FORT WORTH —
TCU is going into a new conference with a new coach, someone who's been where the Horned Frogs want to be.
Trent Johnson has been to the NCAA tournament at each of his three previous head coaching stops. Big 12 newcomer TCU is coming off its first winning season in seven years but hasn't played in the tourney since 1998.
Before thinking about what happens in March, Johnson wants his TCU players to focus on what they need to do now.
"My expectations have always been the same, whether it's a new year, a new team or I've been in a program for three or four years,'' Johnson said. "It's concentrate on competing and getting better every day.''
The Horned Frogs have nine returning lettermen, but the only starters back in that group are 6-foot-7 senior forward Garlon Green (9.9 points per game) and sophomore guard Kyan Anderson (9.3 ppg, 2.8 assists per game), the Mountain West Conference's top freshman last season. Gone are Hank Thorns and J.R. Cadot, the top two scorers and only players to start every game during an 18-15 season that ended with an opening-round loss in the College Basketball Invitational.
Amric Fields, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, was selected the Mountain West's top sixth man last season when he averaged 9.6 points while shooting 51 percent from the field. He will have a more prominent role this season.
Johnson became TCU's new coach right after his resignation from LSU, where he spent the past four seasons. He replaced Jim Christian, who left the Frogs after four years to return to the MAC as Ohio's coach.
In a preseason poll by the Big 12 coaches, TCU was picked to finish last in its inaugural season in the league.
"Everybody wants me to make a comparison to the SEC or the Pac-10,'' said Johnson, who also coached at Nevada and Stanford. "My last two years in the Pac-10, there's like 25 guys that are starting in the NBA. ... But you look at Big 12 basketball, and it's so physical. Therein lies the challenges.''
The Frogs got a huge boost when 6-8 sophomore forward Devonta Abron was granted an NCAA wavier that will allow him to play right away this season after transferring from Arkansas to be closer to home. Part of a highly touted recruiting class at Arkansas, Abron started 22 games as a freshman last season for the Razorbacks. He averaged 5.7 points and led them with 4.2 rebounds while playing only about 16 minutes a game.
"He's going to help us,'' Johnson said.
Freshman center Aaron Durley also had a chance to make an impact this season. But the 6-10, 270-pounder tore his ACL during a non-contact drill the second week of preseason practice.
During the final weeks of the last season, the Frogs beat Top 25 teams UNLV and New Mexico at home. They took another ranked team, San Diego State, to overtime in the regular season finale before losing.
Johnson, 226-185 in his 13 seasons as a head coach, hasn't watched any of those TCU games on film. The only Frogs game he saw was one against Houston, a team LSU was playing.
"The past has always been in the past for me,'' the coach said. "I tell these guys that is the past, and leadership and toughness is what we develop and what we grow into. ... Everybody here has a fresh start.''
TCU opens the season Nov. 9 against Cal Poly, the first of five consecutive home games that include an early meeting against SMU and new coach Larry Brown. The Frogs play their first Big 12 game Jan. 5, at home against Texas Tech.
"We're going to play as fast as we can play well,'' Johnson said. "This team, I fully expect to play like all of my teams. I don't know how good a team we're going to be in terms of wins and losses but people are going to look out there and they're going to say, you know what, they play together, they act right, that's a good team.''