Class A, part of the reason Desmond went overlooked. It wasn’t his stats.

He averaged 30 points and 11.5 rebounds his senior season, scoring 62 points in one game. His high school team had a 71-27 record during his time there, but for whatever reason he wasn’t a coveted player in his home state.

“It is what it is. I would’ve loved to play close to home, but I have a strong belief in everything happens for a reason,” Desmond said. “It all worked out perfectly.”

Just like his upbringing. He called being raised by his great grandparents a “blessing,” but he still has a close relationship with his mother and father.

His mother attends several games, and Desmond is planning a trip to Nigeria to visit his father next summer.

“At the time we took him in, I was just retiring from my job and I saw he wasn’t getting the care that he needed,” Bob said. “I just brought him home and said, ‘This is home.’ He was very happy here. I know he felt more secure. He was such a good little guy. Bringing him up was no challenge at all.”

Said Fabbie: “We never had any trouble with Desmond. Sports was always his thing. When he watched television, he had sports on all the time. Sports is his life.”

Finishing strong

TCU is a better team when Desmond Bane is “on.”

The Frogs are 7-0 when Bane reaches the 20-point mark this season, and those nights usually correlate with a fast start. That’s what happened for him Saturday in Austin.

Bane got a lucky bounce early on, and then seemed unstoppable afterward. He drained his first six 3-point attempts, finishing 6-for-8 from long range, and ended up with 14 made field goals, the most made field goals since Junior Blount in 2002.

Coach Jamie Dixon credited Bane and TCU’s offense getting on track with transition baskets.

“That’s where he got a lot of them,” Dixon said. “He bounced in that first one off the set play, which gave him confidence. When you kind of miss a shot but it goes in, you feel good.”

Bane has to keep that aggressive nature if TCU wants to enjoy a lengthy stay in March Madness. He knows that.

Bane has gone through games this season where he hasn’t scored in the first half.

“I definitely need to be involved in the offense and be aggressive,” Bane said. “But we have a lot of guys who can do it and a lot of guys who can score. It’ll be different guys, but I do need to remain aggressive and take good shots.”

Bane is leading TCU in scoring at 15.2 points a game, which is fourth in the Big 12, and has the best 3-point percentage (40.5 percent) on the team. He’s been held to single-digit points in only five of 18 conference games this season.

And Bane has been among the most durable by leading the team in minutes played. His last eight games has seen him play the following minutes: 44, 36, 40, 39, 53, 34, 36 and 40.

Bane has no complaints, though, and feels good about the rotation TCU is taking into tournament season. Some may feel it’s depleted. Some may feel it’s too thin.

But being counted out is nothing new to Bane.

“Coach Dixon and some of our leaders have done a great job of saying, ‘What we have is what we have and these are the guys we’re going to ride with,’” Bane said. “I think now is when we’re really starting to come together as a group.

“After the last game at Texas, it kind of felt how it did when we were hitting the NIT my freshman year. Just everybody coming together and focusing on one goal -- winning a basketball game.”

TCU junior guard Desmond Bane scored a career-high 34 points at Texas on Saturday. Bane and TCU desperately needed the win to help the program's NCAA tournament dreams.

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