In the words of ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, TCU coach Jamie Dixon has awoken a ‘sleeping giant’ in the college basketball landscape as the Horned Frogs pulled out a stunning 88-56 win over Georgia Tech in the NIT Championship game. (video by Jared L. Christopher)
In the words of ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, TCU coach Jamie Dixon has awoken a ‘sleeping giant’ in the college basketball landscape as the Horned Frogs pulled out a stunning 88-56 win over Georgia Tech in the NIT Championship game. (video by Jared L. Christopher)

Mac Engel

This former TCU star is eager to return to the program. But there’s a history

July 28, 2017 3:32 PM

Poring over the rosters of Ice Cube’s new Big3 basketball league, the memories pop on so many names ...

DeShawn Stevenson, the former Dallas Mavericks guard covered in those tattoos who annoyed LeBron James during the Mavs’ run to the title in 2011.

Stephen Jackson, a nutso player with a big mouth who was involved in the Malice at the Palace. He was a bigger part of the biggest upset in NBA playoff history when the eighth-seeded Warriors defeated the top-seeded Mavs in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.

There is Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the player formerly known as Chris Jackson, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick.

The upstart league comes to American Airlines Center at 2 p.m. Sunday. Despite the presence of so many former NBA names, there is one player I am anxious to watch play who was never an All-Star — former TCU forward Lee Nailon.

Behind Kurt Thomas, Nailon is the best player in the history of the TCU basketball program. Nailon was one of the best scorers in the nation during his time at TCU (1997-99) as the Frogs reached the NCAA Tournament.

Lee and I have spoken a few times over the past few years. He has expressed an interest to have an official role with the TCU basketball program. He would be an asset but this is a complicated situation that requires time and an open mind.

There have been a few issues.

No. 1: There was not a TCU basketball family. Until the unveiling of the new Schollmaier Arena, the program was not a priority. There was no thought of an extended TCU family beyond Kurt Thomas, Jamie Dixon and James Cash. The fact that Thomas’ jersey was not retired until this year is all you need to know about the history of TCU’s basketball alumni program.

No. 2: Lee had not graduated from college.

This was a major stumbling block. Nailon had reached out to TCU about coming back and finishing his hours, with the hope that the school would help pick up part of the bill for the credit hours.

That was not happening so, “I just went ahead and did it myself,” Lee told me on Friday in a phone interview.

Nailon said he completed his college degree in May from Fort Hays State in Kansas, taking most of the classes online. Nailon knew he had to earn his degree to have any chance at college on the youth level.

No. 3 Lee has a domestic violence charge.

This is the sticky part. Nailon was involved in incidents with the mother of their four daughters more than a decade ago. The two were married for more than eight years, including two more years after the final altercation.

It was a long time ago, but given the state of today’s climate, and focus on domestic violence, bringing Nailon back is not an easy press release.

Nothing has happened with Nailon for a long time. Nothing will have to remain on his to-do list in order to enter coaching, and rejoin TCU in any official capacity.

Few people believe in and practice the art of extending second and third chances more than TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, but he has to be conscientious of the brand and the image. So too does head coach Jamie Dixon.

Over the past few years, Nailon has been around the program under previous head coach Trent Johnson, and now under Dixon. He has attended practices. He has attended games. He has spoken to the team.

As far as pro and life credentials, Nailon is an asset. He played in the NBA from 2000 to 2006, and then bounced all over the globe making money as a player. He retired as a player when he was 37.

He’s played. He’s made money. He’s lost money. He’s lived. He’s made good. He’s made bad decisions.

He grabbed the chance to join The Big 3, mostly because it sounded like fun, he’s in good shape and he could make a little bit of money.

He’s 42, and wants to work in basketball. He wants a job at TCU.

“Right now I am going to stay with this league for one more year, but if a coaching job comes up I’ll take that,” Nailon said. “That’s really what I want to get into because I think I can help young kids and I do think they’ll listen to me because I look the part, and I have been through a lot.”

He doesn’t look like he’s aged a day since he left TCU in 2000. He weighs 237 pounds, three less than when he played at TCU. And he still has those giant, soft hands that can knock down 15-footers all afternoon.

Given the realities of today’s world the best bet for both is to ease into expanding this potential relationship.

Dixon is routinely flooded with applications from qualified candidates who want to join his staff. But few of them have the TCU credentials like Nailon; it would help if he could land a job as an assistant coach at a lower level program, too.

Assuming he remains problem-free for a few more years, Nailon should join the TCU Hall of Fame. He holds the school record for points scored in a season, and was a big reason the Frogs’ won a WAC title and were a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps in a few years this relationship can expand further.

Until then, it will be fun to watch Lee Nailon dribble to his left, and hit that southpaw 15-footer once again.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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