Not much is expected out of TCU Basketball this season.
That’s been about as true as anything over the last several years in Fort Worth.
When Jamie Dixon led the program to an NIT Championship and NCAA Tournament berth across three seasons, the tides internally and among the fanbase began to turn. The following season, they were tied with Texas for fourth place in the league, but otherwise, have found themselves at the bottom of the preseason standings for the majority of Jamie Dixon’s tenure in Fort Worth.
The 2020-2021 season is no different; picked to finish 9th, the Horned Frogs are without a single senior in the rotation and return just two players with long-term experience on a team that lost a likely first round draft pick in Desmond Bane. They will likely turn to a pair of redshirt juniors in Kevin Samuel and RJ Nembhard, a talented duo that is used to being underappreciated, to lead the team. Both players are more than ready for the challenge. “We know what it takes, being here with Vlad (Brodziansky), Kenrich (Williams), and Desmond (Bane). We learned a lot from guys like that,” Samuel said in a preseason press conference. RJ added “I learned from the guys ahead of me; coming into this [leadership] role isn’t a shock. I’m excited.”
Coach Dixon knows his guys are ready to take charge as well, and has seen the example set by Nembhard and others. “RJ, he’s here every morning, early before practice. His work ethic has been tremendous. To me, that’s the biggest part of leadership; you lead by example, but mostly, hopefully, you can be a good example of what it takes to play in the Big 12.” With the youth in the program, though, Dixon believes it will take all 12 guys to ensure that the program stays on track. Especially in the era of COVID. “It’s going to be everybody; we’ve got to all be accountable, all be aware of the rights and wrongs.”
As far as being underestimated, it’s nothing new for TCU Basketball. And this year, it’s a challenge that they welcome. “I love it,” Nembhard said. “It is what it is — people are always going to have their opinions, that’s their job. So we are going to embrace what happens.” Samuel added, “we were surprised by that. We’ve got to show them that we’re not ninth, go out every day and compete against everyone picked above and below us.” It’s nothing new for either player, especially Nembhard, who shined locally in DFW but didn’t get the high-level offers a player with his resume normally would. “Me personally, I’ve never really been picked to achieve high things. I’ve just consistently worked, worked, worked. Things kind of fall into place; I think with our team buying in and working hard, we aren’t worried about what the critics are saying.”
Often, when it comes to polls and rankings, especially those of the preseason variety, coaches are more apt to say they haven’t seen them or don’t pay attention to them. Jamie Dixon is a little different. “You’re always going to be motivated, I would hope. Certainly I am, and I believe our players are.” Dixon. as has been his MO, directly addressed the slight with his team. “I’ve made it very clear to our guys, we aren’t going to be picked at the top, and we haven’t been. It’s our decision what type of team we want to become as a group, as a team, and the commitment we want to make to defending and playing together.” For the Horned Frogs, respect in basketball is always an uphill climb, but that has allowed them to overachieve, in a sense. “Our history at TCU is probably going to preclude us, but we’ve finished higher than we’ve been picked every year.”
TCU will get to prove them wrong starting November 25th, when they open their season at home against Houston Baptist.