Size matters. And there’s no where that’s more true than on the basketball court. Jamie Dixon knows that well, as he replaced the 6’8” Kenrich Williams and the 6’10” Vladimir Brodziansky with a quartet of tall centers - Kevin Samuel and Yuat Alok (6’11” each) and Angus McWilliam and Russell Barlow, who each stand 6’10”.
And while the size and ability of these new players is exciting and intriguing, there is experience, or lack-of, is troubling to Jamie Dixon. “I look down at our big men at practice and in our weekly breakdowns, and we have four guys who haven’t played college basketball. We have to work more with them, watch more film.” Kevin Samuel and Angus McWilliam were on campus last year, but didn’t start practicing until January. Russell Barlow is a true freshman. And Yuat Alok has just a single season on juco ball under his belt. That’s not a lot of experience - really, it’s not any Division I experience - for your center rotation on a team that expects to contend in the best basketball conference in the country and make a March Madness run.
But it isn’t just the lack of experience that’s keeping Coach Dixon up at nights - there’s another missing ingredient that could certainly make things easier. “Obviously, we lost an all-conference guy (Kenrich Williams), and we are playing with two guys who have never played (DI) college basketball before. And we don’t have a guy to show them, that’s another issue, we don’t have a guy to show them the right way.” With both Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky off pursuing their professional dreams, there is not a single big body in practice that can show the young kids how to get things done. You’re relying on coaching and JD Miller - the closest thing the Frogs have to an experienced big man, but one who is more of a small/power forward than a true big guy - to help develop these guys to the level they’ll need to be able to hold up in Big 12 play. That’s asking a lot.
Though Dixon remembers a time when folks wanted to run the then-third string center out of town - “I remember, when I got here, Vlad - folks wanted to get rid of him. And he was a third string guy at first. But, shortly, he’s worked himself to second string and then starting” - eventually, Vlad and Kenny Hustle formed a formidable duo that helped lead TCU to the league’s best rebounding defense, rebounding margin, and defensive rebounding percentage. Hustle was the second leading rebounder in the conference, but it was their impact on the offensive end of the floor that seems to be missing most. TCU was not only the Big 12’s second-highest scoring offense a year ago, but they led in assists, field goal percentage, and assist to turnover ratio, and finished second in three point field goal percentage. The strong play and constant threat coming from Williams and Brodziansky certainly had a lot to do with it.
It’s early, but it looks like Samuel will be an excellent rebounder and shot blocker (7.4 per game and 11 total, respectively), but his offense is still a question mark - it’s hard to judge a guy who has scored about 70% of the time on dunks so far. Alok is very raw offensively, but moves well and alters shots on defense - he just hasn’t had enough run to truly know what he’s capable of on either end of the floor. But Dixon is preaching patience so far. “Big guys take time. Now, they have given us good defense, and we have improved defensively because of that, but on offense, it’s going to take some time.” The Frogs offense is a work in progress in general - Dixon is just now getting something resembling a full squad on the floor together in practice - the development of Samuel, Alok, and McWilliam - will likely determine the ceiling of a young, talented, potentially potent team. Just five games into a long season, it’s probably not time to panic. But watching the progress game by game of the guys inside will be helpful in determining just how high your hopes should be heading into Big 12 play.
TCU takes the floor tomorrow night, Friday, at 6:30pm against Central Michigan.