From wounded to winner, the NIT standout is ready to succeed in his senior season with TCU men’s basketball.
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More in Sports: Riff Ram
Topics: AddRan College of Liberal Arts,Men's Basketball
In the 2016-17 season, the Horned Frog men’s basketball team took home its first postseason tournament trophy after winning the National Invitation Tournament. The guard from Waco, named the NIT Most Outstanding Player, is known for his double-doubles and his hair.
What were your plans for after high school?
To go to college. Play college basketball. Basically, just get a scholarship and play basketball somewhere.
What were your expectations of college?
I really didn’t know what to expect. I had a couple friends who had the chance to play at the college level, but none of my family members really played or went to college like that. My expectation was going to class. Basically, the same old, going to class, practicing and working. Nothing too special.
What was it like to be offered a basketball scholarship from TCU?
I was very grateful for it. One, it’s close to home. My mom gets to see me play and some of my family members also. It’s in the Big 12. I was able to play at a high level. It meant a lot to me because I didn’t have a Division I scholarship out of high school. I got it from junior college. It meant a lot to me.
How important is it for your family to see you play?
It’s very important. All throughout high school, my mom was able to come to most of my games. Now that it’s an hour away, she gets to come to a majority of home games and see me play in college. She didn’t get to go to New York, but she watched. She loves it. She really gets excited. She usually goes to a restaurant to watch me play and she draws a crowd around [telling people that her son is playing].
I feel like this is the sport God chose for me to play. I started out playing football. Football was my first love. As I got taller and grew I started to realize I should take the basketball route, and it worked out for me.
How difficult was it to be out for over a year with your knee injury?
It was tough. Having to sit on the sidelines and watch is hard for anybody. I was able to take away a lot more positives than I did negatives. I was able to get a different look at the game. I was able to study basketball more. I was able to just work on my game and expand my game. I was able to watch film. When you’re on the court, it’s different from when you’re looking on the court. When you’re on the sidelines, you get a different view of things. I’m able to tell my teammates what I see from the sidelines. Now that I’m playing, I’m able to do it myself and translate that into the game.
What was rehabilitation like at TCU?
It was good. The trainers and the student trainers did a good job of helping me along the way. I was able to get back to my regular self and feel good. It’s a blessing to be back.
How did the TCU facilities and staff help in your recovery?
We had a trainer. The last trainer we had [JoHan Wang] trained for the Golden State Warriors. He was able to give me a lot of knowledge and tools to help my recovery process. As far as the facilities, we have all new facilities. I was able to use the new equipment. I was able just to come back 100 percent. That’s the major thing.
You were part of the first team to play in the renovated Schollmaier Arena. What was that like?
I didn’t get to play, but I was able to watch them. It’s crazy. I tell people we used to get dressed in the trailers out there my first year here. To be able to come from that and then go to the nice locker room – it’s really a blessing. This is what you look forward to. This is what it’s all about. I’m glad we’re winning now and we’re able to do special things.
Your first season, 2014-15, earned TCU its first top-25 ranking in 16 seasons. Could you feel some things starting to turn around?
I could. That was huge for our program. I didn’t know the last time that happened for TCU, to be ranked in the top 25. For us to make that happen was huge for us, and moving forward too.
You were here during a significant culture change, when the team changed head coaches from Trent Johnson to Jamie Dixon. What was that like?
That was a big transition. Just something you have to get used to. Two different types of coaching styles. I think Coach Johnson was more order and hard-nose. Coach Dixon is more of a teacher. He will stop the whole practice and show you. Coach J wants you to learn. He expects you to learn. Both two great coaches I learned a lot from. I learned a lot from Coach J. And I learned a lot from Coach Dixon.
How much of the NIT win do you think was because of Jamie Dixon? Do you think that’s all it took – a new coach and two new point guards?
It had a lot to do with new coaching staff. But we also had a couple of guys who played with Coach J. You got to give credit when it’s due. You’ve got to give credit to Coach J. He instilled a lot in us. He instilled playing tough. That stuff we already had before Coach Dixon got here. He did bring in some talented players to help us go on that run to win the NIT. You’ve got to give credit to Coach J and Coach Dixon.
How much of the NIT win do you think was because of ‘the shag’ haircut?
Oh, my shag? Probably all of it. No, I’m just playing. I miss my shag. I’m growing it back out now. That’s why I’m kind of looking rough. It will be here whenever the season gets here.
Several of your teammates were worried, or superstitious, that you would lose your powers.
I didn’t lose it. I still got it.
Tell me about some highlights of last season.
The NIT win. That was huge for us. I really think that was huge for our program, just to take us to that next level. Now we’re on a different type of stage. Now, we’re looking forward to doing bigger things. We’re looking forward to making the NCAA Tournament. Coming from the NIT Championship win.
I think a big highlight last year was beating Kansas [ranked No. 1] in the Big 12 tournament. That was huge for our program. Were we ranked in the top 25 last year? It’s a goal to be ranked in the top 25. I’m not too worried about it. There were a lot of highlights.
As far as team, we grew so much as a team from the conference to the Big 12 tournament, and then going on to the NIT tournament. We just grew so much as a team. Everybody started to step up and we made the most of it.
What is the team’s chemistry like?
Chemistry is great. We’ve got basically the same team back. We’re just missing the seniors we had. The new guys coming in are working hard. We have a great chemistry together. I’m looking forward to it.
Were there ever times when you doubted if the team could make it to the postseason?
Never. Never, never. I knew once we got into the NIT, I knew we were going to win the whole thing. I told the team, ‘We’re in it, we might as well win it.’ I never doubted. I knew it from the beginning, when we were in there and got selected to play in the NIT, that we were going to win. Even when we were playing Iowa. Even when we lost Jaylen [Fisher, who broke his left wrist in the first-round NIT game against Fresno State]. I just feel like we were playing at a higher level than everybody else. When you’re playing at that level, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You can’t be beat.
Do you think there was a transformative moment when you realized you could actually make it through the NIT?
As far as the NIT, once we got selected to play in it, I knew we were going to make it. After winning the NIT, our expectation for this year is to make the NCAA Tournament. Do the same thing.
What was it like to play in Madison Square Garden?
It was great. Just knowing that a bunch of legends played there. Some of the greatest players played there: Michael Jordan, LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant]. You get to share that court and play on the same court. It’s an unbelievable feeling. The whole New York is a different energy. You’re walking around New York and you see the game before you’re on TV. You know they’re going to be watching. It’s on TV right here in Times Square. You know you got to get out there and do your thing. It was a crazy, crazy atmosphere.
What was it like to be named the NIT Most Outstanding Player?
It was crazy. Just from my performance that I played, I did expect it. I didn’t expect it going in. My main focus was really just winning the whole thing. Winning that is just a blessing. Just last year, I was on the sideline having to watch. It’s a huge, huge blessing for me.
How did it feel to go from being injured to being named the Most Outstanding Player?
It feels great. It feels like all the work you put in, all the rehab, it’s all worth it. And that’s what it’s all about, honestly. It just felt great.
What are your thoughts on this coming season?
I’m looking forward to this season. This is probably the most ready I’ve been as far as just being ready for a season. Ready to get out there and play with my teammates, my new teammates. Getting out there and competing. Just trying to make history at TCU basketball. Trying to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Trying to make noise in the tournament. Not just getting in the tournament, just trying to get into the Final Four, Sweet 16, all that. I’ve got big expectations for this season.
Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on the team coming from an NIT win?
No pressure. I always tell myself there’s no pressure. Just excitement. That’s all it is. People are going to rank us a little higher than they did last year, of course. Last year, we ranked last in the Big 12. There’s going to be a target on our back, but that’s what comes with winning and being great. This is all what I expect.
Who is playing an underappreciated role on the team?
I’d probably say, coming into this season, JD Miller. He has an underappreciated role because he does a lot for our team. Just that position, the power forward position. Kouat [Noi] is going to have an underappreciated role. He’s going to be doing the little stuff. I think Desmond [Bane] is also going to have an underappreciated role. He’s going to have a bigger role than what he did last year, I’ll say that.
What are your goals for this season, personally?
Just get more aggressive on the offensive end. Personally, I just want to win. I would love to win, basically. I haven’t set any personal goals yet. For myself, it’s just about winning. No matter what. I’ll let you know when I do, though.
During the summer, the team traveled to Australia and played five games. How was Australia?
Australia was great. We were able to go out there and have a good time. We won all of our games. We were able to build our chemistry and bond with each other, on and off the court. It was a great experience. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t see myself traveling 17 hours again, to be honest. Just straight there. I told myself, man, I don’t know if I could come back to Australia just because of the long flight.
The team has traveled thousands of miles together, both domestically and internationally. Do you think that’s helped bond the team, or too much time together can be detrimental?
You can never spend too much time with your team. Everywhere we went we bonded with each other. I think that’s how it’s going to be this year, too. You get to build relationships with your teammates that you hadn’t before. You get to talk to them about their families, where they’re coming from. And that’s what it’s all about.
Do you think you’ll stay in touch with everyone once you graduate?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I plan on coming back, helping, doing whatever I can to just stay around, basically. TCU has been great to me, and I would love to give back.
What are your professional basketball goals?
I plan on, Lord willing, getting drafted. Hopefully playing in the NBA somehow. If not, I would like to play overseas somewhere. Definitely basketball in the future. Staying around the game, whether it’s playing or coaching. I think I could be a coach.
Dixon seems to smile a lot. Is he really that happy?
He is a happy kind of guy. Moods can change quickly, I will say that. As far as basketball, he’s an outgoing guy.
What advice did Quavo the bearded dragon leave everyone?
Brandon [Parrish] was my roommate last year. [Quavo] stayed in his little tank or whatever. But sometimes he roamed around the house. I wasn’t too fond of that. But Quavo is real. He’s real popular, I will say that. I’ve seen Quavo get a little crazy. He loves them crickets.
Only a third of the basketball team is from Texas. Do you feel a certain sense of pride in being from Texas and playing here?
Oh, yeah, definitely, especially because I’m from down the road. We got A-Rob [Alex Robinson], he’s from here [Fort Worth]. You get that Texas pride. You go to an away game and they announce where you’re from and that’s what it’s all about. The new coaching staff is doing a good job of getting players from a variety of places. Even out of the country. There’s always going to be a Dallas kid on the TCU roster, or a DFW kid.
– Trisha Spence
Editor’s note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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