When Jim Christian left TCU to return to the conference where he is the all-time winningest coach, athletics director Chris del Conte had a chance to make a big hire that would once bring competitiveness to TCU basketball as it entered the Big 12.
Enter Trent Johnson.
He’s turned around programs before. He’s sent player after player to the NBA, and he has been coach of the year in every conference he’s coached in.
On Friday, his tenure at TCU will begin when the Frogs host Cal Poly at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
TCU’s motto for the season is “Don’t Look Back.”
Predicted anywhere from 8th to 10th in the preseason Big 12 poll, Trent Johnson knows his basketball team has a ways to go.
“For us to be successful [the players] are going to have to do somethings really really well,” Johnson said. “Number one of that is compete at a high level. We’ve got to get better defensively, and then we have got to rebound the ball. I feel really good that if we are right. Right meaning mentally, physically. When we’re right. We’re going to play a good brand of basketball. But therein lies the challenge.”
“You’ve got to come to practice every day with the mindset that you have to get better,” senior Garlon Green said. “This game of basketball is hard. One part of having that mental toughness is getting up every day with the determination to work.”
On the recruiting trail, Trent Johnson has already made a splash by garnering commitments from three highly sought-after players from Texas.
But Johnson has a long and arduous journey ahead of him to bring TCU back to prominence in basketball.
For now, Johnson is focused on his team. How can this team compete? For Johnson, the answer is mental toughness and sustaining a level of competitiveness that coaches and players alike must demand of themselves.
So let’s take a look at the TCU roster:
Kyan Anderson-Anderson is tasked with being the coach on the floor for Trent Johnson. The Fort Worth native showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman season. Anderson is a good passer who makes the game easier for his teammates. Johnson has asked him to be more vocal on the floor. Hank Thorns is gone, and Anderson will play a lot of minutes for the Frogs this season. He must shoot the ball well from three-point range while getting teammates involved as well.
Clyde Smith III-Smith is a freshman from Houston, Texas. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he has natural scoring ability. Smith will slot into the role played by Kyan Anderson last year. If Smith can prove that he can defend consistently, his offensive game will come in spurts. The key for Smith will be playing within himself and not pushing to hard in just his freshman season, but Clyde Smith is a promising young player with a bright future in a TCU uniform.
Chris Zurcher-Zurcher is a just a walk-on from San Antonio. However, he has impressed head coach Trent Johnson with his consistency and willingness to work hard. Zurcher is a savvy player who is under-skilled, but he can defend and get the team into their offense. Zurcher may play sparingly, but he would be available in emergency situations.
Jarvis Ray-Ray is now a junior, and he was academically inelligible at the end of last season. He is long, rangy, and athletically gifted. He has struggled with his shot over the last two seasons, but Ray has a chance to improve under new head coach Trent Johnson. It’s all about toughness for Johnson, and Ray is athletics, rangy, and aggressive. He is being challenged to commit to defending, and his playing time will likely be contingent on how he defends.
Nate Butler-Butler is a senior guard who can do a little bit of everything on the court. His biggest hinderance to success last year was consistency with his shot. Like Ray, Butler is long and has the body that could make him a good defender in the physical Big 12. The shooting guard position is a spot from which most team’s get a chunk of their scoring. Butler and Ray need to elevate their game’s this season in order for TCU to reach their full potential.
Clyde Smith III could also see some playing time at the shooting guard position alongside Kyan Anderson.
Charles Hill-Hill is a freshman guard from Fort Worth who was one of the most athletic prospects in Texas in the class of 2012. I’ve said it once. I can say it again. Hill’s playing time will likely depend on how consistently he can defend. Hill’s athleticism gives him a bright future in a TCU uniform. If he continues to show improvement as the season goes on, Hill could garner a spot in the TCU rotation.
Amric Fields-Trent Johnson called Amric Fields one of the most talented players he has ever coached. Fields is quiet by nature, but he needs to possess a more aggressive mindset this season. Trent Johnson said that Fields may well grow into the role of go-to guy as the season goes on, but Johnson says he does not want to pressure Fields into accepting any role he’s not ready for. If TCU is going to reach its potential this season, Amric Fields must be a go-to guy. After averaging 9.6 points per game, Fields seems poised to take a step forward in 2012-2013.
Connell Crossland-Crossland has drawn praise from Trent Johnson for his consistency. Crossland is a “glue guy.” He is a good rebounder. He’s scrappy around the basket, and he has a knack for coming up with loose balls. Crossland will play an important role off the bench and give TCU needed depth. Crossland started eight games a season ago. At 6’8 he can play both the small forward and power forward positions. Crossland needs to continue to develop his shot to open up other offensive opportunities for himself. He had a career high 11 rebounds a season ago against USC.
Garlon Green-Green heads into his senior season as another important piece for the Frogs. Green works as hard as anyone on the team, but he battled a brutal shooting slump a season ago. While shooting just 33 percent from the three point arc, Green averaged 9.9 points per game. Trent Johnson and co. will ask him to do more rebounding this season at the power forward position. Green is a physical player. Expect Johnson to encourage Green to use that physicality more and focus his offensive game on getting to the free throw line.
DeVonta Abron-the Arkansas transfer was a lot to handle for Trent Johnson’s LSU teams a season ago. He pulled in 13 rebounds against LSU in their first matchup, and he hauled in a season-high 16 rebounds against a very physical Connecticut team. Trent Johnson has said that Abron is the one guy with big league experience. Johnson likes to run his offense through the big men, so Abron will have ample opportunities to show his skills. Rebounding must be a team effort, but Abron needs to lead the way and own the paint.
Freshman center Aaron Durley is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Adrick McKinney-Trent Johnson has praised McKinney’s improvement and acceptance of his new role as a rebounder, defender, and physical paint presence. McKinney will be a senior and must play within himself this season. He is not a back to the basket scorer. He is a guy who must crash the offensive glass and get garbage buckets. McKinney has arms as big as tree trunks and all the requisite physicality necessary to play in the Big 12. McKinney’s best game last season came when TCU took down UNLV at home. McKinney had a career high 16 points and pulled down 3 offensive rebounds. His best rebounding game came against Evansville when he pulled down 14 boards (5 offensive).
Big 12 outlook
Kansas-Bill Self has three starters back from his Final Four team from a year ago. Freshman Perry Ellis will also play a key role for the Jayhawks. Center Jeff Withey is my preseason pick for most improved player in the conference.
Baylor-Baylor is loaded and Scott Drew has a lot of momentum going in Waco. Pierre Jackson was quite a find from the JUCO ranks a season ago. He may be one of the nation’s top point guards this season. And by the way, Baylor now has a 7’1 behemoth down low in Isaiah Austin who was one of the nation’s top recruits last season.
Kansas State-Bruce Weber now leads the Wildcats after Frank Martin left for a job at South Carolina. Rodney McGruder has a chance to be Big 12 player of the year, and Kansas State will likely go as far as McGruder can carry them.
Texas-I placed Kansas State ahead of the Longhorns by the narrowest of margins. Rick Barnes has another solid squad. Starting point guard Myck Kabongo is having problems with taking impermissible benefits, and the Longhorns must have him if they are going to reach their potential. Aaron Durley’s high school teammate Cameron Ridley will be an impact freshman for the Horns.
Okahoma State-The Pokes have a lot of potential. Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart will be a great duo. Smart was named Big 12 preseason freshman of the year, and these two back-to-back McDonalds All-Americans have expectations high in Stillwater.
Oklahoma-The Sooners have a nice coach in Lon Kruger. He will get the program back on track. Steven Pledger is the key player for the Sooners. Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye is a wildcard this year for the Sooners. M’Baye was a force in the Mountain West and is a welcome addition for the Sooners.
Iowa State-The Cyclones lost a lot of talent off last year’s team. Royce White is gone, but Iowa State added transfer guard Korie Lucious who was once the point guard for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. With Lucious at the helm, Iowa State could move up a bit in these conference standings, but Lucious will need some help from guys like Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
West Virginia-Bob Huggins has a remarkable young roster. Fear the beard of center Deniz Kilicli. Two transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray will play key roles. The Mountaineers may struggle early, but improve rapidly as the season progresses. Bob Huggins is a must-see attraction.
TCU-Trent Johnson leads TCU’s maiden voyage through the conference. Without seniors J.R. Cadot and Hank Thorns, TCU will need some of their young talent to step up quickly.
Texas Tech-The Billy Gillespie experiment was rough. Their best recruit in the 2012 class, Wannah Bail, has already left the team, and Chris Walker (new head coach) has his work cut out for him.