I do this every year. I watch an early season TCU men’s basketball game , make a few observations and base my expectations for the rest of the year off of that one performance. Typically, I wind up catching a winning effort against the one inferior team on our entire schedule, so as you can imagine my expectations are quickly defied once the season really gets started. And don’t be fooled – beating Jackson State and SMU is kind of like beating your 4-year old sister at basketball while making her tie both hands behind her back. I didn’t watch the Jackson State game, but if they are any worse than SMU – and based on the score, they’re at least equally as hapless – then the Paschal High School JV team could probably give them a game.
But that’s coming off all wrong because, honestly, I think this year is different. I really do. For the first time in recent memory, the TCU Horned Frogs actually LOOK like a basketball team. By that I mean, they have players at every position that look like they deserve to be there and, more importantly, look like they want to be there. And, shockingly enough, they’re FUN to watch. In the waning years of the Daugherty era, the most vivid memories I have are of Neil, Jr turning the ball over, Keion Mitchem missing threes, and Kevin Langford looking at his teammates like, “I left the Pac 10 for this shit?” And even in the first two years of Jim Christian, you got the feeling that he had a few of the parts he wanted, but he was mostly pulling from the scrap heap, and he most certainly never had a team. Last night it only took me about three possessions to see that that has greatly changed this year.
Now, basketball is my sport. It was the only sport that I was ever remotely good at – at least while I was still a foot taller than everyone; when they caught up, my career was totaled effed – and it’s one of the few sports where I actually understand the strategy and how it works. I love football, but as I’m sure you can tell from most of my write ups, I don’t know much about it beyond the superficial things. Occasionally I’ll read postings from Smart Football and I may as well be reading Egyptian Hieroglyphics; x's and o's? You mean hugs and kisses? So, even with the succubus that has been TCU basketball post-Tubbs, I’ve always kept my eye on things just so if they ever turned the corner, I’d be on level ground. And even if you don’t give two shits about TCU basketball – and admit it, you really don’t right now – you’re at least familiar with the name Hank Thorns.
For the uninitiated, Hank Thorns is our transfer PG from Virginia Tech who is eligible this year after sitting out last year. When his transfer was announced, I remember being a lot more excited than most, but I can’t blame folks for being skeptical. Why should you have been excited about a player who couldn’t cut it at an also-ran ACC school? Well, if you’d watched Ronnie Moss play out of position for two years, you’d know the answer, but his value could not have been more clear last night – he’s the best PG we’ve had since the NCAA teams of the 1990s, and it’s not even close. Sure, you can argue Santee, but he ran the floor simply because he was leaps and bounds better than his teammates and he HAD to from time to time, but Marcus Shropshire was the point man in that offense.
I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll go with the obvious: He actually SEES the floor. This may sound kind of silly to say and perhaps a bit obvious, but his court vision is going to be the difference between us challenging for a conference title and having a slap fight with Wyoming at the bottom of the standings. He’s had double digit assists in both of our games this year and his impact on Ronnie Moss cannot be understated. Moss is a natural 2 guard – he loves to run and he can create his own shot. More importantly, he typically looks for his own shot, which should not be the first option of any PG, especially one in this offense. Distribution was never Moss' key talent, and he was forced to play the point because no one else could. So last night, he looked like he was absolutely LOVING playing alongside Thorns. He had 16 points, but he was running around like a man possessed, hitting shots from all over the floor, including a pair of threes. I realize I’m talking about him like he’s Michael Jordan or something, but it was just so relieving to watch him be able to play to his strengths last night.
Thorns isn’t going to score a ton of points on a given night, and fortunately he won't have to, although he’s more than capable of knocking down shots and he can absolutely stroke it from three. He was 3/3 last night, and none of them were easy as he pulled up for a couple and the third he dribbled to the top of the arc, took a quick look around, and lobbed it in with a hand in his face. You’re going to see a lot of that this year. And, as if to drive the point home of how important he is, when he was in the game in the first half, TCU was up by 20. When he sat down for a breather, by the time he came back in the lead was down to 10. I hope we don’t have to run him into the ground in order to maintain leads, but I just can’t overempthasize enough how valuable he is to the success of this team.
Of course, there are other guys on this team, and perhaps none are more exciting than Garlon Green, or, excuse me, the high flying Garlon Green. Dude can absolutely GET UP. For Rockets and Mavs fans, you’ll remember his brother Gerald who, while maybe the lowest basketball IQ player to ever sign a pro contract, was probably the most raw athletic player on any team he ever played on. Garlon is kind of like that, although he’s going to greatly benefit from playing college ball, and regardless at this level you can get by with athleticiscm alone. There was one play early in the first half where Green took the ball , broke up the left side, and slashed into the lane while getting fouled and gave an SMU defender a faceful of crotch while slamming it home for an and-1. I’m not sure it compares to the Aaron Curtis play of the day from a few years ago, but had there been more than 15 people in the crowd, it would’ve absolutely brought the house DOWN. But like I said, there were literally 15 people in the crowd not counting the band, so it mostly went unnoticed. He was also on the receiving end of an alley-oop that looked like it was going to clang violently off the backboard until Green jumped over his man from behind the basket and slammed it home. Again, the whole 15 people/house brought down thing would apply here. For the night, the Frogs had five dunks; last year, I don’t think we had a guy who could even touch the rim.
Also to keep an eye on, JUCO Transfer Sammy Yeager. Yeager is one of those guys I remember getting really excited about after watching his highlight tape when the team was introducing the new recruits, and he did not disappoint last night. Despite being a 6-4 two guard, he led the team in rebounds with nine and tied Green for the team lead in points with 17. He also tossed in a couple of threes and led the team in steals with 4. Oh yeah, that’s another thing – we play aggressive basketball, and even if we miss a steal opportunity, they’re fast enough to recover and play defense. SMU shot 40% in the second half. Not all of that can be attributed solely to their ineptitude. Like our past few teams, these Frogs still take a lot of outside shots, but the key difference is they make them, shooting 65% last night.
And this team RUNS. Like, I’m not even sure we have more than a few offensive set plays because we run the fast break so effectively. Of course, like I said, temper your expectations because when we play a team with an actual defense there will have to be changes made, but last night guys were flying all over the place making quick plays and if we ever let the shot clock run off 15 seconds on a possession, I must’ve missed it. During the World Cup I read a little bit about Euro Soccer since it was bombarding me from the pages of every sports website I visited, and I remember reading how the Brazilians hated their coach, even when they were still in the tournament, for not playing their style of soccer. At the time I thought this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but after last night I understand. TCU probably won’t win the conference or make the NCAA tourney – in fact, I’m going to go out on the shortest limb possible and say neither of those things happen this year – but at least they’re going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. They’re the anti-Spurs, who are extremely successful clearly, but if you’re a fan of up-tempo, improvisational basketball, their fundamentally sound style of play is your worst enemy.
So at the risk of telling you to book your Final Four tickets and send the team a box of scissors for net cutting duty, I’m just going to shut it down and say that this year really is going to be the first step we’ve taken in the right direction in a LONG time. Not since Santee, Shropshire, Stubbs, Curtis, Sloan and that crew were running things and making noise in the then solid CUSA have we had a team worth dedicating some time and energy to. Every year I say that I’m going to stop being lazy and head across the Metroplex to catch more than just a handful of games, and while it’s probably all big talk again this year – I’m old beyond my years and like my post-work relaxation, after all – I’m at least 5% more certain that I’ll do so this year and if not, at least I’m one of the four people in America who knows what channel the mtn. is on. I realize it’s going to take more than two convincing wins to bring the fans back to Daniel Meyer, but this is definitely a boat you don’t want to miss if at all possible. Let’s make the DMC known for something other than poorly located restrooms and hosting a Grateful Dead concert forty years ago. Go Frogs.