It is the NIT but for four seniors whose names you likely don’t know it may as well be the NCAA Final Four, and for a fan base that hasn’t been given a reason to care about basketball Tuesday night could have passed for the NBA Finals.
With all due respect to every other college basketball program in the country, what TCU, head coach Jamie Dixon and his group of obscure players pulled off this season is the most impressive feat of all.
Dixon will not win the National Coach of the Year award, even though he should, and the nation won’t notice TCU until it reaches the NCAA Sweet 16. This season, however, has been the culmination of a brutally difficult building project that now yields something other than apathy, indifference and losses.
TCU basketball was not a rebuild. To rebuild means something was there to start. Never forget this was the worst Power 5 coaching job in the nation for years. TCU was to basketball what Kansas proudly remains to football.
Watching the Horned Frogs defeat Richmond in a suspense-less 86-68 game in the NIT quarterfinals at Schollmaier Arena should be the launching point for this program to become Baylor. Now that TCU has reached New York City for the NIT semifinals, there is something to build and sell.
“We are not done and we are not where we need to be but it’s a good year,” Dixon said.
A trip to New York City for the NIT should not be considered the equivalent of the TCU football team winning the Rose Bowl but this is the first tangible proof of sustainable success for this program in decades.
If you are TCU, you want to be Baylor basketball ... minus, you know, the three-year NCAA probation. And the murder. And if you can keep sexual assault denial fest out of it, that would be pretty great, too.
What coach Scott Drew and Baylor have built should be both an inspiration and a model of sorts for TCU. Drew has used the NIT to launch what is now a regular NCAA team.
“The program has come so far,” TCU said senior guard Brandon Parrish, who was the first oral commitment to TCU and previous head coach Trent Johnson. “I was here my freshman year in a winless (0-18 Big 12) season, and now I’m about to go to New York for the NIT.
“There were some definite down times in my career. There were times I didn’t see the light.”
Who can blame him? For a long time he and fellow seniors Chris Washburn Jr., Karviar Shepherd and Michael Williams played in a home court that was a high school gym.
“It does mean a lot to me because of the personal part of it,” Dixon said. “I felt I could be the guy who could be a part of this thing. I’m not Mr. Sentimental, but I wanted people to be proud of their basketball program.”
No school in Texas is a “basketball school” but as Baylor, Houston, UTEP, SMU and at times Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech have shown the team can be a source of pride, success, revenue and marketability for a university.
In the last few years, Baylor basketball has become a national brand complete with NBA prospects, NCAA bids and Top 25 rankings.
Other than the sporadic blip in the ’80s or ’90s, TCU never had that from its basketball team.
Tuesday night’s win marks the furthest a TCU team has ever advanced in a postseason tournament. And in the win junior forward Kenrich Williams became the first player in school history to record a triple-double (11 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists).
“I didn’t even know I was close to a triple-double until my teammates told me,” said Williams, who came out of high school with no scholarship offers to Division I schools.
It’s worth mentioning TCU previously recorded its first ever win over the top-ranked team in the country when it defeated Kansas in the Big 12 tournament.
TCU has sponsored a men’s basketball team since 1913, and it took this long for these milestones to occur.
But it did and with Dixon, the new arena and returning players like Williams, Desmond Bane, JD Miller, Vlad Brodziansky, the program is marketable to fans and players.
The firsts are out of the way for TCU, and now it is on to New York and the NIT.
After that, it’s the NCAAs.