TCU made strides in Pebley’s second season, with new stars on way

TCU’s AJ Alix (23) passes the ball against Eastern Michigan in a second-round WNIT win. Alix began to thrive this past season as a sophomore.
TCU’s AJ Alix (23) passes the ball against Eastern Michigan in a second-round WNIT win. Alix began to thrive this past season as a sophomore. Star-Telegram

For TCU coach Raegan Pebley and the overwhelming majority of college basketball coaches across the country, the end of the season both comes too soon and offers an opportunity to take stock of the state of the program.

Pebley’s second year on campus at TCU saw the Horned Frogs reach the WNIT and advance for the second straight season, albeit in a second-tier postseason tournament.

The Frogs ended the year at 18-15 and 8-10 in the Big 12 Conference with a thud of a loss, 81-64 to Kansas to open the conference tournament, before shedding the poor performance with two wins to advance to the WNIT round of 16.

Kansas had gone winless in Big 12 regular-season play.

TCU blew out UT Rio Grande Valley in the first round and sneaked past Eastern Michigan before the Horned Frogs’ season ended with a 79-71 loss at UT El Paso in the WNIT’s Artificially Sweetened 16.

The two postseason wins did tie the 2015-16 Horned Frogs for the deepest postseason run in program history. But Pebley sees more concrete evidence of growth in the program in roster holdovers and incoming talent.

Guard AJ Alix gained confidence all season simply by being available and active on the roster more often than during her freshman year.

The sophomore went from averages of 8.6 minutes and 3.1 points per game last season to second on the team in both stats (29.8 minutes, 11.9 points).

“She went from being a nice piece and an important piece to really being someone we depended on as a team,” Pebley said of Alix. “We’ll need AJ, Toree [Thompson], Jada [Butts] and Sydney [Coleman] to take another step collectively and add something to each of their game on the defensive end.”

The Frogs need so much from so many in the backcourt because Zahna Medley, the purple-and-white-wrapped gift Pebley was given when she arrived at TCU, is out of eligibility.

Medley stormed to the front of the TCU record books in career points (1,975) and 3-pointers (316) during her senior season.

For the last three seasons, Medley has been everything for TCU, and piecing together the backcourt dynamic is one of Pebley’s biggest action items for next year.

“Coaches can go their entire career without coaching a player like Zahna,” Pebley said. “All the talent in the world, but what outsiders don’t see is how hard she works and what a strong desire she has to keep getting better.

“When you get one like Zahna, you just have to enjoy it. Serve them. Let their attitude and leadership be the voice of the team.”

So as Medley and four other seniors leave after making their mark on TCU basketball, five freshmen will compose TCU’s most heralded incoming recruiting class ever.

The Frogs have what they hope to be their next premier guard in Amber Ramirez, TCU’s first McDonald’s All American recruit (men or women).

She was the star of the Powerade Jamfest shooting contests in Chicago on Monday. Then she scored 21 points for the East, hitting five 3-pointers, Wednesday night in the girls McDonald’s All American Game in a 97-88 loss.

Ramirez, a 5-foot-8 point guard from San Antonio Wagner, is a three-time all-state selection who led the Thunderbirds to the Class 5A state tournament as a sophomore and the 6A state tourney as a junior. TCU’s class also includes three recruits from the Austin area.

“We’re going to need all five to come in and contribute,” Pebley said. “We don’t recruit kids to be passive. We recruit kids to get busy and get better. Depth is a huge part of a championship team, and that’s where we’re trying to go.”

Ramirez is listed as the 13th best recruit in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz.