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Friday, March 5, 2021

TCU basketball rewards the faithful

Dale Young remembers his days as a TCU cheerleader vividly. And though he no longer wears the uniform he donned in the mid-1960s, he’s never stopped cheering for his beloved Horned Frogs.

And now, thanks to Jamie Dixon and the men’s basketball team, Young was cheering as loudly as he has in a couple of decades as they prepared to face Arizona or Syracuse March 16 at 8:40 p.m. in their first game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Young, 74, is arguably the most avid Texas Christian University basketball fan on the face of the Earth. Oh, he loves everything Horned Frogs, but hoops is by far his greatest love.

Despite the drought, Young never turned away. Win or lose, he was there, clad in as much purple as a human body could bear, shouting as loud as his lungs could muster.

“I stayed with them all these years. There were tough times, but I was always there,” he said. “I was there when no one else was but a few faculty members and some students. These last two years have been refreshing.”

Of course, Young is referring to the Horned Frogs winning the National Invitation Tournament last season, Dixon’s first as head coach. That momentum carried over into this year, and now the optimism has been proven valid.

“Dale has certainly been patient, to say the least,” TCU Athletic Director Csaid. “Fans like him make this even more special to see.”

CLOSE, BUT NO GO

There was a time or two in the past couple of decades when TCU hoops fans were teased with the possibility of a turnaround.

In 2005 under Coach Neil Dougherty they went 21-14, winning two games in the NIT. In 2012 they were 18-15 under Coach Jim Christian, going 1-1 in the College Basketball Invitational.

But mostly there has not been much to celebrate concerning men’s basketball on campus – until now.

Little did Young and others realize when the Horned Frogs were upset 96-87 by 12th-seeded Florida State in the 1998 opening round that it would be so long before a return.

That Frogs team, coached by the colorful Billy Tubbs, was very good, bursting into national prominence for what many thought was the first of many NCAA Tournament berths.

But Tubbs would not get them back. They went 21-11 the next season, winning a pair of games in the NIT, followed by three straight years of no postseason.

Tubbs then left the scene in his helicopter made of pickles (Ticket radio station listeners will get the reference). Following Tubbs out the door were the Horned Frogs’ hopes of national prominence.

MAKING THE BIG HIRE

After Tubbs’ departure in 2002, the Horned Frogs had 11 losing seasons. The low point was going 0-18 in the Big 12 in 2014.

Then, a couple of years ago, the athletic program made a move Young thought was long overdue.

TCU hired the basketball program’s favorite son, Dixon. As a player he led the Horned Frogs to a pair of Southwest Conference championships under Coach Jim Killingsworth in the late 1980s, along with making perhaps the most famous shot in team history, and Dixon’s record of success at the University of Pittsburgh included three Sweet 16s and one regional finals appearance.

And, in his first season coaching the Horned Frogs, they won their first postseason championship in team history.

“It was time to make that change, and TCU was moving all sports up to Big 12 caliber,” Young said. “Men’s basketball had to get there, and Dixon was the guy to do it.”

Donati couldn’t agree more.

“His goal is not to just go to the NCAA Tournament, he wants to compete for Big 12 championships and go deep in the tournament,” Donati said. “His Mount Everest doesn’t peak.”

Donati then recalled how after the Horned Frogs won the NIT Dixon addressed the team.

“He told them this is exciting, but start getting ready for next season, because we’re taking this thing a step higher,” Donati said.

Just as TCU had done with football and baseball, the school showed it was serious about moving forward with men’s basketball.

Major renovations were made to the Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena, opening the opportunity to put the program in the national spotlight with two home games in the NIT.

“That really was a step up. Those home games in the NIT made a big difference, and I wanted Jamie hired for years,” Young said. “The crowds we have now, and we had during the NIT, remind me of the ones we used to have many years ago.

“I remember we took about 2,000 fans to Baylor’s Heart of Texas Coliseum and won the Southwest Conference championship. We stormed the court. We have that enthusiasm again.”

DEEP HORNED FROGS ROOTS

Young’s TCU roots run deep. His dad, a former basketball coach, went to school there. So did four cousins.

Young played basketball at perennial high school power Brock in Parker County and wanted to play for TCU, but instead played two seasons at Weatherford College. He could have played at another school after leaving the Weatherford Coyotes but he couldn’t imagine life as anything but a Horned Frog, so he attended and joined the cheerleading squad.

He got a bachelor’s degree in 1966 and earned a master’s degree in 1968.

He followed in his dad’s footsteps for a while, coaching junior high basketball and tennis for a decade in the Fort Worth Independent School District before returning to TCU and spending 35 years in teaching and administration.

“Basketball is something we started playing at age 3 in Brock, but I’ve been a TCU fan ever since I was able to even say TCU,” he said. “I knew where I was going to college even when I was a little kid.”

Current Horned Frog player Clayton Crawford’s father played for Young at Wedgwood Middle School, so one way or another Young has always been connected to the TCU program.

GOOD FOR FORT WORTH

As much as he loves his Horned Frogs, Young also loves Fort Worth. And TCU’s basketball success is good for the city.

Winning brings people to town. And it brings the town to people.

When the Horned Frogs were playing in New York in the NIT last season, many young players who might not have ever heard of the program were introduced to Dixon and his exciting brand of basketball.

And Fort Worth has rekindled its love affair with Horned Frogs basketball.

“There’s a feeling of electricity with the team. You can go into restaurants and shops and people will say, ‘I saw the game on TV last night,’ ” Young said.

“It’s fun to hear from fans who aren’t even season ticket holders talk about the games,” Donati said. “It adds to the overall excitement, the vibe of the city. They’re proud of their Horned Frogs.”

Young also noted that in connection with last season’s NIT games in New York, big billboards were put up, along with full-page thank-you ads.

“Those put TCU basketball and Fort Worth in the minds of a lot of people,” he said. “That kind of publicity brings kids in. They want to be a part of your program.”

HERE TO STAY

The men’s basketball program bears strong similarities to the football and baseball programs. Those programs also turned a corner and never looked back, building themselves into national powers.

Now, TCU expects to compete for Big 12 championships in both sports, and postseason berths are a given. In fact, no college baseball team in America can boast of the success of the Horned Frogs with four straight College World Series appearances.

Just like with head coaches Gary Patterson in football and Jim Schlossnagle in baseball, players want to come to TCU and play for Dixon. Very simply, if you win it, they will come.

“People believed Jamie could turn it around, but everyone – excluding Jamie – is surprised at how fast,” Donati said.

“Jamie is so well-known across the nation and has so many ties, and he’s already recruited so well for next year,” Young said.

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