NEW YORK, NY - The rumors are swirling again as Jamie Dixon and the Horned Frogs prepare to face Texas in the semi-finals of the 2019 NIT Tournament.
It’s not the first time this season that TCU Basketball has spent time answering questions surrounding their coach and the open UCLA position; back in January, as the Frogs prepared to open conference play, it was the main topic of discussion during media availability. In fact, both programs will be answering those questions this week, as Texas’ Shaka Smart is also apparently on the short list.
Much like in January, Coach Dixon wants no part of addressing the possibility he may return to his Southern California roots and the program that introduced him to the game of basketball. He reiterated that he doesn’t “talk about rumors, speculation ... no part of it. I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved. I stay consistent in that regard,” when asked by Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram during Monday’s media availability. Instead, he would rather focus on the task ahead: mainly upending a league rival for a third time in 2019 and earning a chance to cut down the nets for a second time in his three seasons in Fort Worth.
After initially feeling “shafted” by the committee’s decision to leave the Frogs out of the Big Dance, TCU Basketball regrouped and made the most of their chance to keep playing basketball, defeating their first three opponents by double digits on their home floor. They face a different task tonight, though, a Texas team — that much like the Frogs — is playing at a whole new level, according to Dixon.
“We’re a better team now, and I believe they think they are too.” TCU has beaten the Longhorns twice this season and carry a three game streak over Texas into Tuesday night’s matchup, but that’s not the focus of the Frogs - and that’s a purposeful decision. “We’re not showing any clips of the previous games, we’re showing what they did against Colorado, the last game. We’re playing for one game, that’s all we’re doing. The last two don’t matter, they don’t factor into this. The message is ‘this isn’t about the last two, it’s about this one coming up’.”
Junior Desmond Bane has had to answer those questions as well, and his sentiments echo those of his coach. “We are in a one game season. The other two, it was great to beat them and sweep them, but I mean, we’ve got to win this game now. We’re just looking at it as another game and another game we have to win.”
It won’t just be the Longhorns that TCU faces Tuesday night, it’s the weight of the moment of playing postseason basketball as the calendar turns to April. It’s an opportunity that players relish, starting with one of their emotional and on-court leaders.
“It’s special, I would say it’s special. Just being able to play at this time of year, being able to play on national television, know that everybody is watching, it’s special.” Playing this time of year is certainly that, but the added layer of playing somewhere like The Garden makes it something else entirely. Even just the drive up can impact a team, according to Dixon. “You go through Times Square, you drive down 52nd St, you pull in there and go into the tunnel. The distractions outside are the first thing you have to acknowledge, and then once you get in there, the lighting is interesting - the seats are all dark and the court has all the lights on it, so it’s kind of a different look there, too.” And once you do it after dark, it changes things completely. “Once you do it at night time, it’s a whole different thing. New York at night and New York in the morning are two different things.”
The moment won’t be too big for Bane, who was a part of the NIT Championship team two seasons ago, and who believes his whole squad has enough experience to not be overwhelmed by the extra attention.
“We’ve been places, we’ve played in the Staples Center, we’ve played in packed houses at Kansas, so we’ve been in tough environments and been in big games. It is a little special, but we’ll be ready for sure.” That being said, Bane did acknowledge that there is something different about playing in big games in one of the biggest environments in sports. “It’s a dream come true. That’s really where stars are born: Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of Basketball. I’m really excited to be back.”
Even the coach who has been on the bench for 43 games at The Garden still gets goosebumps pulling in.
“I go back to, just the drive, as you’re pulling up - it’s a whole new, different environment. There’s no place like Manhattan. It’s unique in every way.”