The transition to NCAA Division I basketball is not easy for any program. Add in a global pandemic to navigate and no team, no matter how experienced their head coach is, could have a smooth first season. The Tarleton Texans are led by longtime college basketball head coach Billy Gillispie, who has high major coaching experience. But, like many coaches across the country, was in brand new territory guiding this squad in their first season at college basketball’s highest level.
The Texans battled to a 7th place finish in 2020-2021 in a season like nothing in the past. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For starters, the 16-man roster was entirely new to the Texans’ program. Sophomore guard Javontae Hopkins and maybe the four players brought with Gillispie from his prior employer Ranger College (NJCAA) were the only familiar faces. Nearly the entire roster was put together in a few months with no time to practice in the offseason. Still, for an entirely new roster in a pandemic-ridden season without any resemblance of a team-building or development laden offseason, not finishing last is a win for the Texans.
Now, the landscape of their still new home has definitely changed from year one to year two. This squad now boasts experience and depth, but also has a very tough task in front of them if they hope for a top-half conference finish in 2021-2022.
Billy Gillispie, 2nd Season
Overall: 158-118 (Div. I coaching record)
At Tarleton State: 10-10
2020-2021 Record: 10-10, 5-7 (7th in WAC)
Postseason: No postseason as a part of the four-year NCAA transition from Div. II to Div. I, three more years to go.
Konstantin Dotsenko, 6’7, So., F (Samford)
Caleb Golden, 6’4, Fr., G
Javontae Hopkins, 6’0, So., G
Heri Ngalamulume, 6’9, Jr., F
Eddie Davis (Portland) 6’6, Jr., F
Jaheim Holdon (Barton C.C.) 6’0, Jr., G
Jayshawn Moore 6’5, Fr., G
Garrett Levesque 6’6, Fr., G
Isaiah Bujdoso (Hutchinson C.C.) 6’4 So., G
Kawanise “Squeaky” Wilkins (Western Michigan), 6’5, R-Sr., F
Montre Gipson, 5’11, Sr., G
Freddy Hicks, 6’6, So., F
Jonathan Jackson, 6’6, Gr., F
Tahj Small, 6’6, Sr., G
Shakur Daniel, 6’6, Sr. G
Shamir Bogues, 6’4, So. G
Predicted WAC Finish:
Breakdown: Will the Texan’s current roster be enough to challenge for a top-half spot in the new WAC?
Year two of the Billy Gillispie era in Stephenville comes as their new conference continues to grow after adding the Texans and the Trailblazers of Dixie State last season. A larger WAC, with a heavier Texas footprint but tougher competition seems like both a positive and negative for the program. Travel in Tarleton’s first season in Div. I was difficult to non-existent to say the least. The Texans played only seven games out of state last season (out of twenty). Five of them played in the not so distant state of Utah against conference foes Dixie State and Utah Valley.
Of the games not played last season, the Texans had five games scheduled against high major opponents, but only played one in a 7-point loss to the nearby Aggies of Texas A&M in College Station. While the others against National Championship final participants Baylor and Gonzaga were cancelled along with a trip north to Allen Fieldhouse against the Kansas Jayhawks, and another cancelled against UCLA.
The rest of their schedule was filled with nearby opponents from NCAA Div. II, III, and the NCCAA to the USCAA. Last season’s schedule was very ambitious, and there has been no shying away from another strong potential strength of schedule in year two. But the question remains, does Billy Gillispie have a strong enough returning group and impactful newcomers to really make a difference in the win column? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Strong Core Of Returning Players
As stated above, this program did what they could in an unusual first year in the WAC. Now, with a year under their belts and nearly everyone returning to Stephenville, it appears this squad may be back at step one as the conference leveled up around them. Gillispie was able to retain several key players from last year’s inaugural Division I squad. This includes nearly all five starters from last season, as well as sixth-man Tahj Small (9.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG & 1.2 SPG in 21.6 MPG). Among those five starters, is leading scorer and assist man, senior guard Montre Gipson (15.3 PPG & 3.0 APG). He joins super sophomore Shamir Bogues who had a very productive freshman campaign (6.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.1 APG & 1.9 SPG).
On the wing, you should see some combination of Tahj Small and Shakur Daniel (7.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.7 APG & 1.6 SPG) who himself had a very productive first season at Tarleton. Maybe the only true key player lost is combo forward Konstantin Dotsenko. A 6’7 sophomore who could stretch the floor and fill in as a big body in the paint when needed last season. Dotsenko was the teams second leading scorer and the only other player to average double figures other than Gipson (10.6 PPG). Dotsenko is now at Samford.
Newcomers Will certainly Boost The Bench
Yes Tarleton kept a strong core away from the transfer portal this offseason. They also went out and recruited players who should provide depth and experience to the program immediately. The Texans added a couple of impact players to their frontcourt, though the size of their frontcourt (Jonathan Jackson Jr. and WAC Freshman of the year Freddy Hicks both 6’6) won’t get any taller in 2021-2022. Of the notable newcomers in Stephenville, Division I transfers Eddie Davis (11.8 PPG & 4.4 RPG at Portland) and Kawanise “Squeaky” Wilkins (2.9 PPG & 2.2 RPG at Western Michigan) should see plenty of minutes this season. Davis played a key role for the Pilots and saw most of his playing time down low as an undersized four man. While Wilkins, a former JUCO star looks to bounce back at Tarleton State after an injury-ridden year and a half at Western Michigan.
The Texans’ frontcourt depth will be supplemented by JUCO recruits like Aseem Luckey (6’9, Grayson Co.), Kylon Edwards (6’9, Blinn Co.) and Bryce Brown (6’8, S. Georgia State). For me, some additions who may have the biggest impact for the Texans this season are in the backcourt and the wing. Junior College transfers Jaheim Holden (16.0 PPG & 4.8 APG at Barton C.C.) and Isaiah Bujdoso (8.6 PPG & 4.4 APG at Hutchinson) both bring scoring ability and ball handling skills to Tarleton State. Bujdoso, who started his college career at Loyola Chicago, also brings a reputation as a clutch shooter from his time in JUCO, having shot 47.2% from the field and 43.6% from deep.
Experienced seniors Shakur Daniel and Tahj Small will man the Wing on a more full-time basis. Incoming in-state freshman Garrett Levesque (6’6, 195) and Noah McDavid (6’5, 180) should come off the bench while getting acclimated to the college game. Lastly, headlining Gillispie’s second-ever Texan recruiting class is guard Rayshawn Moore (6’6, 180), who he nabbed right out of MAC country and a prior commitment to Central Michigan.
Eyes On The Prize
Reloaded for the 2021-2022 campaign with a new roster that includes a deeper bench and more D-I experience, I would say the Texans had a productive and positive offseason. But as they strengthened up, so did old WAC foes like New Mexico State, Grand Canyon and Seattle, just to name a few. Not to mention their new conference neighbors like Abilene Christian, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin.
So for me, their predicted conference finish of 12th isn’t necessarily a reflection of a weak roster or terrible recruiting class. But a testament to the new strength of the conference. But there will be upsets, or scares like Tarleton gave Grand Canyon last season to look forward to. Though we must not forget, the Texans aren’t postseason eligible until 2022-2023. So a regular season title or in my opinion, top-5 finish looks like the ceiling in Stephenville this season. Let’s keep things interesting and hope for the former.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G-Montre Gipson, 5’11 200 Sr.
G-Shamir Bogues 6’4 190 So.
G-Shakur Daniel, 6’6 185 Sr.
F-Freddy Hicks, 6’6 210 Sr.
F-Jonathan Jackson Jr., 6’6 230 Gr.
Tarleton doesn’t have any officially announced games on their schedule. Sources have said that the Texans will play three out of their first four games at Kansas, at Michigan and at Wichita State. This tweet by the men’s basketball Twitter page lets fans know to expect similar quality opponents in 2021-2022. Hopefully this time they will get to face them on the court.
We had 3 of the 4 Final Four teams on our schedule this season. We'll play anyone, anywhere! ?? pic.twitter.com/ImZAg97G4a
— Tarleton Men's Basketball (@TarletonMBB) March 31, 2021