The basketball team opens the 2013-14 season on Friday night against Buffalo.
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A CLEAR VISION
Billy Kennedy's excitement for his third season in Aggieland
eclipsed only by potential of on-the-court success this winter
by Chandler Smith
Not a week until the official tip-off of Aggie basketball season, Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy gazes attentively as quarterback Drew Brees and his beloved New Orleans Saints attempt a valiant rally against a stalwart New York Jets defense.
The game affords an instant of calm amidst the maelstrom of recruiting trips, practices and exhibitions compounded with the eager continuation of a narrative ripe with passion and enthusiasm – the tangible realization of the Louisiana native’s grand vision for Aggie basketball.
Now entering his third season with the Texas A&M basketball program, Kennedy and the Aggies prepare to take their second shot at the athletic SEC. Hungry to repeat pivotal moments of success and obtain redemption for pitfalls, the youthful Aggies are beginning to closely resemble a personnel profile more becoming of a Kennedy-coached team.
An exhibition already under its belt – an 80-70 victory over UTPB – A&M has already received a taste of what it can expect when the team hits the court for the first game of the season on Friday at Reed Arena. The game, as one would come to expect with a young team, revealed flashes of dazzling talent mixed with the mistakes typical of ever-learning underclassmen.
- Billy Kennedy
Still, Kennedy said the team is happy to get its feet wet while searching for its strengths as basketball returns to College Station.
“We’re really excited,” Kennedy said. “Our guys have worked hard in the summer and fall and I think they’re getting tired of going against each other a little bit. I think we’ll learn a lot about our team in the next three, four or five games because we’ve got so many guys that don’t have the experience. We don’t know what they’re going to do in a game-like situation so we’re excited to find out and grow from there.”
Where Kennedy has found much of his career success has been through the use of an up-tempo, guard-heavy attack--with emphasis on attacking the basket early in the shot-clock.
As 20 fast-break points in the exhibition would indicate, the Aggies are further molding into Kennedy’s preferred mode of attack.
More importantly for the Aggies’ offense, the team now finally has the personnel necessary to implement its breakneck scheme. Kennedy said the pieces, while not completely present, are mostly in place for a substantial transition in offensive style.
“We’re trying to attack more in transition and we have more depth now to where we can do it,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think we were able to do that the last two years because of our depth and the inexperience of our guard play. We’re more experienced, we’re deeper and we’re more athletic. We still could use a little more perimeter scoring and athleticism at [point guard] and [shooting guard]. That’s getting better in recruiting and we’re much farther ahead now than we were the last two years in those areas.”
Despite the loss of sensational guard Elston Turner and forward Ray Turner, the Aggies return a roster with encouraging potential. Senior guard Fabyon Harris, who averaged 12 points per game in the 2012-13 season, returns alongside guards Alex Caruso, J-Mychal Reese and Jordan Green as an effective shooting quartet. Junior forward Kourtney Roberson then adds leadership and size down low after obtaining a team-high 219 rebounds.
Green said he appreciates growing as a team and competing in the SEC within a consistent system – Kennedy’s system.
“I’m really excited because I recognize that it’s our first time under Kennedy in the same conference for more than a year,” Green said. “We’ve been to some of the venues, know what the style of play will be and know some of the good players. It’ll be fun to travel back and get wins playing against the same teams.”
For Kennedy himself, the team has become more instilled with his own recruits than his predecessor’s. Alongside a familiarity with a coaching staff comes improved team cohesion and, through Kennedy and Co.’s toils, upgraded talent levels.
- Billy Kennedy
Kennedy noted those two factors as areas of the most obvious improvement since arriving at Texas A&M.
“I think we’ve got better chemistry and better togetherness – as a team we’re closer on the court and off the court,” Kennedy said. “This stems from guys being together and guys understanding what we want. These are guys we recruited so our relationships are stronger. I would also say our overall length, our size at every position, has gotten better. From [shooting guard] to [center], I think we’ve got a little more size, length and athleticism.”
Green, too, has seen the program’s progress since Kennedy’s arrival two seasons ago. Watching the talent influx into the roster, he notes how well the pieces are finally fitting together.
With improvements in personnel, Green said Kennedy is starting to see his plan come to fruition -- not only on the court, but off it as well.
“You see how he cast a vision when he first got here and he had to gel and adapt that vision to the players he wanted,” Green said. “Now I see it culminating with the players he has now, just playing up-tempo and playing really aggressive.
“Coach Kennedy is a great coach off the court, too, because he wants to make us better men. He truly does.”
And upon his return to Texas A&M, it didn’t take long for Kennedy to make clear his passion for the University – citing how he “couldn’t wait to get back to Aggieland” since his stint as an assistant with the program more than 20 years prior. His goals included not only continuing the miraculous renaissance of Aggie basketball, but also the academic improvement of his program.
Kennedy said his sentiments toward the job are the same as they had been, and goals to achieve academic – as well as athletic – success remain square in his sights.
“It definitely is a destination,” Kennedy said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’m excited to be here and it’s a great school. I value what this university is all about. It’s a little bit different when I first got the job and looked at the roster, there were some academic issues that needed to be addressed. There were some things we had to go through to get to this point. Now that we’re at this point, I think we’re back on course and going in the right direction.
“We think great things are ahead for us.”