As the court flooded with fans dressed in purple after one of college basketball’s most improbable upsets a season ago, the Frogs were left wondering, “Did that just happen?”
TCU’s upset win over No. 5 Kansas was the pinnacle of the season for a Horned Frog team that went 11-21 overall (2-16 Big 12) in its first year under head men’s basketball coach Trent Johnson.
Now, a season later, with a year of Big 12 experience and one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in program history, perhaps the question Frog fans should be asking is, “What’s next?”
Johnson said he thinks the difference between last year’s team and this season’s squad will be immediately noticeable.
“We’re more skilled,” Johnson said. “When the ball leaves guys’ hands, it looks like it’s going in.”
Johnson said the team will try to play a faster-paced game than last year, which he believes will lead to greater offensive production.
Jarvis Ray, a senior guard, echoed his coach’s sentiments. Ray said the team has been playing faster and more physical than last year’s squad, which has resulted in more competitive play.
“Our freshmen that came in play really fast,” he said. “It’s that pace that we want to play in order to win games.”
When asked about the defensive potential of the team, Johnson was quick to downplay expectations.
“We have a ways to go, let’s be honest about that,” Johnson said. “We’re not vocal enough. There is a trust factor that is involved when you have a lot of older guys and a lot of younger new guys; they need to trust by communication.
“Are they working hard at it? Yes they are. Can we get there? Yes we can, but right now, we are nowhere near where we need to be to compete against high-caliber basketball teams,” he said.
Johnson said that, so far, he has been most impressed by how coachable and competitive this team is despite its youth.
Even with the buzz surrounding TCU’s highly-regarded recruiting class, Johnson said the four freshmen will be judged by their body of work during their time as Horned Frogs and by how they end their careers.
“Let’s judge it at the end of their careers,” Johnson said. “Bottom line: it’s judged off of winning.”
Ray said he has been impressed by the freshmen so far in practice.
“They came in and they play a big role, they play hard, they stick together,” Ray said. “It’s just a good feeling to see young guys come in from high school and come together like that.”
The jewel of the 2013 recruiting class was top-100 center recruit Karviar Shepherd out of Dallas.
Shepherd said he has already embraced a leadership role on the team.
“I was a leader in high school so there wasn’t that much I had to change,” he said. “But I know that there are older people on the team, so I have to follow their lead too at the same time.”
Shepherd was pegged as one of the nation’s top center prospects coming out of Prime Prep Academy, and picked TCU over programs like Oklahoma State, Kansas, Baylor, UCLA and Texas A&M.
Shepherd said one reason he is excited to play for Johnson is the coach’s history of developing NBA post players, including current NBA centers Brook and Robin Lopez, who played under Johnson at Stanford.
“That’s one of the main goals of every NCAA player, to make it to the league,” Shepherd said. “Obviously, you want someone who has been there and done that and put people in the league to put you there.”
The freshman class also gives TCU length on the perimeter in the form ofBrandon Parrish and Hudson Price, who both stand 6-foot-6. Parrish, the higher-rated of the two according to scouts, is a shooting guard from Arlington.
Parrish is described by scouts as a good shooter with great athleticism and a college-ready body, and is expected to make an impact for an injury-stricken Horned Frog team in need of both height and agility.
TCU lost forwards Devonta Abron and Aaron Durley for the year due to injuries they sustained during preseason exhibition games in Canada. Abron went down with a torn Achilles tendon and Durley tore his ACL.
Price, despite being the least-heralded recruit in TCU’s freshman class, has been impressive during the offseason.
“The thing that I have been impressed with Hudson more so than anything is that he takes the ball to the rim,” Johnson said. “He’s strong. He’s a good rebounder. Obviously he can shoot the ball, he can score, but being able to take the ball to the basket – being able to rebound the basketball, especially with our team this year – is really going to help the team.”
Johnson said Price will primarily play small forward for the Frogs, but may also be asked to fill in at power forward for the injured Amric Fields and UTEP transfer Chris Washburn, who is still waiting to be declared eligible to play this season.
NCAA rules state that players must sit out a season after transferring from another program. However, exceptions can be made based on player-specific circumstances.
When asked about the return of Fields, one of TCU’s most versatile offensive weapons, Johnson quoted an NBA legend.
“I thought that Kobe Bryant said something that was really, really good: ‘When guys are back and they’re ready to play, that’s when they’re ready.’” Johnson said. “Amric has had a series of setbacks but bottom line is he looks good physically. His spirits are up which is probably the most important thing.”
Johnson said it will take time for Fields to return to “basketball shape.” Fields is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered against SMU last season.
“This game is hard enough to play if you’re completely healthy,” Johnson said. “He’s got a ways to go, but his spirits are up.”
Ray, who arrived on campus at the same time as Fields, said he was excited about his teammate’s impending return to the court.
“I feel like I haven’t played with him in so long,” Ray said. “I feel like it’s back to our freshman year playing together, so it makes me happy to see him back.”
Point guard Michael Williams rounds out TCU’s freshman class. Williams, out of Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, is both big and versatile. He is a good shooter with range out to the three point line. Williams has already shown toughness and leadership, and will serve as the back-up for Anderson this year.
The Horned Frogs will play their season opener in Dallas on Nov. 8, when they travel to the American Airlines Center to play cross-town rival SMU.