TCU's locker room celebration and Jamie Dixon's speech following NIT Championship win
For an 18th consecutive season, the NBA Draft came and went Thursday night without the selection of a player from TCU. The ESPN telecast concluded with zero speculation about a potential Horned Frogs’ draftee.
Expect that to change in a big way next season, assuming guard Kenrich Williams and forward Vladimir Brodziansky continue along the upward spirals on their career arcs they showed while leading the Horned Frogs to an NIT championship in March.
Both players will be seniors, and returning starters, on a team that returns its top six scorers and its entire starting lineup. TCU also will add five newcomers to the roster in its second season under coach Jamie Dixon, which will begin with visions of building on last year’s 24-15 record.
TCU already has been projected into three sets of “Way Too Early” Top 25 rankings for next season by Yahoo Sports (No. 17), USA Today (No. 22) and Sports Illustrated (No. 24). Dixon and players talk openly about earning the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998 and making a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
If that type of success unfolds next season, expect Williams and Brodziansky to be deeply involved. Either, or both, could emerge as TCU’s first selection in an NBA draft since 1999, when Lee Nailon went to the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 43 pick.
At the very least, expect both players to be a significant part of 2018 draft discussions if Williams, a 6-foot-7 guard, and Brodziansky, a 6-11 forward, build on last year’s success. In playground parlance, when it comes to next year’s NBA draft, “TCU’s got next” after almost two decades of dormancy.
Williams, selected as the NIT’s most outstanding player, averaged 11.4 points per game and led the team in rebounds (9.7 avg.) and double-double performances (19) last season. Brodziansky, a second-team selection to the All-Big 12 squad, led the team in scoring (14.1 avg.) and blocked shots (82).
In summing up the season, Williams made it clear he envisioned the postseason run to an NIT title as a springboard to a breakthrough 2017-18 campaign for himself and the Horned Frogs.
“This is huge for us. I think people are starting to realize that our basketball team is on the map,” said Williams, who missed the 2015-16 season with a knee injury but capped last year by averaging 15.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists during TCU’s five-game run to an NIT title. “It’s big because, coming into the season, they had us picked last in the Big 12.”
For next year’s Frogs, there will be heightened expectations. Depending on how the season unfolds, some of TCU’s underclassmen could have decisions to make about NBA futures next June. But there has been zero indication that either of the team’s prized freshmen from last season (guards Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane) is looking at anything beyond his sophomore season at this juncture.
Both players clearly have next-level potential at some point. Fisher, the highest-rated recruit in program history (No. 34 nationally by ESPN), averaged 9.9 points per game last season and led all Big 12 freshmen in assists (140). Bane averaged 7.1 points per game and was the lone player from a college in Texas invited to training camp for the USA Under-19 World Cup Team that will compete July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt.
Although he was cut from the squad earlier this week, Bane said: “It was a great chance to see where I am against the top players in the country. By being selected to the training camp, I proved that I belong.”
TCU hopes to prove that it belongs as a permanent inclusion in next season’s Top 25 rankings and NCAA Tournament projections. The Frogs envision getting an early jump on next season with a proposed summer trip to Australia (in conjunction with the TCU women’s team) that tentatively is set for Aug. 5-16.
NCAA teams are allowed one overseas trip in a four-year cycle and the Frogs will be using theirs in advance of the most-anticipated men’s basketball season in decades. Dixon said his goal is to take the TCU program on deep runs in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis, as he did during 11 of his 13 seasons at Pittsburgh.
One offshoot of such a run, if it occurs next March, projects to be more focus on TCU players during the 2018 NBA Draft. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, a Dallas resident, envisions such attention becoming an annual occurrence under Dixon.
“This is a great launching pad for TCU basketball going forward,” Fraschilla said of the team’s NIT title. “It springboards them on to bigger and better things. This opportunity for those six (high-profile returnees), their workouts this summer and fall are going to be even more lively knowing what they’ve tasted this year.”
For Williams and Brodziansky, there’s also the chance to become the first TCU players in almost two decades to be selected during next June’s NBA Draft.