By Conor Gereg
In the second installment profiling college basketball’s four newest D1 members, we’ll be looking at Tarleton State of Stephenville, Texas. TSU brings the Dallas/Fort-Worth market to the Western Athletic Conference, a league that on July 1st lost a pair of members, Kansas City and UC-Bakersfield. In come Dixie State (Utah) and Tarleton to bring stability to a league whose membership seems to be in constant flux.
Big Name & Big Noise
An immediate splash was made when Tarleton brought in the highest profile coach available save for Rick Pitino: Billy Gillispie. Gillispie brings baggage but also a new outlook on life after a near death experience two years ago. Tarleton can now claim they have a coach who has made a living at the highest ranks, roaming the Division I sidelines at UTEP (2002-2004), Texas A & M (2004-2007), Kentucky (2007-2009), and Texas Tech (2011-2012). Gillispie takes the reigns yet again in Texas, this time at a much lesser program, but nevertheless this is turf the 60 year old coach knows well.
Born in Abilene and later playing at Southwest Texas State, Gillispie is a name-brand in the Lone Star State, earning Big 12 Coach of the Year twice while at A & M before being crowned co-Coach of the Year while at Kentucky in 2008. The accolades and professional alumni speak to a coaching tact that can’t be denied yet Gillispie has battled his fair share of critics throughout his career. Gillispie at his intoductory press conference pronounced, “You’re going to see the comeback story of all comeback stories.” tying his coaching career and receiving a life-saving kidney transplant two years ago together. Gillispie can recruit and coach with the best and for Tarleton that’s all that will matter as they take they leap into Division 1.
A Path to Success
Per NCAA guidelines, nascent Division I programs aren’t immediately eligible for postseason play, making the Texans barred until 2025. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Gillispie and his newly assembled coaching staff need time to build a Division I-capable roster.
Fortunately for the program, they’ll compete with just one other conference member for in-state supremacy: UT Rio Grande Valley. The Vaqueros, 10-16 overall last season, have yet to stabilize their footing in the WAC despite the program entering its 8th year as a conference member. This leaves the door open for the Tarleton Texans to take advantage of the fertile recruiting territory of the Dallas metro area and gain traction up the conference standings.
The Texans also have Wisdom Gym (capacity 3,000) to call home, one of the league’s smaller venues. A home crowd accustomed to winning, albeit at the Division II ranks, will provide an immediate home-court advantage—that is, once fans return to these venues.
Basketball Building Blocks
Recruiting in the WAC is a challenge considering the league fails to generate revenue to support chartered flights in a conference that spans from California to Chicago. Long bus rides and laborious travel are a staple of the reconfigured league but the excitement of a Division I transition has helped the Texans to both retain and recruit talent for 2020-2021 and beyond.
The first week of July brought news that Russian star Konstantin Dotsenko would be suiting up in Tarleton purple and white this coming season, transferring in from Francis Marion University (South Carolina) where the 6’7” forward averaged 18.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG during his freshman season. “We are extremely grateful to be able to have a player of Konstantin’s magnitude join us as we make our way in to Division I basketball,” Gillispie told the media, praising the international star’s ability to immediately boost the program’s ascension efforts. “You don’t see the kind of success he’s already had at the collegiate level as a freshman unless you are special. We can’t wait to be around him daily and watch him continue to evolve.”
Alongside Dotsenko is senior forward, Clashon Gaffney who started 23 of the Texans 30 games. A capable scorer (9.5 PPG), Gaffney is a proven rebounder, pulling in 6.1 rebounds per contest in 2019-2020. The offense will run through another senior, point guard Devin Bethely. Bethely started all 30 games last year and led the program with 138 assists which gives Gillispie a de facto facilitator on Day 1.