How Jamie Dixon's unusual roster at TCU has the nation’s longest winning streak
The Horned Frogs' leading scorer, Kenrich Williams, had zero DI offers out of high school
TCU's top scorer had zero Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school. Three of its next five scorers were late additions who signed within three months of the school hiring Jamie Dixon to replace Trent Johnson. And one of those three was literally a zero-star prospect in the Class of 2016, according to 247Sports.
Incredibly, every word of that paragraph is true.
Which is why it's wild that TCU -- a program with little positive history and zero trips to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 -- is undefeated, ranked in the top 15 and in possession of a national-best 16-game winning streak that dates to last season's run to the NIT championship. Barring a Wofford-over-North Carolina type upset when the Horned Frogs host William & Mary on Friday, TCU will take a 12-0 record, and a 17-game winning streak, into its Big 12 opener against 17th-ranked Oklahoma and National Player of the Year favorite Trae Young.
"I knew we were going to be good, but ..." Dixon said before acknowledging that, sure, it might still be a little too early to know exactly how good considering the Horned Frogs haven't played a currently ranked opponent. But TCU has played (and beaten) the SMU team that beat Arizona and the Nevada team that beat Rhode Island. And that's two top-35 KenPom wins. So it's not like the Horned Frogs have accomplished nothing. And in a season when good teams are losing to bad teams regularly, simply avoiding bad losses, like TCU has to this point, is a resume-builder in and of itself. But, all that said, if the question is whether TCU has that one big headline-grabbing victory that forces everybody to pay attention, the answer is, Dixon admitted, no -- though it's only fair to note the answer is no entirely because TCU hasn't yet had a chance to record a win of that magnitude.
"We tried to schedule the best teams we could get," Dixon said. "But, you know, Kentucky is not going to schedule TCU home-and-home. Duke is not going to schedule TCU home-and-home. The scheduling thing is a challenge. So we've beaten some good teams. But we haven't beaten the blue bloods."
That is, more or less, Dixon's way of saying he understands why some might still be taking a wait-and-see approach with his team. But to focus too much on TCU's lack of signature wins is to miss the point entirely, I think. Because the point is this: TCU -- a program that for decades struggled to do anything in the WAC, C-USA, Mountain West and Big 12 -- is now ranked 10th in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one), 12th in the Coaches poll, 15th in the AP poll and 19th at KenPom. And the fact that TCU is mostly doing this with overlooked prospects Dixon inherited or enrolled is equal parts remarkable and weird -- plus a testament to his ability to hire a good staff and develop players on campus.
Let me walk you through it.
To understand exactly what Dixon has done in just 21 months on the job it's best to start in March 2016 -- back when Pittsburgh officials thought they could do better than the coach who took the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournaments in 13 years. Those Pitt officials -- not to mention some Pitt fans -- were wrong, of course. Embarrassingly wrong. But those Pitt officials still thought they could do better than Jamie Dixon. So they lowered his buyout, which amounted to a nudge out the door and to his alma mater in Fort Worth.
Dixon accepted an offer from TCU on March 21, 2016.
He then quickly hired David Patrick, Corey Barker and Ryan Miller to complete a staff that was able to convince seven of the top eight returning scorers to remain at TCU rather than leave the program in this sometimes transfer-crazy world. Simultaneously, the staff was out recruiting. Patrick -- who grew up in Australia and is best known for luring his godson, Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons, to LSU -- used connections to secure a commitment from Kouat Noi, a three-star prospect from Australia who was at Montverde Academy, the same school Simmons once attended, in Florida. Five days later, on May 26, 2016, Miller helped TCU secure a commitment from Desmond Bane, an unheralded recruit from Indiana who was a zero-star prospect in 247Sports' system. And a week after that, on June 3, 2016, the Horned Frogs secured a commitment from Jaylen Fisher, a top-75 prospect from Memphis whom everybody knew was basically guaranteed to eventually enroll at TCU once Dixon wisely hired Miller.
Again, all three were late-signees.
Now all three are major contributors.
Bane, the former zero-star prospect whom TCU basically beat Ball State to get, is averaging 12.8 points while shooting 54.2 percent from 3-point range. Fisher, the top-75 prospect Miller brought to TCU, is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 6.3 assists. And Noi, the Australian Patrick helped get, is averaging 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 46.4 percent from 3-point range.
"Hiring a good staff and getting those three guys late is probably the biggest thing for us," Dixon said. "Those are three [future] all-league guys. ... And it's funny now with Bane. Everybody is like, 'Oh, we offered him! We wanted him! We knew he was going to be good!' But he had no Division I offers going into his senior year of high school, and we were the only high-major to ever offer him."
And yet Bane's story isn't even the craziest story.
That's because the craziest story belongs to Kenrich Williams -- a 6-7 guard averaging a team-high 14.5 points and a team-high 9.5 rebounds despite the fact that he had zero Division I offers out of high school. Consequently, Williams initially went to junior college, where he caught the attention of ex-TCU coach Trent Johnson. Williams enrolled at TCU in advance of the 2014-15 season, averaged 8.6 points and 6.7 rebounds as a sophomore, then had knee surgery and missed the entire 2015-16 season before returning last season and averaging 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds. And now he's leading the Horned Frogs in minutes, points, rebounds and steals per game.
"It's an amazing story," Dixon said. "I still [can't believe it]. I asked him, 'Did you grow six inches or something? How is it possible you had nothing? How is it possible you had [no DI offers]?' ... Like, he's a pro. He's an NBA player. How is that possible?"
None of this is meant to suggest TCU is completely winning with unheralded prospects. Remember, Fisher was a top-75 recruit, and Alex Robinson, who began his career at Texas A&M, was a top-60 recruit. Beyond that, there are two other top-135 recruits on the roster -- namely Kevin Samuel and R.J. Nembhard. And, if you're into looking ahead, TCU secured letters of intent from two top-120 prospects (Kaden Archie and Kendrick Davis) in the early signing period. So more highly recruited players will be on campus soon.
In other words, the way Dixon and his staff started recruiting the moment they got to TCU always suggested good things were in the program's future, which is Vladimir Brodziansky turning into a high-level big seemed far-fetched, and because I'd never even heard of Desmond Bane.. But did anybody see this happening this quickly? Frankly, I didn't -- if only because I had no clue Kenrich Williams would become one of the Big 12's best players, and because the idea of
And yet here we are.
Against all odds, here we are.
Jamie Dixon has TCU off to an 11-0 start.
And the school that nudged him out is ... 7-5.
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