MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Trent Johnson's four seasons as Stanford's coach included 80 wins, three NCAA Tournaments, one Sweet Sixteen and a lot of time spent talking to Bill Walsh.The former Cardinal and San Francisco 49ers coach would listen and share and Johnson was one of the fortunate ones to be in his company."One thing he said that stuck with me was you can tell the job a head coach and his staff did when you look in the rear view mirror," Johnson said. "When you look in the rear view in Nevada, it continued to escalate after I left. When you look in the rear view at Stanford, the cupboard was not bare. When you look in the rear view at LSU, they're doing OK."Johnson is now in charge at TCU, his fourth job since 1999, and the Horned Frogs (9-3) are off to their best start since the 2000-01 season.
"This one," Johnson said, "I'm in for the long haul."Johnson was the head coach at Nevada from 1999-2004, Stanford from 2004-08 and LSU from 2008-12 and added NCAA Tournament appearances at Nevada and LSU. He was the conference coach of the year once at all three schools.The task is taller at TCU. The men's basketball program has been to the NCAA Tournament twice since the field expanded in 1985 and not since 1998.
Johnson's first Horned Frogs team was 11-21 and lost three players to season-ending injuries before the start of their first trip through the Big 12, but did beat No. 5 Kansas at home.Johnson signed arguably the best recruiting class in school history, led by 6-foot-10 Karviar Shepherd, who the team's media guide calls "the highest-rated prospect to ever sign with TCU." They'll take a crack at WVU (8-5) in Saturday's 4 p.m. game at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum."The four guys we signed showed great courage in wanting to come and be a part of helping us build something and establish a basketball tradition," Johnson said. "Those are the guys we need and want."
Shepherd averages 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds while classmate Brandon Parrish is fourth on the team in scoring (10.3) and has made 17 of 41 3-point attempts. They've both started all 12 games. Mike Williams averages 4.8 points off the bench, while fellow freshman Hudson Price has missed six games with a concussion and an illness."Kids always talk about, 'I want to play,'" Johnson said. "I put it back on them. 'OK, well, if you're as good as you think you are, then we're going to be pretty good.' But it's a fact that where we're at, we can sell playing time and a chance to compete against the best players in one of the premier conferences in the country. That takes courage."TCU will soon add the lure of a renovated arena. A $59 million project is supposed to be completed in October 2015."I think it can help a lot," Johnson said. "The commitment from the administration and from the donor base is always huge. The plans for the arena speak volumes, but we've got to win our share of games first."The Horned Frogs have won five in a row and nine of 10. They're 5-1 at home with the loss coming in a shocker against Longwood in the second game of the season. TCU is still just No. 160 in the RPI and has played the 299th most difficult schedule in the country.
Yet the offense is better and averages 70.2 points per game, which is up from 55 points per game last season. Four players score in double figures, led by point guard Kyan Anderson (16.5). The team's top recruit in 2012, Anderson led the team in scoring a year ago (12.0) and was the only player in double figures."They're making shots," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said of TCU. "They struggled to make shots on a consistent basis a year ago. They're making shots now. They've got two guys shooting over 40 percent from 3. They can score close - they do score close - and they really try to run things to get it close. And they play inside-out, which are the easiest shots to make.TCU received an inside boost in Sunday's win against Texas Southern. Amric Fields, whose season-ending injury early last season changed TCU's roster, returned from a four-game absence for a broken hand. The 6-foor-9 Fields had 17 points and 12 rebounds.He's missed seven games this season, but averages 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds and helps complete the plan on defense, where TCU holds teams to 65 points and 40 percent shooting."They're just better now," Huggins said. "I think everyone has always respected Trent as a basketball coach. His kids always play hard and always competed and he always ran good stuff. You can run all the good stuff you want. If you're open and you don't make a shot, all of a sudden you become a bad coach."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com
or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.