Every senior night of every year in college athletics could be touted as the end of
Next year’s team will be completely composed of players current head coach Jamie Dixon has recruited since he arrived in 2016. Since then, the program has won an NIT Championship, reached the NCAA Tournament after a 20-year drought and has a chance to earn back-to-back March Madness invites for the first time since 1952-1953.
“No doubt Coach Dixon has brought in some great guys, but for the most part of the last two or three seasons, the core of the team was Trent Johnson’s guys, as opposed to this season where there are only two of them now, but those two are playing big minutes and shouldering huge roles for the team,” said Brandon Parrish, TCU basketball’s all-time leader in games played.
As a program that wasn’t known for winning to go along with its outdated facilities, Johnson had to find high-character recruits he could trust with rebuilding the program.
“How do you recruit to that?” Johnson said. “You recruit high-character kids that believe in something. That’s their legacy. Right now, the program is
Those high-character players included Robinson, Miller, Parrish, Vladimir Brodziansky, Chris Washburn Jr., Karviar Shepherd
“I told guys that they needed to come here for the school because I could keel over tomorrow and that they needed to come for each other,” Johnson said. “They’re great kids that come from great families. I was the beneficiary of that and so is Jamie.”
Robinson almost wasn’t one of those players.
Before he was the Horned Frogs’ all-time leader in assists, Alex Robinson headed to College Station to start his college career.
“When I was recruiting Alex the first time out of high school, he wanted to go somewhere where he could have the potential to be a brand,” Johnson said. “Johnny Manziel had been at A&M and Robert Griffin III had been at Baylor. I had coached at Stanford from 2004-2008, so I brought up Andrew Luck in our conversation.”
Shortly after that conversation, Robinson committed to be an Aggie.
During his freshman year in College Station during the 2014-15 season, he averaged 5.2 points per game and 2.6 assists per game in 18.8 minutes per game for a team that lost in the second round of the NIT during a 21-12 season.
While the Horned Frogs went 50-79 overall and 8-64 in Big 12 play under Johnson, TCU was family, and Robinson felt that immediately when he decided to transfer.
“If it wasn’t for [Johnson], I wouldn’t have the opportunity to come back here, so I’m just blessed because he was still willing to open the door for me,” Robinson said. “It means a lot just because you know, this is my mom’s alma mater and now mine and being able to turn the program around and develop a winning program and to be one of the guys that started it.”
Johnson ensured that type of tight-knit atmosphere was cultivated, despite the on-court results not going their way.
“That’s crazy JD and I are the last ones because I remember when I first got here is I was rooming with Kenrich, Vlad, and Chris Washburn,” Robinson said. “It just speaks on a family environment. We all talk regularly, and we all even do that with this new team, all the old guys, they all talk to these new guys. So, it’s just it’s gone by so fast.”
Long gone are the times of playing in the “portable” that was Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, as Schollmaier Arena stands as one of the many markers of TCU basketball’s evolution. The project was a $72 million renovation that was completed prior to the 2015-2016 season.
“For the guys that are coming in now, they have a responsibility to understand what these other guys went though to get this thing where it’s at,” Johnson said. “Oh my goodness, they’re not in a portable now.”
In Dixon’s first season in charge, the Horned Frogs earned a then-program-high six conference wins in the Big 12, upset No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and dominated the NIT for its first postseason title in program history.
The difference was what Robinson termed as a mindset of “selflessness” that permeated the locker room upon Dixon’s arrival, even if it was discomforting in the beginning.
“I think it set up the culture we have now. Just being selfless and sharing the ball and everything coach Dixon wanted to put into this team,” he said.
“It’s crazy because Coach Dixon called our 2017 group of seniors the believers, but I believe everyone that came in under Trent Johnson was a believer,” he said. “They made a dedicated commitment to come to TCU at a time when it was just a good school that played in the Big 12, and the guys in that era that we recruited were guys that believed we could turn the program around and guys who saw a rainy day at the beginning but saw sunlight at the end.”
Robinson said adjusting to a new staff wasn’t easy, and he would know, having played for three different staffs in five years. However, Dixon’s approach led to results, as Robinson finished his debut season with TCU as the team’s leader in both rebounds and assists, cracking the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team for his efforts. This season, he averages a career-high 13.2 points per game and a Big 12-best 7.0 assists per game, a mark that’s also the sixth-highest in the country.
“Jamie has taught me a lot,” Robinson said. “At first, I felt like I fought him a bit because of new scenery and here in my second year of college ball, I had a whole new coaching staff for the third time really … When I came here, Dixon really helped me develop my game and stay patient.”
On the court, Robinson has become more decisive over the years, firing off passes that lead to assists and anticipating how the action is going to develop.
“It’s impressive to see him at the point guard position where you need to be an extension of your coach on the floor,” Johnson said. “After playing for three coaches in five years, it shows his understanding of systems and style of play. He’s that good.”
Miller, Johnson’s last recruit, averaged 6.8 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game in his first and only season under the coach that recruited him. During his senior year, the former four-star recruit is averaging 11.5 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. He also joined the programs 1000 point club this season.
The opportunity for Robinson and Miller to finish their careers in the NCAA Tournament is still in front of them, as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the Horned Frogs as a No. 11 seed and CBS’ Jerry Palm as a No. 10 seed.
TCU hosts No. 16 Kansas State Monday and has a road trip to Austin Saturday that will conclude the regular season. Sitting at six conference wins, the team will likely need to win both games to receive some insurance for an NCAA tournament bid. Otherwise, some work will need to be done in the conference tournament in Kansas City.
“[This stretch] is very important,” Robinson said. “I want to make it to the tournament. I want to go back. It was a really fun experience. Having that opportunity [to go back] would mean the world to me.”
Either way, when the buzzer goes off for Robinson and Miller’s final time in the purple and white, their legacies, along with the group that came before them, will be that they were the bridge between Trent Johnson and Jamie Dixon for a program’s rapid comeback into relevancy. Accomplishments like that live forever.