Last Word on Pro Basketball is taking a look at the newest teams to Division I for the upcoming 2020-21 season. To catch up on last week’s profile of the Dixie State Trailblazers, click here. This week the spotlight turns to the Tarleton State Texans. The Texans call Stephenville, Texas home and will be joining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
Tarleton State Texans, Welcome to Division I
The Tarleton State basketball program has competed at the senior college level since 1961, playing at the junior college level prior to that. The Texans started in the NAIA ranks and then joined the NCAA at the Division II level beginning with the 1994-95 season. Tarleton State turned themselves into a powerhouse at the D-II ranks over the last 20 years. The Texans made 14 Division II tournaments during that span. They reached the Final Four in 2005 and 2015 and also have four Elite Eight and six Sweet 16 appearances.
All of that success came under former head coach Lonn Reisman. Reisman finished his coaching career at Tarleton State with 654 wins at the school and 691 overall. He is one of just 14 men’s coaches between the D-I and D-II levels combined with at least 650 career wins. Reisman did all of this while also holding the position of athletic director, which he still holds now as he helps guide the program into a new era.
Tarleton State comes from the Lone Star Conference, where they had captured six regular-season titles and three conference tournament titles. The Lone Star Conference has produced eight current members of Division I, including Houston and Stephen F. Austin. The Texans went 18-12 this past season, missing the Division II tournament for the third straight season.
The Texans will be entering a new era of basketball with a new head man. Billy Gillispie was hired in the off-season bringing with him prior Division I coaching experience. Gillispie had stints at Kentucky, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and UTEP prior to this. He was particularly well-known for turning around the Texas A&M and UTEP programs while also not meeting expectations for Kentucky. However, the athletic department is hoping all of that coaching experience will make the transition up smoother.
The last three years have been disappointing by Tarleton State standards. However, the winning culture there sets the bar higher than most other programs. The Texans are 47-23 against teams that are currently classified as D-I, with most of those wins coming against Abilene Christian while both were Division II members. The biggest win the program has is against TCU back in 2005.
Like fellow new member Dixie State, Tarleton State will have to measure their success based on New Mexico State in the WAC. However, with the WAC being a hot league for new teams to D-I, plenty of former transitional teams have shown they can be successful here. The lack of recent success may make the transition a bit more challenging, so the first goal should be having a .500 season. Before their four-year transition period is over, making the CIT or CBI is feasible.
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