If you walk into the practice court at Schollmaier Arena, you’ll notice a handful of banners dotting the walls. There’s the legacy of the Frogs’ WNBA draft picks, a banner commemorating knocking off #1 Kansas, and the NIT Championship banner as well. But there’s another banner, something quite unique, that hangs in the row. On it are The Dreamers, the four seniors that Jamie Dixon inherited when he arrived in Fort Worth in 2016, the guys who stuck it out after 0-18 and helped lead the Horned Frogs to the NIT crown.
On that banner are Brandon Parrish, Karviar Shepherd, Michael Williams, and Chris Washburn. Each took a different path to Fort Worth, each played a different role during that season than they did before it, and each was a crucial cog in putting the Frogs back on the map.
When Jamie Dixon landed in Fort Worth, he reached out to his seniors first, coining them his “Believers”. “When you get into a job, you wonder if you’re ever going to get those seniors to buy in,” Dixon said after the Frogs’ 2017 NIT semi-final victory. “They have a new coach, and how are they going to respond?” They responded by buying in, not just to Dixon, but the man who preceded him, according to then-senior Parrish.
“It’s crazy because Coach Dixon called our 2017 group of seniors the believers, but I believe everyone that came in under Trent Johnson was a believer,” he said. “They made a dedicated commitment to come to TCU at a time when it was just a good school that played in the Big 12, and the guys in that era that we recruited were guys that believed we could turn the program around and guys who saw a rainy day at the beginning but saw sunlight at the end.”
If things go well for the Frogs in New York City, there could be a new banner hanging next to that of the Believers, one that lauds the accomplishments of the Magnificent Seven.
Jamie Dixon laughed when asked about how his Magnificent Seven related to the movie The Magnificent Seven, trying to put into words how his team has battled this season as injuries and transfers mounted.
“I haven’t spoken about it a lot because I don’t want to use it as an excuse and I don’t want our guys to use it as an excuse. But there came a point when I told our guys ‘what you’ve done and how you’ve stuck together is amazing, it really is’. Not only are the Frogs down to seven scholarship players (former walk-on Owen Aschieris was put on scholarship in January when one was freed up, but isn’t a true contributor and the Frogs are trying to hold on to Russell Barlow’s redshirt), but they’ve played multiple games with six and don’t even have enough bodies to go live in practice.
Multiple players are averaging well over 30 minutes per game, and body management has been key, according to Desmond Bane - who leads the team with 35.5 mpg. “It’s not been as bad as I thought - everybody says ‘oh, you’ve only got seven guys’ and you look at the box score and you’re playing playing almost the whole game, but body-wise, energy-wise, I feel pretty good. I feel good, though. I feel good - I think it’s a testament to Gep (Stephen Gephardt), a really good strength and conditioning coach. And we obviously go really hard in the off-season, so we’re ready for it.”
But the challenge isn’t lost on Bane or Dixon, who has switched his message from not making excuses to telling his guys how impressive they have been. “I took the time to tell them how proud I was before the Nebraska game. I just thought at that point, we’re beyond excuses, and we needed to acknowledge how hard they’d work, how well they had practiced. We had two really good practices these last two days and had really good practices going into Nebraska. Obviously, that first night after not getting in the NCAA, we kind of had to find a way. And these guys have responded.”
After the initial disappointment of not making the tournament, the Horned Frogs have switched their focus - intent on proving a point and sending a message. And they’re doing that in a way that makes them unique, according to their coach. “There’s nobody that is playing, doing what we are doing with seven scholarship guys. At some point I had to acknowledge it and thank them and remind them what they’re doing.”
Bane agrees, and wants to keep playing. “We’re really hungry. Ever since Selection Sunday, our team has been really hungry. I know we’re going to come out ready to go.”