After nine practices, the TCU men’s basketball team knows what it can do and cannot do.
It can catch the ball, pass the ball and defend a little.
And it cannot talk about last year.
“He doesn’t want us talking about it at all,” senior guard Kyan Anderson said with a laugh.
Who can blame Trent Johnson? The Horned Frogs’ third-year coach has 2-16 and 0-18 conference records to show for his first two seasons in the Big 12 with TCU. Not exactly inspirational material.
But for one more day — Wednesday’s Big 12 Media Day at the Sprint Center, home of the conference postseason tournament, where TCU lost its final game last year (ahem, one more reminder) — the Frogs let themselves talk about it.
“In my opinion, you have to know what you went through, to break through the next year,” Anderson said. “I remind my guys every day what we went through, that they don’t want to go through that again. It made me a tougher individual person to go through adversity like that. I wouldn’t want that on some of the younger guys we have on this squad.”
What the Frogs went through was a crush of injuries that, in the end, left them with eight players for the postseason tournament. For a large part of the season, the team couldn’t hold competitive practices because there weren’t enough bodies to go 5-on-5. Walk-ons helped, but of course could not replicate the speed or ability of the opponent.
“We’ve got 15 guys every day now,” said senior guard Trey Zeigler, who couldn’t help last season because he was sitting out his transfer year. He played in 31 games, mainly off the bench, for Pittsburgh’s 24-9 team two years ago. “It’s very competitive in practice. The talent level is better. When it’s that competitive, you’ve got to bring it or you’re going to be in trouble. That’s the best part of practice right now.”
Johnson left no doubt about that.
He took the podium, smiled, and told reporters: “Why am I so happy? Why am I so excited? No. 1 is, for the first time since I’ve been at TCU, we’ve had nine practices and I have a full complement of players — 13 guys on scholarship and three walk-ons, and we’re healthy.”
Health means the return of senior forward Amric Fields, who averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in the 18 games he was able to play as he fought knee trouble last season. Junior forward Devonta Abron is also available after missing last year with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
The passing of a year also means sophomore forward Chris Washburn is eligible, joining Zeigler. Washburn, out of South Grand Prairie, sat out his transfer year after coming from UT El Paso.
“Obviously, we’ve improved from an athletic standpoint,” Johnson said. “Some of the guys we had sitting out, some of the guys we signed. So our practices are much more competitive. We’re a lot better. Our skill level is a lot better. We have an opportunity to compete at a high level.”
Johnson said being better athletically means being better at rebounding, passing and defense, which will naturally lead to better offense. The Horned Frogs ranked last in scoring in conference games, averaging 59.0 points.
“The best teams I ever had, like the one LSU team that was my last championship team, I had seven guys that could catch and pass,” he said. “At Stanford, we had guys that were big and strong, but we could catch and pass it from six spots. Which led to scoring. This team right now, Kyan catches it and passes it. Chris Washburn catches it and can pass it. Amric can catch it and pass it. Trey can catch and pass.
“To me, that says we’re getting there. Catch it, find a guy, make it look easy.”
That is what Johnson came to Kansas City to talk about: what TCU can do, like win the games it can and perhaps overachieve, and not what it hasn’t done yet.
“I just think, for the most part, you’re talking about a basketball program that hasn’t had any basketball tradition and hasn’t won a lot of games. We don’t talk about that,” he said. “We just talk about the opportunity we have in front of us, at this level of play, in this league to be good.”
That sounds good for now.
“We don’t talk about last year,” Zeigler said. “It’s behind us. For us, we see the talent. We see what we can do. We don’t know how many people believe in it. We know we believe in it in our locker room. So we’re excited about it.”
TCU basketball home highlights
Nov. 14: Home opener, vs. Prairie View A&M, 7 p.m.
Jan. 3: Big 12 opener, vs. West Virginia, 3 p.m.
Jan. 10: vs. Baylor, 3 p.m.
Jan. 19: vs. Texas, 6 p.m.
Jan. 28: vs. Kansas, 8 p.m.