AUSTIN, Texas (KTSM) – No matter where he’s gone, Tristen Licon has always found success.
He got his start on the basketball court as a standout guard for Americas High School, leading the Trail Blazers to an undefeated season as a senior. From there, he played collegiately at Lubbock Christian, before transferring to NCAA Division III university, Sul Ross State.
It was at Sul Ross State where Licon made the biggest impact, leading the Lobos to the NCAA Tournament and graduating as the second-leading scorer in school history. However, Licon’s story doesn’t end there.
In 2021-22, Licon will play his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer at mighty Texas. KTSM first reported the news back in July.
“Being a huge Longhorn fan, going to UT has always been a huge dream of mine,” Licon told KTSM over the summer.
A D-III star transferring to play at Texas is an eye-opening story in it of itself. But, the tale behind Licon’s journey to Austin is what makes it so amazing.
He’s always dreamed big, but the last six months are even beyond his wildest dreams.
“The story is movie-like,” says Mike Brooks, the Americas boys basketball coach, who first coached Licon when he was a 5’3 freshman in high school playing varsity basketball.
And it’s true; his story from Americas, to Sul Ross State, to Texas is worthy of the big screen. He wrapped up his career in Alpine last spring, thinking his playing days were done.
Harboring collegiate coaching dreams, Licon reached out to new Texas head coach Chris Beard about potentially becoming a graduate assistant coach for the Longhorns. Licon got to know Beard during his time at Texas Tech, when the El Paso kid would volunteer to work at Red Raider basketball camps during the summer.
“I thought under him would be a chance to expand my knowledge of the game and give me a lot of opportunities (in the coaching world),” said Licon.
For a couple of months, that’s all it was. Licon worked behind the scenes, learning the coaching ropes from the hottest name in college basketball.
That is, until one day, when the Longhorn players got curious about his D-III playing career. One thing led to another and then: “The guys asked me to play open gym with them one day and really liked what they saw,” says Licon. “They went to Coach Beard and said, ‘this guy can play a little bit.’ Coach asked me how many years of eligibility I had left and I told him I had one year, the COVID year.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, every NCAA athlete was granted an extra year of eligibility, which Licon was able to use to his advantage when Beard asked him to turn in his coaching whistle and clipboard in exchange for his basketball sneakers once again.
Licon says he wasn’t doing anything special in those pick-up games to get noticed. “Just doing what the coaches would have wanted me to do if they had been watching,” he said, which meant making the right plays on offense, grinding defensively, diving for loose balls and of course, hitting some three-point shots, one of his specialties.
With his respect from the team earned, the transition from coach back to player was obvious. Former UTEP head coach Rodney Terry – now the associate head coach under Beard at UT – even vouched for Licon after seeing him play vs. the Miners last winter.
Now, Licon is one of 15 players on what could be a preseason top five team. He said he is fine putting his coaching career on hold for a year and instead living in the moment.
“An underdog is what he (Beard) loves in his program. He always tells us to never lose our chip and run our own race. I feel like I did that and that’s why I’m here,” said Licon.
Beard often played a bevy of players in his time at Texas Tech and elsewhere and while it’s unclear how big of a role Licon will have, his high school coach is confident.
“When you have a kid who really understands how to play, it’s hard not to get them in. I think he’s going to get a chance,” said Brooks. “I don’t think Tristen will have any regrets about his time here. If he ends up doing anything, hitting some shot somewhere, I don’t think there’s a better ending.”
Licon and the Longhorns will open the season at home Nov. 9 when they host Houston Baptist.