By Jonny Auping Special to the Fort Worth Business Press
You might say the Texas Christian University men’s basketball team was the sacrificial lamb in the university’s football-motivated move from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12 Conference. The rising prominence and success of coach Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs were demanding the attention and respect of the entire nation. The Frogs were ready for a move into the big leagues. The basketball team, on the other hand, was not. The TCU men’s basketball team has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1998, but two years ago it was thrown into arguably the best conference in college basketball.
Ready or not, the opportunity to give maximum exposure and opportunity to the football team was too good to pass up. Football is the most lucrative asset any university has at its disposal. College basketball is number two. As successful as the track or baseball programs may be, TCU may need its men’s basketball team to start pulling its own weight in order to consider the move to the Big 12 financially viable. Following the adage “You have to spend money to make money,” TCU is making full-scale renovations to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, where the men’s and women’s basketball team play.
On Oct. 3, the day before the football team set out to battle – successfully, as it turned out – the Oklahoma Sooners, men’s basketball coach Trent Johnson and Assistant Athletic Director John Denton spoke at the Fort Worth Rotary Club about the renovations and the coming season. The two men were introduced by Brad Hancock, the director of the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center and a Kentucky native who, with tongue firmly in cheek, claimed that despite football’s popularity in North Texas, basketball was “ordained and sanctified by God.” Denton, who is also the color analyst for TCU basketball on the TCU network, then took the stage to talk about Daniel-Meyer Coliseum or, as he referred to it, “the new sanctuary.”
The $46 million already committed to the renovations was raised in a matter of six months. The arena will still hold about the same number seats as it previously had – roughly 7,500. However, the 1961 arena will have a much more modern look. Denton said he expected it to have “the feel of the American Airlines Center,” which is home to the Dallas Mavericks and considered one of the better arenas in the National Basketball Association. A prominent feature in the building will be a TCU Hall of Fame. It will pay homage to the accomplishments of all TCU athletics throughout history and house memorabilia such as the 2011 Rose Bowl Trophy and Davey O’Brien’s Heisman Trophy. The total renovations are projected to cost $63 million. TCU expects the arena to re-open in October 2015. This season will be Johnson’s third as TCU’s head basketball coach and its third year in the Big 12. Johnson’s team shocked the country two seasons ago when the Horned Frogs defeated the fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. Last season, though, TCU failed to record a single win in conference play. The Frogs have finished 10th in the conference in both of their seasons in the Big 12.
Johnson says the team is “in a good place,” citing young developing talent on the roster, but he has no false pretenses about the competition in his conference. “With all due respect to the ACC, the Big 12 is the best basketball conference in the country from top to bottom,” Johnson said. TCU hopes that a state-of-the-art arena will help recruit top-level talents on the basketball court. Since Southern Methodist University hired Larry Brown, SMU has held an advantage in the recruiting department in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The arena will give TCU something to show recruits to debunk the idea that the basketball program is just the neglected brother of the looming football program. In the meantime, the team will not have a home it can call its own. This season the team will play most of its games at the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center in southwest Fort Worth.
“The home crowd will come if we play good basketball,” Johnson said. “We can play outside for all I care.” Still, the head coach is aware that the newly renovated arena will bring with it raised expectations and he plans to remind his players they should not take it for granted. “All those other programs … they did a lot of winning before they got new facilities,” Johnson said. “For us it’s backwards.”