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Freshmen RJ Nembhard, Kendric Davis providing critical depth for TCU basketball

The two freshmen have stepped up in big ways through the first 13 games.

TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
Melissa Triebwasser

RJ Nembhard could have played a lot of places. Coming out of high school, the 4-star shooting guard and Top 10 high school player in Texas for the 2017 class held offers from Texas, SMU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, Creighton, Cal, Clemson, and a handful of others. It’s likely that at several of those schools he would have been a first-year contributor.

Instead, Nembhard selected TCU. Staying close to home, the Keller native signed as a part of Jamie Dixon’s first recruiting class as TCU’s head coach.

After redshirting his freshman season, watching from the sideline as TCU reached their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years, Nembhard entered 2018 as a depth guy who was expected to contribute in a small way.

Now, though, he’s been thrust into the starting lineup, and should remain there until Jaylen Fisher returns from injury (which could be as early as Wednesday night against Kansas).

Nembhard started in place of Fisher when TCU faced Baylor last Saturday, and he scored 10 points while pulling down two rebounds and dishing out three assists in 33 minutes of play. He also recorded a block, and played stellar defense on the perimeter against a good shooting Baylor squad.

After the game, Jamie Dixon had high praise for Nembhard.

““I thought he let things happen,” Dixon said, “The two threes he hit were wide open, he got the breakaway layup. So now he is hitting open shots and not missing bad shots.”

“I love the no turnovers too, that was a thing that was really big. He was tremendous.”

Nembhard knows that his role changes when guys are out of the lineup, but for him it’s all about staying focused on doing his job.

“[I just] stick to doing what I do. I don’t have to force anything, I don’t have to do anything more. [Jaylen Fisher] teaches me a lot, I learn a lot from him, and I’ve got a great supporting cast that believes in me and I believe in them.”

Meanwhile, true freshman Kendric Davis (another Top 10 HS player in Texas, for the 2018 class) is proving that he’s a big game wrapped in a small package. The 5-11 point guard looks even shorter on the court than he actually is, but his explosiveness and vision have been huge for TCU this season.

Averaging 11.5 minutes this season, Davis has been a critical third point guard for TCU, especially in Jaylen Fisher’s absence.

However, Davis’ role is more than just a stop-gap for Fisher’s knee issues, he’s also allowing Alex Robinson to get some rest throughout games, and it seems like Dixon is starting to trust him in bigger moments.

Case in point: During TCU’s lone loss of the season, a 73-64 defeat at the hands of Lipscomb, Davis saw significant time in the final minutes of the game and played well. Davis entered the game with 7:23 remaining and played until the end. Over the course of that seven and a half minutes, Davis went 3-4 from the floor and 3-4 from the free throw line, scoring nine points, including a basket to draw TCU within one point in the final two minutes.

Davis finished that game with 14 points in just 12 minutes, and he had just one turnover. More recently, Davis scored 10 points in 18 minutes against Indiana State (in Hawai’i), and he logged 15 minutes against Baylor, scoring 6 points.

On the season, Davis has a positive assist-turnover ratio (9:5), is shooting 49.1% from the floor, and gives Jamie Dixon a valuable floor general off the bench.

Both Davis and Nembhard will be critical if TCU wants to make a push for the top of the Big 12 standings. They combined for 48 minutes of playing time against Baylor, and Wednesday night’s game against Kansas will be a massive test for both guys.

If they succeed against the Jayhawks - and if TCU comes away with a win - then TCU fans know that they don’t just have a bright future with Davis and Nembhard, but the present is pretty great too.