To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with TCU coach Trent Johnson about returning 8 of his top-9 scorers from last year.
In the 1976 NCAA tourney as a player at Boise State you scored 12 points in a loss to UNLV: how good were the Rebels? It was probably one of the best teams ever if they had Reggie Theus coming off the bench! The NCAA tourney at that time was composed of 32 teams, so they were great enough to be one of the best 32 in the nation. It was probably one of Coach Jerry Tarkanian’s best teams ever. Two of the assistant coaches on that team were Mike Montgomery and Lynn Archibald. Lynn was also head coach at Idaho State, whose teams I played against when I was at Boise State.
In the 1987 NIT as an assistant to Archibald at Utah, Albert Springs was fouled with one second left but missed a pair of FTs due to some fans shaking the basket in a 1-point loss to Boise State: what did you and Lynn do while standing there watching such a wild scene taking place? I remember it real well, but personally I was more concerned about Albert (who is no longer with us after passing away years ago). Usually when a kid misses a free throw in a situation like that my first reaction has always been how is he, so that was my big concern. I do not really remember what Coach Archibald was doing. It was a tough loss but I remember consoling Albert.
In the 1998 NCAA tourney as an assistant to Montgomery at Stanford, Arthur Lee scored 13 of his game-high 26 points in the final two minutes of a 2-point win over Rhode Island: where does that rank among the most clutch performances you have ever seen? It is number one. The ball was stolen by Cuttino Mobley (who went on to have a great NBA career) and Rhode Island at that time was really special. That was probably the number one clutch performance I have been involved with due to the magnitude of the game and who we were playing against.
In the 2004 NCAA tourney as head coach at Nevada, you upset Michigan State and Gonzaga before losing to eventual runner-up Georgia Tech: what is it like to face Tom Izzo and Mark Few during the same weekend in March? I never got caught up in who was sitting on the other bench: I just focused on the quality of the players and team we were going up against. Obviously, Michigan State was a top-20 team and Gonzaga was the number two seed, but I knew we had a very, very good basketball team. We were very, very confident. We had Kirk Snyder, Nick Fazekas, Garry-Hill Thomas, Jermaine Washington, Todd Okeson, Kevinn Pinkney, and Sean Paul. My assistant coaches at that time were Mark Fox (now at Georgia) and David Carter (now at Nevada). I could go on and on about that team but in the end I just knew we had a very, very talented team. It proved to be true as we went on to play Georgia Tech and led that entire game until the last four minutes. We ended up getting beat by Georgia Tech, who eventually made the title game before losing to UConn.
In the 2008 NCAA tourney as head coach at Stanford, you missed Brook Lopez’s block on Lazar Hayward at the end of regulation as well as his baseline leaner with 1.3 seconds left in a 1-point overtime win over Marquette due to getting ejected in the first half: how was your team able to stay focused without you, and where did you watch the rest of the game after halftime? We were really talented that was dominated by juniors and seniors with the exception of Brook and Robin Lopez and Landry Fields, who were all sophomores. Mitch Johnson was a junior and a great leader. Then you had another junior in Lawrence Hill and a pair of seniors in Fred Washington and Taj Finger. All those kids had been around for a long, long time. One of the things you always try to do as a coach is get kids to understand that everything is on auto-pilot when you have some junior and senior leadership to go along with talent. We had experience and talent on that team so it was never an issue. I think the kids were upset because of what had happened but they played really well down the stretch and ended up winning the game. I was unable to watch the rest of the game because there were no televisions in the locker room.
After being named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2008, you were hired as head coach at LSU and won the SEC regular season title in 2009: as someone who has coached at 4 different schools in the past decade, what is the key to making a successful transition from 1 school to the next? I would say players. Every situation is different but you have to change the culture. At Nevada there was a losing culture when I took that job, so it was about getting everybody to understand that you can win but it is going to take everybody. That includes the fans, but it is mainly the administrators, support staff, and people who work inside the program. Obviously, when I left there and got the job at Stanford after Mike joined the Warriors, there was a tradition of winning there so it was basically on auto-pilot. After leaving there I inherited a very, very talented team at LSU (which had four future NBA players) but only won 13 games the previous year, so it was just a matter of making them realize that they needed defense and rebounding to change the culture. They were able to do that, and it is no different here at TCU. They have not had any basketball tradition since 1998 (when they made the NCAA tourney under Coach Billy Tubbs), but they have had great players who have won over the years like Dr. James Cash. It is important to recruit good players, but you also have to believe that you can win at this level and change the culture if it has been embroidered in losing. The number one thing is players, and then changing the culture is number two.
Your non-conference schedule includes games against Washington State, Bradley, and Mississippi: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? Every game on our schedule presents a big test, which starts with our 1st game of the year against Prairie View A&M.
After a great 9-3 record in non-conference play last fall where you had wins over teams from the Pac-12 (Washington State) and SEC (Mississippi State), you lost your final 19 conference games to finish 9-22: was it just a freak situation where you happened to have several players suffer season-ending injuries, and how do you plan to turn things around this year? I would agree with that from the standpoint that it was a situation where you had a lot of players sitting out and a lot of players injured. However, the bottom line is that we were unable to practice. From start to finish our guys never stopped trying to find ways to win, and injuries had a lot to do with it, but now we are healthy. We have 3 kids who we signed in Chauncey Collins, Link Kabadyundi, and Kenrich Williams who will be a major part of what we do. We had two kids that were sitting out in Trey Zeigler and Chris Washburn who should help us immediately. For the most part we will be able to have competitive practices and get better, so it should be a fun time for us and a good year.
Your team returns eight of its top-9 scorers from last year: how crucial will all of that experience be to your team’s success? It will be crucial in that they remember what happened last year…but they also need to forget what happened last year. We have some new additions in terms of talent but the bottom line for us to be successful is that we have to be better defensively. We also have to rebound better and take better care of the ball, as that will create more opportunities to score.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? Number one is that we have to remain healthy, and number two is that we have to take it day-by-day. We have to be the best possible students, people, and players that we can be individually, which will lead to positive things collectively. We have to take care of our business academically, socially, and athletically. We have to make sure our mental toughness is consistent in terms of what we do every day. If we do all of those things, we will achieve our goals. Our expectations are to do all of the above, and we have to exceed those expectations.