FORT WORTH, Texas — Big 12 basketball is about to get easier. A softie is entering the conference.
Trent Johnson's job is to change that. It won't be easy.
TCU joins the Big 12 with a new coach but the same old facilities and the same old tradition, neither of which is up to Big 12 standards.
Which is why Johnson, who in April jumped a sinking ship at LSU, knows what kind of players he needs to succeed with the Frogs.
“They're going to have to be tough-minded individuals coming into the program, who want to build tradition,” Johnson said.
Hoops tradition is in short supply at TCU. Horned Frog basketball rarely has competed at a high level. Jim Killingsworth, hired away from OSU, had the Frogs competitive in the '80s. Billy Tubbs, hired away from OU in the '90s, did the same in the '90s.
But the Frogs have made just seven NCAA Tournaments in their history, only two in the past 40 years, and has just one NCAA victory in the last 44 years. And except for the Southwest Conference of the 1980s (when Arkansas and Houston were national powers), TCU never has been in a big-time basketball league.
Plus, the building boom that has been the hallmark of TCU athletics in recent years has not extended to basketball. The Frogs play in 51-year-old Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, an old-school arena that seats 7,201. It's the kind of place that would ultra-cool if packed and rocking to a great product. Otherwise, it's outdated. Think the difference between Gallagher Hall and Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I think we have the right coach in Trent Johnson,” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte. “It is our responsibility to re-do Daniel-Meyer. We're going to do that. Recruiting today, it has to. We're behind facility-wise.”
But to Johnson's credit, that's not his stance. “It's important to win first,” he said. “Winning takes precedence.”
The Frogs have a solid practice facility, built in 2004 for $5 million, and Johnson said the first priority is the locker rooms of Daniel-Meyer, not the arena itself.
“I've been in situations like that, where you've had less,” said Johnson, who coached both Nevada (2004) and Stanford (2008) to the NCAA Sweet 16. “Rim's 10 feet, everywhere you go.”
And Johnson likes where he is. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, which has become one of the nation's best recruiting grounds.
“Proximity to players,” Johnson said of what he liked about the TCU challenge.
He can offer prospects an elite conference, an elite education and a chance to be on the ground floor of something special.
Johnson says he will go after the players who have been signing with Baylor and OSU and Kansas State. “Do you need to go that far away from home?” he will ask them. It will take some of those tough-minded players he talked about to say no.
But until those prospects indeed start staying home, Big 12 basketball just added an easy mark.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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