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Tubbs Thumpers
Gerry Callahan
March 02, 1998
Billy Tubbs, coach of soaring TCU, turns a deaf ear to critics who rip his run-up-the-score, take-no-prisoners style
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March 02, 1998

Tubbs Thumpers

Billy Tubbs, coach of soaring TCU, turns a deaf ear to critics who rip his run-up-the-score, take-no-prisoners style

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Teams of the Century Mark

At ITS current rate TCU will finish the season as one of the 15 highest-scoring teams of all time. However, that's not so unusual for an outfit coached by Billy Tubbs (above). Three of his Oklahoma squads also made the list.

SCHOOL

SEASON

SCORING

FINISH

Loyola Marymount

1989-90

122.4

Made it to the West Regional final

Loyola Marymount

1988-89

112.5

Lost in the first round of the NCAAs

UNLV

1975-76

110.5

Made it to the second round of the NCAAs

Loyola Marymount

1987-88

110.3

Made it to the second round of the NCAAs

UNLV

1976-77

107.1

Reached the Final Four; lost in semifinals

Oral Roberts

1971-72

105.1

Did not make the NCAAs with a 26-2 record

Southern

1990-91

104.4

Did not make the NCAAs with a 19-9 record

Loyola Marymount

1990-91

103.6

Did not make the NCAAs with a 16-15 record

Oklahoma

1987-88

102.9

Reached the Final Four; lost in title game

Oklahoma

1988-89

102.2

Made it to the third round of the NCAAs

Oklahoma

1989-90

101.3

Made it to the second round of the NCAAs

TCU

1997-98

101.3*

Southern

1993-94

101.0

Did not make the NCAAs with a 16-11 record

Jacksonville

1969-70

100.3

Reached the Final Four; lost in title game

Jacksonville

1970-71

99.9

Lost in the first round of the NCAAs

*Through Sunday

Pat Tubbs had to remind her husband, Billy, last Friday that it was his crystal anniversary—15 years to the day since he nearly died. When he was hit by a car while jogging in Norman, Okla., on Feb. 20, 1983, Billy suffered a fractured skull and a broken pelvis and spent two weeks in intensive care. At the time, he was the basketball coach at Oklahoma and the day before the accident had lost to Kansas. His friend Barry Switzer, the Sooners football coach, visited Tubbs in the hospital and told him his injuries were his own fault: He never should have gone out in public after losing to Kansas.

As a result of the accident, Tubbs lost all hearing in his right ear, which was not as much of a loss for him as it would have been for most people. Tubbs never listens anyway. "I always figure, if you listen to what everyone is saying about you," he says, "you'll go nuts."

Sometimes you'll go nuts even when you don't listen, and Billy Duaine Tubbs is proof of that. Now in his fourth season at Texas Christian and his 24th as a college head coach, Tubbs, a cocky, colorful round-ball raconteur, has a team that seems to share his philosophy of life: Play hard, have fun and don't waste a second worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. Tubbs's 15th-ranked Horned Frogs were 24-4 through Sunday and were averaging 101.3 points per game, tops in the nation. They had won their games by an average margin of 25.5 points, and, to debunk the rap that their numbers were mostly a reflection of a soft early schedule, they trounced then No. 11 New Mexico 95-64 at home last Saturday night to extend their winning streak to 13 games. TCU, which has gone undefeated in the Pacific Division of the Western Athletic Conference this year, ran the Lobos out of the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, and then delirious purple-clad fans stormed the floor and carried the seniors off on their shoulders. "This is exactly why we brought Billy here," said Horned Frogs athletic director Frank Windegger, surveying the strange scene.

All season TCU has run the floor until the other team is defeated and demoralized, and then the Horned Frogs run up the score. Each game one of their goals is to score 100 points, and although they came up short against New Mexico, they have hit triple digits 14 times in 28 games this year, more often than any other team in the country. They have three players in the top 50 in the nation in scoring, including forward Lee Nailon, whose 25.7 average through Sunday placed him second. The only thing Tubbs's thumpers haven't done in great numbers is apologize.

"Let me ask you this: Do you know who is Number 1 in the nation in margin of victory?" said Tubbs last Thursday. "I'll tell you who—Duke. That's great for them. But they win games 90-40, and that's O.K. We win 140-90, and some people have a problem with that. Hey, we're going to play hard every minute of every game, and I'm really not concerned with what the other team is doing. We're struggling to put a program on the map and trying to get into the Top 25, and I know how to get there."

Before Tubbs crossed the border into Texas four years ago, the TCU basketball program was nothing more than a tiny purple spot on the football-crazy Texas sports landscape. The Horned Frogs had made the NCAA tournament just once in 23 years. "I grew up in Texas, and I can tell you, basketball doesn't get talked about until you do something special," says forward James Penny, an 11.2-point-per-game scorer as TCU's sixth man. "Last year we did pretty good, and we still only drew like 5,000 fans a game. To get noticed and sell out the place, we had to break into the Top 25."

Tubbs says he had "begun to burn out" at Oklahoma and wasn't meeting "my own expectations." He had reached the title game in 1988 with a team that featured Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock and had won more than 20 games for 12 straight seasons, including more than 30 three times. In 1993-94 the Sooners slipped to 15-13 and lost in the first-round of the NIT. There were whispers from Oklahoma boosters that it might be time for a change, and Tubbs broke his own cardinal rule. He listened. "It was ridiculous," he says. "We'd win a big game, and people would say, 'Well, they shot well, but they didn't block out on the boards.' I just think things grew stale for me at Oklahoma. I think it would be healthy if every coach changed jobs every five or six years."

So Tubbs resigned the Sooners job and signed on with Texas Christian. When he arrived in Fort Worth in April 1994—tanned and ready, as always, if not all that rested—he promised his new bosses that he would put the Horned Frogs on the map, and he promised his recruits they would play a lot of minutes and score a lot of points. He sure doesn't want to break his promises.

Tubbs was born in St. Louis but grew up in Tulsa. He began his coaching career at Division III Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, before moving to Lamar and then Oklahoma. He's 62 years old and stands 5'7", though he admits to neither. He sounds like Jack Nicholson with a Texas twang and has the same mischievous gleam in his eyes. "You know when people call you a nice guy? When they're beating your butt," he says. "I don't want to be loved. I just want respect."

At TCU, as everywhere, Billyball means running, dunking, pressing, shooting and never saying you're sorry for scoring. One goal: Make sure the fans have as much fun as the players. In the increasingly homogenized, sanitized world of college basketball, the Horned Frogs have made a splash with a high-flying, fist-pumping, trash-talking fraternity in the tradition of UNLV's Runnin' Rebels of the early 1990s. "Sometimes we'll hear the players on the other teams say things like, 'Man, I wish we could play like that,' " says Penny. "I had a friend on another team who said after one game, 'Do you guys just do whatever you want?' I said no, but I guess it looks that way."

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