SEC Transition Basketball: Texas A&M AggiesPosted by Brian Joyce on September 6th, 2012
Let’s finish these off this week with the last few of what we’re calling it Transition Basketball, an offseason look at each of the 14 SEC basketball programs. Today’s update: Texas A&M.
State of the Program
Billy Kennedy’s first season in College Station came with high expectations. The Aggies were on a roll, making the NCAA Tournament in the previous five seasons, with junior Khris Middleton back to lead the way along with seniors David Loubeau and Dash Harris. Texas A&M was a consensus top 25 pick in the preseason, and a popular choice to finish in the top echelon of the Big 12 with national powerhouses Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri. However, the popular pick isn’t always the right pick. Mark Turgeon left the cupboard fully stocked with athleticism and experience, but after an 8-1 start, the Aggies fell flat the rest of the way going 6-17 the remainder of the season. Bad fortune struck the Aggies when 6’9″ forward Kourtney Roberson went down in late December with an ankle injury and freshman Jamal Branch decided mid-season that he wanted to transfer to St. Johns. Harris and Middleton were both slowed by injuries. Unfortunately for A&M fans, even with a little luck on their side, it’s not likely the team’s win column will improve drastically in its first season in the SEC.
Though three key pieces (Middleton, Loubeau, and Harris) from last year are gone, several role players could step up to fill those roles. There is promise down low in 6’9″ forwards Ray Turner (9.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG) and Roberson (4.6 PPG and 4.9 RPG) who is back along with a bill of good health after he was granted a medical hardship for his injury last season. 6’5″ guard Elston Turner scored a solid 13.8 points per game in his first year in College Station and will likely need to score with even more efficiency this year for the Ags to be successful. But is that enough for Kennedy’s club to make significant improvement?
Kennedy has a stellar recruiting class coming to College Station this season with the addition of five new players. The class of 2012 is highlighted by two four-star recruits in Alex Caruso, a College Station native, and 6’1″ point guard J-Mychal Reese from Bryan, Texas. “Alex and J-Mychal are quality students, have great character, and are proven winners,” Kennedy said. “They fit the type of profile that we will continue to recruit for many years to come here at Texas A&M. I am so thrilled that they are both excited to be Aggies!” Reese and Caruso’s commitments made waves on the national recruiting landscape. “These are two guys they had to get,” said Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels regarding both young players’ futures with A&M. “Both are local kids and talented enough to make a difference early in their careers. I like how shifty and quick Reese is. The southpaw can attack, create, and shoot it at a good clip. Caruso is a guy that broke out late in his high school career, but he has good size on the wing, is an all-around improved athlete and plays the game the right way.”
In addition to Reese and Caruso, Kennedy has a pair of talented junior college transfers in 5’10″ guard Fabyon Harris and power forward Andrew Young. 6’3″ guard Shawn Smith, who has the potential to make an impact immediately, originally signed on to play for SEC rival Missouri before committing to A&M. Kennedy believes it’s no surprise that the Aggies compiled a top notch recruiting class. “We had a lot of holes to fill,” Kennedy said. “But we’ve got a great product here, great facilities, a great institution, a great academic reputation throughout the country. Now we just need to put the personal touch on it and I think that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
Senior forward Ray Turner‘s offensive skill set developed tremendously over the course of last season. He had the highest offensive rating on the team last season despite starting in only half of the games and playing only 21.6 minutes per contest. His 9.1 points and team leading 5.5 rebounds per game are solid numbers, but his potential far exceeds those pedestrian stats. Turner scored 20 points in each of the first two games of the season demonstrating an ability to be a dominant force on the offensive end.
It’s not just on offense where Turner made significant strides. He brings his 6’9″ and 230-pound frame down low along with the athleticism and defensive mindset to be a star this season for the Ags. Turner led the team in both offensive (13.6%) and defensive (17.5%) rebounding percentages last season. He had a career high 15 rebounds against Arkansas State last December (which went along with 15 points that game), and in fact, finished with four double-doubles on the year. With some consistency on both ends of the court, Turner will be a key element to the Aggies’ success this season.
Three Questions With Good Bull Hunting‘s DerekAggie06
Let’s welcome Texas A&M to the SEC with a good old fashioned roast of one of their own, Aggies basketball writer DerekAggie06. But then again A&M has already embarrassed itself enough with this video. DerekAggie06 writes for the Aggies’ SB Nation site, Good Bull Hunting. He will focus on basketball for the site this year, and he absolutely loves fajitas, so he has to be a must follow on Twitter with that combination. You can check him out at GBH here or on Twitter @DerekAggie06. But really, who lives in Texas and doesn’t profess their love for breakfast tacos and Texas BBQ? Fajitas are pretty good, but come on man!
RushTheCourt: Our diehard SEC basketball fans might not have watched every Big 12 game, but probably noticed that Texas A&M went 4-14 in conference play last year. For the casual observers of Aggie basketball out there, what the hell happened?
DerekAggie06: If you want the short version: Murphy’s Law is a bitch.
The team had a lot of hype going in to last season. Key players were returning, and an impact freshman was expected to play a major role in Kennedy’s first year at the helm in Aggieland. Khris Middleton battled injuries throughout the season. Kourtney Roberson missed the majority of the season with a foot injury. Starting PG Dash Harris missed a lot of games with an injury that forced SG/SF Elston Turner to play a role that he simply isn’t developed for. Turner wouldn’t have had to take over the PG role if freshman PG Jamal Branch didn’t up and decide to transfer during the Christmas break from classes. Aside from the injuries, there was the typical resistance to a new coach and a new scheme that the current players weren’t brought on board for. The big whammy for Aggie fans was the news that Kennedy had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and that he would need to take some significant time away from the team to let his body get the rest he desperately needed. Needless to say, the farewell from Big 12 basketball didn’t go exactly as planned.
RTC: Since A&M is a newcomer to the conference, let’s keep going with some basic get to know you questions. Elston Turner is the leading returning scorer for Kennedy’s squad and will likely be a major part of the offense again this year. Can you tell us a little about Turner’s playing style and shed a little light on his significance for coach Kennedy this season?
DA06: Looking at Elston’s stats can be a little misleading. Again, he was forced to play a very unnatural position for a good chunk of the ’11-’12 season. He is absolutely going to be a focal point of the team as they head into the SEC. A lot of people will describe Turner as a spot-up shooter, but that is really selling him short on how well he moves with and without the ball. He is great shooter from midrange to beyond the arc. Beyond the physical skills, Turner is a very smart basketball player. I’d definitely like him to be a little more assertive when he’s inside the paint on quick scoring possessions. I’m expecting to see a lot of early movement in the offensive sets that look for Turner coming off down screens. If it gets late in the shot clock during a possession, look for an isolation play where Turner will use his skills to create a midrange jumper off the dribble.
RTC: What can we expect from a Billy Kennedy coached squad? How do folks in College Station feel about the future of the program under Kennedy?
DA06: I think we are going to have a better idea of the direction Coach Kennedy is taking the program after this season. He has his first recruiting class on campus, a class that is very strong despite the poor season last year. JUCO signees Fabyon Harris and Andrew Young are prototype players for the system Coach Kennedy wants to run. Look for a lot of quick scoring attempts after missed and made shots as they look to utilize team speed to gain an advantage. In set plays, watch the movement away from the ball. It is very interesting to watch how Coach Kennedy’s system utilizes the weak side of the court.
It’s going to be an interesting transition from the Big 12 style of play over to the SEC style of hoops. Although last season was a disappointment to Aggie Hoops fans, support for Coach Kennedy is still high. He has assembled a great staff with Coach Cyprien, Coach Keller, Coach Gentry, and S&C Coach Darby Rich. If the team is able to show strong improvement and make a solid push at getting back to the Dance, I’d expect another strong recruiting class to keep the momentum riding high in College Station.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Should see progress, but not enough has changed to see significant improvement upon record that boasted zero wins over RPI top 100 last season.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @bjoyce_hoops.