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October 17, 2012Trent Johnson stepped beneath the lights shining down onto the court inside Daniel-Meyer Coliseum last week, his team gathering around him, circling the arched TCU logo painted on the hardwood.
A new era in TCU men's basketball was beginning - and nothing else before that seemed to matter.
"I haven't watched one [game]," Johnson said when asked of his assessment of last year's team. "I haven't watched any. That's the past."
The Horned Frogs officially started practice Friday, exactly four weeks before their season opener Nov. 9 against Cal-Poly at home.
Johnson, hired away from LSU in April to replace Jim Christian who left for Ohio, wants to wipe the slate clean - of both the good and bad - from a TCU team that went 18-15 a year ago.
"I vaguely remember this team, because they played Houston the week before [LSU] played Houston last year," Johnson said. "That's the only time I've ever seen this team play. Different system. Fresh start for everybody."
So far, Johnson said he's pleased with how his team has progressed both mentally and physically. But, really, none of that means much until the Frogs translate it onto the court against competition other than their own, he said.
"We have a lot of work in front of us," Johnson said. "I reserve my judgment until we go and compete against someone else. It takes a while."
The Frogs returned big-time contributors in Amric Fields, Kyan Anderson and Garlon Green, all of whom earned starts throughout the year. Leading scorer Hank Thorns and leading rebounder J.R. Cadot graduated, as well as starting forward Craig Williams.
Shooting guards Charles Hill and Clyde Smith and center Aaron Durley make up the Frogs' incoming freshman class.
But the biggest addition to the team, and the newcomer who'll probably play the most, was power forward Devonta Abron, a transfer from Arkansas who led the Razorbacks last year with 4.2 rebounds a game in just 16.3 minutes a contest.
Abron, a broad-shouldered sophomore from Dallas, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA in August. The move has allowed the 6-foot-8, 255-pounder to be closer to his young son and ailing uncle.
The former Parade All-American has altered the outlook for a TCU frontcourt that doesn't a return a player who averaged more than 3.8 rebounds a game last year.
"I bring toughness and a bulldog mentality," he said. "Just being tough, going after every ball and not letting anyone go up easy. If they go up, they're not going to make it. They're going to get fouled or get it blocked."
Abron's one season at the SEC school -- one in which he played all 32 games as a true freshman - is something unique to the makeup of a TCU team set to enter its first season in the Big 12, Johnson said.
"Devonta is the one guy on this basketball team who's competed at a high level," Johnson said. "And when I say high level, he was in the SEC. There's nothing he hasn't seen from a competitive standpoint - he's battle-tested."
And while Abron, who described himself as a "natural" on the boards, could provide more brawn for TCU, Fields, now a junior, might be the talented finesse player the Frogs need.
At 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, Fields averaged 9.6 points a game and was named Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year last season.
For Fields, getting stronger physically has been one of his point of focus over the offseason, he said.
"It's really hard for me to gain weight, as you can tell," he said. "I've been skinny all my life. But I try to put on a couple pounds when I can."
He's worked to make strides mentally, too.
"Confidence is something that I deal with every year, just trying to get more confident and more confident," he said.
Johnson said he doesn't think that should be a problem for a player like Fields.
"Amric is as talented and as skilled as a lot of guys I've been around," said Johnson who helped develop NBA players like Brook and Robin Lopez and Landry Fields at Stanford. "The key for him is remaining confident, remaining aggressive and not taking plays off. He has no reason to not be a very confident individual."
Big 12 ties
Fields' high school teammate, Tyler Neal, plays for Oklahoma.
Both first team all-state selections at Putnam City West (Okla.) their senior years, Fields said he and Neal exchanged some friendly trash talk after the Frogs joined the Big 12.
"Me and Tyler talked when we first got inducted to the Big 12," Fields said. "He texted me and said 'be ready for me.''
Anderson, a Fort Worth native, grew up following the Big 12, he said.
"This is where everybody dreams of playing," he said. "This kind of atmosphere. These kind of teams. We have to be ready for our opportunity."
Frogs adjusting to Johnson's intensity
If there was a common theme amongst the players Tuesday, it was this: Johnson is one intense guy.
"It is really different, really intense," Anderson said after the Frogs' two-hour morning session. "It's different than last year. Everybody's buying in so that's good."
Abron is reminded constantly by the coaches of just where his own intensity level has to be, he said.
"Coach Johnson tells me every day to go get it," he said. "Take no days off, play every play like it's your last play, and act like you want it."
Fields said the change of pace has been a good thing.
"It's a lot more intense," Fields said. "Not taking anything away from Coach Christian - he put us through a lot of tough workouts, too. But I think Coach Johnson is a little bit different breed as far as intensity and making sure we're sprinting everywhere. I think it needed a little bit more structure."
Johnson and his staff have already made an impact on the recruiting scene, especially in Texas.
Karviar Shepherd (4-star, C, Dallas Prime Prep), Brandon Parrish (3-star, PF, Arlington Seguin) and Michael Williams (3-star, PG, San Antonio Reagan) have all committed to the Frogs since September.
Shepherd, the No. 3-ranked center in the country, is the gem of the class so far, but Parrish, a top-150 recruit, and Williams, a point guard with scoring ability, balance out what's already one the best recruiting classes the program has had in a while.