Jamie Dixon, TCU's new men's basketball coach, understands the mathematical challenge of trying to turn around a program that has averaged two conference wins per season as a Big 12 member.
But the former Pitt coach, a player on TCU's last team to win an NCAA tournament game in 1987, envisions making the Horned Frogs competitive this season despite inheriting the returnees from a 12-21 squad and a program that is 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four seasons.
Dixon has added seven newcomers to his nine returning lettermen since taking over the TCU program in March. The list includes point guard Jaylen Fisher, a four-star signee who is the highest-ranked recruit in program history (No. 34 nationally).
As the Horned Frogs prepare for Friday's first practice before a Nov. 11 opener in Fort Worth against the University of St. Thomas, Dixon said he plans to turn some heads quickly with this team and is pleased with the effort he has gotten from four seniors who project to play major roles in that success: forwards Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn, along with guards Michael Williams and Brandon Parrish.
"There is no rebuild here. I told our guys that the other day," said Dixon, who compiled a 328-123 mark in his 13 seasons at Pitt, including 11 NCAA tournament appearances. "I know it's not what you're supposed to say as a first-year coach. You're supposed to say, 'Give me time. We need to rebuild. I need to get my guys.' These are my guys. We're here to compete right away. We expect to and you can't settle for anything else."
Dixon said he has been stressing a mantra of "blind faith" to players and fans and will espouse that message again Thursday night as one of six coaches from Texas colleges participating in a Coaches vs. Cancer Texas Tip-Off event in Dallas that will serve as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.
"I think we have the ability to be a team that's at the top of the league every single year," Dixon said. "I know there's no history to base that upon. But we've got to have blind faith. I want to be a program ... where you get into the tournament and it's expected, and anything less is not a good year. And I think we have everything in place here to do that."
Dixon said he's been "impressed" by the buy-in efforts from his nine inherited players, particularly the four seniors. He's also expecting immediate contributions from the five freshmen on this year's roster, led by Fisher at point guard.
"Jaylen obviously is a special talent and a special kid at the same time," said Dixon, who credits the Arlington, Tenn., product with being a recruiting magnet for subsequent signees. "He made it cool to come here. There's no question about that. He's the kind of guy that people listen to and follow. You need that."
Shepherd, a 6-foot-11 forward who averaged 7.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season, said the returnees are "positive about everything that's happened" since Dixon took over the program and seek to carve out a legacy as program-changers after losing a combined 79 games the past four seasons under former coach Trent Johnson. Shepherd said Dixon "has brought more intensity to us."Williams, a senior who averaged 4.2 points and made 15 starts last season, pointed to Dixon's blue-collar approach as something the team has lacked in previous seasons.
"He's really preaching toughness," Williams said. "Leadership, obviously, is a big quality and he's a great leader. He's a great coach. We want to leave a legacy. This is our senior year, our final chance to do that. We're looking to make big things happen."
This article was written by Jimmy Burch from Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.