FORT WORTH, Texas – No drama. Just a dream realized, and a program revived.
At 5:13 p.m. CDT, what was already official became real. The NCAA bracket reveal on TBS, a tricked-up dog and pony show, revealed the 68 teams in alphabetical order. TCU, in that format, had to wait. But it had been 20 years since the Horned Frogs last participated in March Madness, so waiting had become habit.
When TCU’s graphic came on the screen, the Horned Frogs jumped for joy, their phones on video mode to capture the scene. It was as if they were a bubble team praying for inclusion, not a No. 6 seed that had no reason for angst.
“You can never just sit back and act all cool,” said senior guard/forward Kenrich Williams, the team’s double-double glue guy. “It’s been 20 years. This is what we worked hard for, the off-season, the spring and the summer.”
— TCU Basketball (@TCUBasketball) March 12, 2018
Based on the seeding, TCU is considered one of the best 24 teams in the bracket. That’s remarkable for a school that has a thread-bare hoops legacy.
TCU moved up to the big time when the school joined the Big 12 in 2012. The basketball team struggled mightily in its first four seasons, winning a total of eight games and enduring an 0-18 league record in 2014. Escaping the Big 12 Basement seemed as unlikely as being one of the best 24 teams seeded by the men’s basketball committee.
The 6-7 Williams had no college offers out of high school in Waco. He spent one season at New Mexico Junior College before arriving at TCU. A worker bee, Williams has averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds during his career.
“I did see myself playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Williams said Sunday about 45 minutes after TCU’s name had been called. “I didn’t know how but I envisioned doing it. Every year I’ve tried to watch every game and I haven’t seen a bad game. But as a player, it’s hard watching. Last year, we came up short and it made us more hungry this year. It’s a blessing to make it happen now.
“I envisioned all this happening when I first came here. I wanted to make this happen for the school and for the city of Fort Worth.”
Alex Robinson, the team’s junior point guard, is a Fort Worth native. His mother Darla played for TCU’s women’s team in the early 1980s; he wears No. 25, the same number she wore. A four-star recruit, he started his college career at Texas A&M before transferring.
“When I was growing up, nobody thought about TCU basketball, nobody wanted to go to school here,” he said Sunday. “Now that we’re good and we’re always on TV, you see kids wearing TCU shirts, especially in the impoverished areas of Fort Worth. We give ‘em hope, a destination to reach.”
Robinson decided to transfer to TCU before the school dismissed Trent Johnson and hired Jamie Dixon. When he arrived to coach his alma mater, Dixon made it clear that he
didn’t plan to rebuild, he planned to win now. Robinson said Dixon’s message was spot on.
“It was huge for us to have coach Dixon take over,” said Robinson, who was 3 when TCU last made the NCAA Tournament. “When the new coaching staff took over, I thought this program was in a perfect spot. I could never understand why the program wasn’t good. Coach Dixon, the new arena, being in the Big 12, everything just came together.”
An elderly gentleman, seated at a table behind the three rows of seats for the TCU players, watched the bracket announcement with a special pride. Ed Schollmaier donated $10 million in seed money to start the $72 million renovation project on the run-down basketball arena. Now, the Frogs play in a palace. And while Dixon was ready to leave Pitt and Pitt was ready for him to leave, the fact that TCU had first-class facilities in place made the timing perfect when Dixon arrived in March 2016.
“It’s been a long time coming, a long wait,” Schollmaier said. “It’s worth it. It was depressing because of bad basketball and bad crowd for so many years. I was as excited as the players – I just didn’t jump out of my chair.”
Dixon’s “dream, hope and plan” was to return his alma mater to the NCAA Tournament. Last season’s near-miss – caused by a seven-game losing streak in February – was countered by winning the NIT. With five starters returning, making the NCAA Tournament was more than feasible in Year Two. The Frogs survived eight Big 12 losses by five or fewer points and sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher being lost to a knee injury in mid-January.
TCU’s last NCAA team was a No. 5 seed that was a victim of the 12-seed curse and lost in the first round. Prior to that, the Frogs’ last trip to the dance was in 1987 when Dixon was the senior point guard. TCU beat Marshall in the first round but lost to Notre Dame – on a controversial block/charge call involving David Rivers and Dixon – in the second round.
Ending the 20-year appearance drought has been accomplished. Posting the first victory in 31 years would be another sign of progress.
“We’re ahead of schedule and something that nobody predicted when I came here,” Dixon said. “The only way to get it done is to believe. I’ve seen other guys say, ‘Wait until I get my own players’ or ‘It’s gonna take time.’ I don’t see the benefits of saying that. You have to be turning it the day you get there and get the players to believe from Day One. You show your guys you believe in ‘em.
“My plan is to build unrealistic expectations. I didn’t put a time on it, a deadline, we had to get work and not make excuses. I know the normal time frame is year three, four, five is when you get to the tournament.”
After a 20-year wait, TCU is finally ahead of schedule.