Texas A&M Looks to History to Take the Next Step

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 1st, 2016

The year 1893 gives us the first known record of then-Texas A&M College’s Glee Club, originally made up of nine students and faculty from the college. As the club entered the 20th century, membership grew modestly from the original nine to a club of 21. They also began traveling across Texas and the United States trying their luck at singing competitions. (There is no record of success from said competitions.) In 1908, the director of the club left the college and involvement started to fizzle out. Two years later the college decided to hire Frank D. Steger for the task of reorganizing the club “for the development of individual talent, and for furnishing music in Chapel Services, Easter, Commencement, and other similar occasion.” Despite already having a lot on his plate (Steger was also the director of the local YMCA), the college must have been pleased with his direction. Thus, in 1911, A&M hired Steger as its first-ever head basketball coach. In the context of college basketball’s infancy, Steger had a solid career, winning 22 of his 28 games from 1912-15. However, despite that early success, the school we now know as Texas A&M University hasn’t been able to win 20 or more games, go deep in NCAA Tournaments, send players to the NBA or even keep head coaches in College Station at a consistent rate.

Then-head coach Billy Gillispie and point guard Acie Law IV went 27-7 in 2006-07. (Paul Zoeller/Associated Press)

Then-head coach Billy Gillispie and point guard Acie Law IV went 27-7 in 2006-07. (Paul Zoeller/Associated Press)

Picture college hoops during the mid-to-late 20th century. Television was taking the sport to the next level and coaches had became synonymous with their schools — Dean Smith at North Carolina; Bob Knight at Indiana; John Wooden at UCLA; Al McGuire at Marquette. The financial pressures for success were different in those days, and at a football-first school like A&M, competitive basketball was often good enough. Shelby Metcalf was certainly that in College Station, coaching the Aggies to six Southwest Conference (SWC) regular season titles, five NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet Sixteens in his 26+ years at the school. Despite his infamous firing midway through the 1989-90 season, Metcalf is the longest tenured coach in the history of SWC basketball. After he was terminated, the program so disastrously spiraled through most of the next 15 years that there was hardly a pulse left. Then Billy Gillispie arrived on the scene.

Gillispie placed his miracle worker hands on Aggies basketball and turned a seven-win group into a 21-win team during his first season. His 2006-07 team, a #3 seed that went to the Sweet Sixteen, was arguably the best team to ever wear maroon and white. Senior guard Acie Law IV was an eventual lottery pick. Donald Sloan eventually made his way to the NBA too. The Aggies finished 13-3 in Big 12 play (second behind Kansas, of course), but not before Gillispie’s squad was responsible for one of Bill Self’s nine losses at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Gillispie would then take the Kentucky job and flame out hard. Mark Turgeon kept the NCAA Tournament appearances rolling before taking the Maryland job, and replacement Billy Kennedy appears to have finally hit a breakthrough point in his fifth season on campus.

Is this year’s team as good as Gillispie’s? Not quite, but these Aggies boast a healthy mix of seasoned upperclassmen and talented freshmen that resembles the club that was seconds away from the Elite Eight nine years ago. And if last weekend’s resounding win over Missouri was any indication, they could be closer than any of us think. With experience, talent and balance, Kennedy’s team has the ingredients to make a deep March run. Senior Jalen Jones is at times unguardable; Danuel House can light it up from downtown; Alex Caruso already owns the program records for assists and steals.

Texas A&M's Danuel House hit 4 of his 8 three-point attempts in the Aggies' 84-69 win. (Nick Schnelle/Columbia Daily Tribune)

Texas A&M’s Danuel House hit 4 of his 8 three-point attempts in the Aggies’ 84-69 Weekend win over Missouri. (Nick Schnelle/Columbia Daily Tribune)

With both teams 11-5 in the SEC standings and Texas A&M holding a key head-to-head victory over Kentucky, the Aggies have a golden opportunity to win their first conference regular season title in 30 years. Then a winnable SEC Tournament in Nashville awaits, folllowed by the most wide-open NCAA Tournament in years. It’s only about 90 miles down the road from College Station to Houston, the site of this year’s Final Four. If the Aggies put together a run and get that far, that will certainly give the locals something to sing about.

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