There are three Australian’s involved in TCU’s (21-11) great 2017-18 college basketball season that has culminated in earning a berth in the NCAA tournament, their first dance since 1998. Two of them will play influential roles as to just how far he Horned Frogs can progress.
When all March Madness comes to an end, one of them will be headed for the next step in their basketball journey. Although TCU are a long-shot to win this years NCAA tournament, they have been given a nod to pick up more fouls than the average March Madness teams in the tournament - at 35/1. The Horned Frogs are one of 8 teams featuring this March.
On the eve of their Round 1 clash against Syracuse, TCU enters the big dance as a number 6 seed; with freshman forward Kouat Noi as their starting power forward and David Patrick as assistant head coach. However it will be the last few weeks at TCU for Patrick who has been announced as the new head coach for UC Riverside.
From the bench to starting
In speaking exclusively with The Pick and Roll, Noi was focused and looking forward to his first NCAA Tournament after a stellar year with the Horned Frogs.
“I’m looking forward to the [NCAA] tournament,” exclaimed Noi. “The last couple of days have been spent preparing, and we will go in with a winning mindset. We are going to compete, and do our best to get the win.”
Noi’s emergence across the season has been remarkable after sitting on the sidelines and red-shirting last season. After impressing as one of the first guys off the bench in the first half of the season, the New South Welshman forced his way into the starting line-up. Averaging an impressive 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game while shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc, Noi has certainly made an impact in his first year.
“It’s just been crazy,” outlined Noi. “I have been doing some good things so far, but I am still learning along the way, and picking up on little things all the time. To play in the starting 5 - it’s crazy! It’s something that I always looked forward to doing.”
TCU started off the season with an amazing 12-game winning streak, including a win over Nevada who was nationally ranked 22 at the time, before a heart-breaking 1 point loss to then #12 ranked Oklahoma. Noi attributed the strong start to the season in part to the team’s tour of Australia during the off-season.
“The trip to Australia was great fun, but it was a great opportunity to get prepared for the season ahead,” explained Noi.
“The fact that we were playing against older men [on the tour] was helped. Physically and as a team playing together, it was great.”
Noi went on to explain that the success the team has been able to achieve to date on the court was also due to how close-knit and focused that the players and coach staff were in working towards achieving their goals. He spoke of a great team culture and a commitment to delivering on court success and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“The seniors brought us all together [at the start of the season],” shared Noi. “We had a talk and agreed that our focus would be on getting better, that we would listen to our coaches, and that we wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament. Now that we have achieved that, we just have to keep climbing.”
While Noi’s first year on court has been somewhat of a whirlwind and possibly even a fairy-tale, he spoke of how challenging it was to make the transition from Australia to the US, and then also not being able to play straight away. It turned into a challenge that not only made him work harder, but also appreciate all that he has been able to achieve so far this season.
“It was definitely tough to sit out on the sidelines and just watching the games, said Noi. “I just wanted to be out there, but it was the best decision I ever made [in attending TCU]. I just worked hard in practice, kept learning, listening to the coaches and especially the seniors, it was still a great experience at the same time.”
Noi would on to highlight that his experience in playing for his country intentionally helped him prepare for life at TCU and being away from home.
“Coming over here was just a whole another level,” said Noi. “I had to adjust to extra attention, the media attention and all that. It was tough to sit out too, but it was all worth it. My experience in playing for Australia [at junior level] and everything I have had to deal with, and learn along the way has helped.”
Noi’s experience and advice is also likely to prove invaluable for fellow Australian Lat Mayen who, like Noi, is red-shirting his first year at TCU.
“Lat is in the same situation as I was,” added Noi. “I’ve been speaking with him, supporting him and sharing my experience.
“The thing is, next season we could be even better. We have some great additions coming in next season too, so things are looking really good for both of us.”
Patrick’s last dance with TCU
While both Noi and Patrick were focused on their first round opponents, Patrick takes the head coaching reins at UC Riverside next season, and the 2018 NCAA tournament will be his last dance with the Horned Frogs.
Patrick who has enjoyed assistant coaching roles at Nicholls, Saint Mary’s and LSU with a stint as a scout for the Houston Rockets in the NBA across the past 14 years, he has long paid his dues ahead of taking on his first head coaching role next season. He has proven to have a great eye for identifying talent – including from Australia -- and recruiting them to his programs. Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Ben Simmons and Noi were all landed by Patrick.
“I’m honoured and excited to accept my first head coaching role at UC Riverside,” stated Patrick in also speaking with The Pick and Roll.
“While it is something I have been working towards [a head coaching role], right now my focus is on TCU and the [NCAA] Tournament. I’ll talk more about it once our season comes to an end.”
Noi credited Patrick as being one of the major reasons why he chose to attend TCU and spoke glowingly of his mentor.
“Coach Patrick had a big influence on me choosing TCU,” added Noi. “He has been supportive of me and my development the whole way.
“He has been like a second father to me, and has pushed me hard both on and off the court, to be the best I can be. He has played a big part in my development for sure.”
There is no doubting that Patrick has played an important role in attracting some exceptional talent to TCU that is set to pay dividends for years to come. His task will turn to rebuilding the Highlanders program and become a power in the Big West.
TCU’s tournament chances
Noi was enthusiastic about his side’s chances against Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Should they navigate their way past the first round, Michigan State is their likely next opponent, with number 2 seed Duke a possible Elite Eight match-up.
“I think we have a real chance of beating them [Syracuse],” said Noi. “I think that we match up well against Michigan State, so we have a real opportunity.”
Should TCU get passed Syracuse and the winner of Michigan State and Bucknell, a potential clash with Duke would guarantee an Australian will play in the Final Four. Australian forward Jack White plays for the Blue Devils.
“It’s crazy to even think that there is a possibility of playing Duke [in the Elite Eight] in the Tournament,” further added Noi. “That would be seriously amazing, but something we are aiming for.
“I just need to make sure I play well at the defensive end, score when needed, hit open three’s and play a good all-round game.”
As one of the standout Australian freshman in Division I college basketball this season, Noi has an opportunity most only dream of. Following a devastating Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to Kansas State in overtime, the Horned Frogs have had a chance to refresh and regroup. They are primed to make amends in the biggest event on the college basketball calendar this weekend. Expect Noi to be at the forefront of the Horned Frogs tournament run.
TCU takes on Syracuse on Saturday, 17 March 2018 at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan, with the game tipping off at 12:40pm AEDST.