Horned Frogs set for 2002-03 Basketball Season
Oct. 17, 2002
Perpetual adjustments. This time one year ago, the TCU Horned Frogs were talking about making the adjustment to one of the top basketball conferences in the country - Conference USA. One year later, the Frogs - nine returning lettermen - are making another adjustment, this time to new head coach Neil Dougherty and his staff. With a new coaching staff in place at TCU, Dougherty and staff have been asked repeatedly, 'what style of play will be used.' For the last eight years, the Frogs have been known as a run-n-gun, quick tempo, fast break, high-scoring program. "My style of play would be my background. I want to play a very up-tempo style of basketball," said Dougherty, who spent seven seasons on the Kansas basketball staff. "I want to run very hard to the offensive end with great organization in doing so. I want to have the defense on their heels when we're coming at them offensively, and I want the offense on their heels because we're coming at them defensively. So we're going to run hard to the offensive end, we're going to run hard back to the defensive end." "In the overall scheme of things throughout a game would be that we're getting a great shot and they're not getting the same type of look when they have the ball. When you watch our teams play, I hope people will think, 'They play unbelievably hard, unbelievably unselfish and they compete to win.' If that's what people are saying about us, then we're probably doing what I'm trying to accomplish." The Frogs got a head start on the adjustment period during the summer, travelling to Australia for six exhibition games. On the trip, the Frogs posted a 3-3 record, while averaging over 100 points per game. But it was not just the action on the court that benefited Dougherty and the Frogs. "I think the trip was a huge success," said Dougherty. "For this being the beginning of our program, the players should now have a better understanding of what will be expected for them both on and off the court. We had an early opportunity to evaluate where we are as a program, and what we need to work on when practices start in October. The trip was probably the best thing we've done since we arrived at TCU." With nine returning lettermen, including the top five returning scorers from the 2001-02 season, the Frogs should be well-prepared to enter year two in C-USA. After a slow start out of the gate in year one, the Frogs bounced back, winning six of the final 10 league games to post a 16-15 record overall, 6-10 in league play. The final overall record allowed the Frogs to record the team's eighth straight winning season. Competing in the National Division of the league, the Frogs will compete with Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Southern Miss, Tulane and UAB. In addition to a pair of games against each of the teams from the National Division, the Frogs will host American Division teams, Cincinnati and Marquette, and travel to DePaul and Louisville. While the players have experienced the difficult Conference USA schedule, it will be new to Dougherty and staff. However, that does not mean that the Frogs' new mentor does not know what he is getting into. "I think C-USA is a very physical, competitive conference," said Dougherty. "I think it's a conference with a lot of tradition. I don't know if the conference itself has the traditions the schools representing it do, because it's relatively new in terms of years. When you look back, if you're a basketball person, and you see within the conference that you have Louisville, you have Cincinnati, you have Marquette, DePaul, Memphis, Charlotte, Houston, all of those schools have participated in Final Fours. Three of them - Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette - have banners that say 'National Champions', and Cincinnati and Louisville have multiple banners. When you look at Conference USA, it's a great basketball conference with great tradition, and when you bring in the coaches that are involved with it now, I think you elevate it another notch. I expect our conference to continue to get better because there are a lot of young coaches who aren't as well-known as Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins and once they get a chance to be known, I think everyone will see they are every bit as good or going to be someday as good as those two. The coaches in our league have come from very good programs, and you don't do that without learning something from the people who are running those programs. I think in the next few years what you're going to find out is Conference USA is going to elevate itself in comparison to the other so-called 'superconferences.' When you talk about the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10, Big East, then Conference USA should be mentioned with those people because we have those types of programs." The 12-game non-conference slate features six home games and six road games, including contests at SMU, Baylor and North Texas. TCU will have a number of marquee home games, including a contest against former Southwest Conference rival Texas Tech. In addition, the Frogs will host Sam Houston State, Washington State, Louisiana-Monroe, Grambling and Centenary. In addition to the trips to Dallas, Waco and Denton, a number of tough road games await the Frogs as TCU will hit the road to face NCAA teams Tulsa and Creighton, plus Virginia Commonwealth, a team that won over 20 games last season. Overall, the Frogs are slated to play 12 games against teams that played in either the NCAA or NIT Tournaments.
One year ago, experience was a huge question mark for the Frogs. That should not be the case this season as seven of the nine returning lettermen have started at least 10 games in their respective careers. Last season's roster included six players who had never appeared in a Division I contest. Senior forward Bingo Merriex has started a team-high 36 games, including 22 last season. Senior Junior Blount is second with 28 starts, followed by sophomores Corey Santee and Corey Valsin, each with 22 starts. Jamal Brown (18 starts), Nucleus Smith (11 starts) and James Davis (10 starts) are the remaining three players that have started at least 10 games. Of those six players, Merriex and Smith are the only players who had started a game prior to last season. Senior post Rebel Paulk has eight starts to his credit, but they have been spread out over his three years at TCU. Eighty-eight percent. That is the percentage of points that TCU's nine returning lettermen accounted for last season. A large portion of last season's team scoring average of 85.3 points came from Blount, who led the Frogs with a 19.5 average. Blount scored a total of 603 points, making him only the 12th player in TCU history to score at least 600 points in a single-season. Even more impressive in league play, Blount went on to set a Conference USA record for league scoring with 364 points (22.8 average), breaking Kenyon Martin and Omar Sneed's record of 363 points. In a guard heavy league, Blount is a solid candidate for pre-season all-conference honors after being named a second team All-C-USA selection last season. Merriex, who has appeared in a team-high 91 contests, appears to be ready for a banner senior year. One of the top three-point shooters in school history, Merriex has the ability to score points in a hurry. Entering the 2002-03 season, he needs only 23 points to become the 25th player in TCU history to cross the 1,000 career points mark. In Australia, Merriex led the Frogs in scoring with a 22.5 average, and a 9.1 average on the boards. Undersized compared to most of the big men in Conference USA, Brown held his own last season, averaging 10.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He ended the year with nine double-doubles and briefly held the C-USA record for rebounds in a game with 26, which he set against North Texas. Paulk, the lone fifth-year player on the roster is a solid defensive player that adds size and muscle to the Horned Frogs' front line. One of the more experienced players on the roster, Paulk has played in 67 games in three seasons. In his career, Paulk has blocked 43 shots, while scoring 1.9 points per game. If the 2001-02 Frogs seemed to be missing something, it was probably Smith. The junior guard had a solid freshman year, and was ready for bigger and better things as a sophomore. However, he suffered an ankle injury in the final exhibition game and was forced to miss the first six ballgames. A month later, Smith fractured a finger, and was out for another eight games. A preseason projected starter at guard, Smith played in only 14 games. Now healthy, Smith averaged 10.1 points per game during the six-game trip to Australia. Last season, four freshmen earned playing time during the season. Headlining the group was Santee, a guard, who returns after earning C-USA All-Freshman team honors. While finishing second on the team in scoring with an average of 14.7, he also set a TCU freshman record for assists with 180, an average of 5.8 per game. Including his 32 point, 10 assists night against Baylor, Santee had double-doubles (points and assists) on three occasions last season. Valsin, who was often asked to be TCU's defensive stopper last season as a redshirt freshman, also returns. He started 22 games last season, playing at both the "2" and "3" positions. He finished fifth on the team in scoring with an average of 8.9 per game and was third in assists with 56. Davis played in 25 games last season, averaging 5.6 points. He has the ability to supply instant offense, as evidenced by his 12-point second half showing against SMU, which keyed the Frogs 19-0 run in a 74-62 win. After playing in 19 games as a true freshman, Marcus Sloan should see more extensive action this season. While in Australia, Sloan averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
With the returning talent that is already a somewhat proven commodity, the Frogs will welcome the addition of three talented newcomers.
Headlining the group is Texas Tech transfer, Ron Hobbs. The versatile athlete sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Expected to make an immediate impact, Hobbs contributed 17.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game during the Frogs' trip to Australia. Although he has been in the program for a year, 6-10.5 post Brian Carter redshirted last season. A good athlete, Carter is a solid defensive player that has the ability to block shots.
The lone true freshman, Chudi Chinweze, played on the United States team that won the gold medal at the 2002 Summer Goodwill Games. Ranked as one of the top players in the state of Texas, Chinweze averaged 19 points and 8.7 rebounds as a high school senior. A fourth newcomer, junior guard Marcus Shropshire will sit out the 2002-03 season after transferring from Texas Tech.