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10/02/2013

TCU basketball is not the worst job any more

FORT WORTH, Texas - For decades one of the worst Division I men's basketball coaching jobs in the nation was Baylor. TCU was not much better, if not worse.

Trent-JohnsonThe students did not much care to attend the games. There was zero tradition. About the only thing that separated the two was that Baylor was stuck with the Dave Bliss scandal while TCU just lost.

Baylor got lucky when head coach Scott Drew figured out a way to recruit big-time Division I talent to Waco, and the Bears have become the best team in Texas over the past few years. 

Only now in his second-season can TCU head coach Trent Johnson say he has a good job. He would never say it, but only until the school finally elected to spend serious dollars on the program did he have a genuine chance.

Now that TCU is in the process of raising money to re-do the badly out-dated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum can Johnson sell something other than a pretty campus, pretty girls, etc. The school is making an investment in a program that for years it casually cared about. TCU wants to make its basketball program a bigger revenue producer, and the only way to do that is win.

While many (me included) were skeptical about TCU's decision to hire Johnson away from LSU, it does look like this has the makings of a hire that can work. Landing a major-league recruiting class in his first full year to do so should give everyone who even casually cares about this team a reason to watch.

1152666It was not necessarily a matter of Johnson's ability to coach but rather attract the type of talent necessary to compete in the Big 12. You can be a wonderful X & O coach but if the talent does not come in high D-I basketball it does not matter.

When Johnson signed freshmen Karviar Shepherd, Brandon Parrish and Hudson Price he demonstrated he can get the kid.

Shepherd is the team's biggest high school signee since Billy Tubbs signed Damion Walker out of Dallas in the '90s, and later juco-transfer Lee Nailon in 1997. Talent-wise, Shepherd should be this team's best player since Kurt Thomas.

Throw in the return of forward Amric Fields, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and TCU has enough talent to be a thorn for the Big 12. They're not ready to win, but they are in a position to compete and be close.

Johnson is not saying he is going to have four freshmen starters, but he will have four freshmen are going to play a lot. Johnson is confident he has players who can win. 

"It's going to be hard (with so many freshmen) but it's not an excuse.  Younger guys play more now," he said. "There were six or seven games we got to the four-minute mark and it was close and we didn't get it done. I'm not blaming them. Now when we get to those points, I can't leave them alone, you have to find a way."

For the few who followed this team last season, they saw a team that grinded on opponents and played down to the low 50s. That is not Johnson's preference. He wants to play. Winning in college basketball usually requires 70.

He had no choice last season to slow it down and pray his team could keep it close. Once Fields went down early in the season, the only genuine Big 12 caliber player he had was point guard Kyan Anderson. He can play at any speed.

"We can get out and play well because we have people who can rebound and better skill people," he said. "What we have now we can play faster with certain people because we can shoot the ball."

Johnson is not trying to win any popularity contests. This is a hard-driving man who is unafraid of his opinion. He is not for every kid. But his track record from Nevada to Stanford to LSU says he can win.

"The third year has been when we kinda taken off," he said. "But I can't wait that long."

TCU was 11-21 last season, and 2-16 in the Big 12. If it can sniff .500 this season, and seven conference wins, call it a major success.

If this class matures, and Johnson signs or two more legit players, he should have enough to make a run at a winning record in his third year.

Given the money the school is spending on the program, this can happen. TCU is no longer such a bad job.

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