Another step in the process for TCU and new men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon takes place with the first official day of practice for the upcoming season.
And Dixon is clear about the basketball program at his alma mater.
“There is no rebuild here. I told our guys that the other day,” he said this week. “I know it’s not what you’re supposed to say as a first-year coach. You’re supposed to say, ‘Give me time. We need to rebuild. I need to get my guys.’ These are my guys. We’re here to compete right away. We expect to and you can’t settle for anything else.”
A “crinic” (critic and cynic) would contend that there needs to have been a structure in place to have a rebuild. The harsh truth is that TCU basketball has accrued precious little tradition and success in its history bank account.
In four seasons in the Big 12, the Frogs have won a total of eight league games. Since 1936-37, TCU has a total of 11 20-win seasons and 30 seasons with single-digit victories. Once has the school had back-to-back 20-win seasons and once it has put together three consecutive 20-win seasons
Dixon, a 1987 graduate, is aware of the school’s basketball pedigree, but to him it means little going forward. The new Schollmaier Arena that debuted last season gave TCU a facility upgrade that was 20 years overdue. Dixon’s success at Pitt – 328-123 in 13 seasons with 11 NCAA Tournaments – proved that the school is serious about basketball.
This season figures to be another long slog for the Frogs, but already there are signs of a turnaround. Dixon was able to sign three freshmen in the spring. The top player in the group is four-star point guard Jaylen Fisher. He was ranked No. 34 nationally and becomes the highest-ranked recruit in school history.
This weekend, with Oklahoma visiting for a Big 12 football game, Dixon’s staff will be hosting a number of recruits. TCU, currently ranked No. 31 nationally by 247Sports.com, has two verbal recruits for the 2017 class, both from four-stars – R.J. Nembhard, a 6-foot-4 guard from Keller, Texas, and Kevin Samuel, a 6-foot-10 center from Houston. The unexpected signing of Smith plus the current commitments have created recruiting momentum.
“Jaylen obviously is a special talent and a special kid at the same time,” said Dixon, whose first comments during a media availability earlier this week were about recruiting. “He made it cool to come here. There’s no question about that. He’s the kind of guy that people listen to and follow. You need that.”
While Fisher could well step in and be the team’s point guard, Dixon is not committed to a youth movement. One of the reasons he’s not interested in a “rebuild” attitude is that he wants the four seniors – forwards Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn, guards Michael Williams and Brandon Parrish – to experience a positive and hopefully winning final season.
“I want these seniors to be part of turning this thing,” Dixon said. “I’m impressed with these four guys. They’ve been through and fought through a lot. It’s easy to fight through when you’re winning 30 games and going to the NCAA Tournament. These guys have had a lot of challenges during their career.
Dixon’s Pitt teams had a blue-collar mentality with defense and rebounding being the top priorities. Thus far, he’s liked how the players have bought in.
“He’s really preaching toughness,” Williams said of Dixon. “Leadership, obviously, is a big quality and he’s a great leader. He’s a great coach. We want to leave a legacy. This is our senior year, our final chance to do that. We’re looking to make big things happen.”
Dixon has coached in the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences during periods when both were considered the best in college basketball. The Big 12 has been the No. 1-rated league in RPI each of the last two seasons. Moving up in the standings is a challenge for a program that has made just seven NCAA Tournament appearances with just one March Madness victory since 1971.
“I think we have the ability to be a team that’s at the top of the league every single year,” Dixon said. “I know there’s no history to base that upon. But we’ve got to have blind faith. I want to be a program … where you get into the tournament and it’s expected, and anything less is not a good year. And I think we have everything in place here to do that.”