1) Who woulda thunk a week ago that the Aggie basketball team would stand at the top of the SEC standings at 2-0, including an 83-71 win at Rupp Arena. To know just how hard that is to do…it has NEVER been done by an SEC team in the four-year Calipari era. Granted, this is a young UK team with four freshmen starting and they are struggling to put the pieces together. However, those freshmen are part of last year's No. 1 ranked recruiting class that includes 6-foot-11 Nervins Noel who many think will be the first pick in the NBA Draft next summer.
So what has happened to this team to cause such a dramatic turnaround after struggling against HBU, Army, and Southern the previous two weeks? The first thing that pops out is the improved rebounding, especially from Kourtney Roberson. Against HBU, he had zero rebounds in over 20 minutes of action. According to Coach Kennedy today, he said Roberson was embarrassed by his effort against HBU and it also came with older brother Bernard King in the stands. Since that game, he pulled down 21 rebounds in last week's two SEC contests. It doesn't end with Kourtney. Overall, Texas A&M lost the rebounding battle to HBU by a significant 33-23 margin. Last week, A&M won the battle of the boards to the tune of 86-57 including a 35-30 advantage over Kentucky and its two 7-footers. Aside from Roberson's improvements, the bigger guards like Elston Turner and Alex Caruso are hitting the backboards hard, combining for 26 rebounds last week. Improved rebounding also has allowed the team to push the pace of play and increase offensive tempo.
Of course, the emergence of Elston Turner as a dynamic go-to scorer in the half-court has been huge. He had 55 points last week. Some of those shots against Kentucky were insane, but he also has learned to create his shot with a crossover dribble and being able to shoot with contact coming off screens and going in the paint. He's no longer a one dimensional set shooter like last season. The fact that he is the undisputed "go-to" guy also gives purpose to the rest of the team in the half-court and that's huge for a team that at times seems lost in the half-court. The guys passed quicker and with more confidence against UK knowing that the goal was to find scoring opportunities for Turner.
The other difference this week in the success of the team is Fabyon Harris who has emerged as the primary point guard and ballhandler. In the past two games, he's logged 63 minutes compared to 41 minutes for J-Myke Reese. In that extended time he committed just two turnovers while scoring 31 points and making 14 of 17 free throws. In the Kentucky game, with the Ags clinging to a two point lead in the final four minutes, Harris hit a critical 3-pointer with the shot clocking running down and then immediately stole the ball from the UK guard and converted that into another two points to expand the lead to seven. A&M never looked back after that.
2) Hey, it's time to celebrate and pat Coach Kennedy and the players on the back for a great first week in the SEC, but there's still a long way to go before we can say this team has turned the corner. Two games does not a turnaround make. I present to you exhibit one…the 2001-2002 Melvin Watkins team . In a span of one week, the Aggies behind the resurgence of Keith Bean apparently turned the corner after beating nationally-ranked Texas in Austin for the first time in over a decade. After a close loss to Kansas, the Aggies became the first team in the state of Texas to defeat Iowa State in Hilton Arena in six years of Big 12 hoops in the days when the Cyclones were a conference powerhouse. The few of us that followed Aggie basketball at the time felt Melvin and the boys had finally put all the pieces together and the program had turned the corner. Well, the team then finished the season with 10 straight losses and all that "we're back" talk quickly ended.
So…while I'm hoping this is a turnaround of some type, there's simply not enough data yet to make that conclusion. If they can do the improbable and take down the No. 10 ranked Gators on Thursday, I may change my tune. A winning SEC record and wins over UK and Florida puts this team on the NCAA bubble and we can talk program turnaround. Regardless, the wins are nice, and it gets the players feeling a little swagger.
3) This is also huge for recruiting. The staff worked hard and put themselves in position to land some high impact recruits in the spring like Keith Frazier and Jamal Jones, but that offseason advantage was slipping away with the uninspired play of the team and what looked to be a tough season in the SEC. If they can hold the rope from here on out and win 50% of their games the rest of the way, this is a 20-win team and that's something this staff can sell with these last 2-3 scholarships. I've heard of a few new recruiting targets so I'll try to interview those players and let you know where A&M stands heading toward the April signing period. FYI, mouths are hushed on Trocha so I assume no news isn't good news for this season.
4) Here's three different stories why dads and public schools don't mix in this era of craziness and political correctness. Let's start with stupid dad. Stupid dad lives in Celina and he was quite concerned with school safety in the Celina ISD schools after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. So what does he do? Well, he decided to test the safety procedures at the local elementary school. Without any notification or coordination with the school, stupid dad decided to storm through the front doors of the school using his finger as a gun and as he goes by teachers, administrators, and students he yells out "bang, you're dead". So he goes through the school pretending to be a terrorist "killing" anybody in his path. He returns to the office and lectures the administrators on their lack of procedures and preparations for a terrorist attack. Well, at this point the administrators did follow procedure and called the police who arrested stupid dad for making terroristic threats in a public school…a felony.
In another story where dad meets public school procedure, a Canadian man had a big surprise when he showed up to pick up his 4 year-old daughter from school. Upon arrival, he was sent to the office where three policemen were waiting to arrest him, place him in cuffs, and haul him down to jail where he was charged with possession of a weapon and child endangerment. While in custody he was strip searched and detained until the police could get a warrant to search his home. Apparently, his young daughter drew a picture of a man holding a gun that got the attention of school officials. They asked her who the man was and she said, "It's my daddy killing bad guys and monsters." Boom…administrators immediately call the police and child services. They arrest the dad when he shows up and they confiscate the three children during the investigation. So to recap, dad is arrested for weapons possession based on "this is my dad shooting bad guys and monsters". Police go to the house, ransack the place looking for the guns and find nothing. Oops, nevermind. Sorry sir for the inconvenience.
In the last dad story of the day, son is cut from the junior high basketball team without explanation. Dad goes down to the gym to get an explanation and knocks on the coach's office. He refuses to talk to the parent and won't open the door. Dad calls the coach a few choice names, but police confirmed after the fact that the dad did not threaten the coach nor was dad considered a threat to the school. Still, coach called the cops and said he did not feel safe and filed charges against the man for disruptive behavior. If yelling at a guy is considered a crime, heaven help the entire Aggie Websider community as we are all criminals.
5) You should feel good that Texas A&M forced Kingsbury and Texas Tech to overpay Wallerstedt to be their defensive coordinator. A&M offered Wallerstedt an above market rate raise, and initially he rejected Tech's first offer. In fact, talking to LB recruit Darian Claiborne who was in town for his visit, he said that Wallerstedt was talking to him as late as Saturday about next season in Aggieland. So obviously, Kingsbury panicked and asked for more money to throw at Wallerstedt. That should tell you how confident Kingsbury is with his network of coaching contacts….he's not.
I do not think this will have ANY impact on recruiting. Claiborne suggested he might want to take a social visit to TCU, but quickly said he wanted to get Coach Sumlin's approval before he accepts that invitation. Translation….he's not going to jeopardize his spot at A&M to take a social visit. Every other linebacker prospect has either already signed as a mid-termer or is solidly committed to A&M including most recent commit Jordan Mastrogiovanni who is just happy to get his spot last week.
I briefly exchanged a text with Isaac Savaiinaea and he indicated that it's still between UCLA and A&M. It certainly sounds like A&M is still recruiting him despite adding The Maestro and running low on spots in this class.
On a side note, it appears that Edward Williams may take a couple of visits. From what I've heard, he was asked about the possibility of grayshirting and that didn't sit well with him. A&M is willing to sign him, but that initial conversation didn't go well.
6) What we know from the weekend is that there was no talk of academics, prep schools, or gray shirts with the Rosenberg Terry duo of Derrick Griffin and Victor Davis. I spoke to Davis and he said he's fine academically after a strong fall semester. He said he would have to tank this semester to not make it. What I found mildly interesting is that the staff wants to start him out at cornerback. At 6-foot-2 and given his hard-hitting style, we just assumed he'd be a safety. Now, that's where he may eventually end up, but I think Coach Yates wants to give everybody a few days at corner and see who emerges as the best cover man. Victor claimed he ran a 4.40 hand-timed forty at the school in testing this fall. Devante Harris was his player host. I didn't speak directly to Derrick, but Victor said that there was no discussion of academics with either of them and both are planning to be in College Station June 1. FYI, several sources at Rosenberg are still saying that the odds of Griffin qualifying are very low at this point. This will be interesting to track through the spring because by all accounts it appears A&M is willing to sign Griffin and take that risk of losing the scholarship if he doesn't make it.
7) We've been assuming for a long time that A&M would get at least one of those Rosenberg Terry spots and they would have 3-4 more spots to give. That may not be the case now. From everything we've heard, the two realistic targets that have hard offers at the moment are Sebastian LaRue and Daeshon Hall. The staff now feels cautiously optimistic about Hall, especially since he has confirmed a visit for next weekend. As far as LaRue, a new suitor has emerged for the speed slot receiver. Texas has made a push for him. In year's past that would concern me, but not this year. Not with A&M having Johnny Manziel and Texas having David Ash. LaRue visits this weekend as well, and then he's scheduled for Notre Dame on 1/25. There are some questions about availability at Notre Dame along with possible academic issues where the Irish have a higher standard than the NCAA minimum. IN the end, I wouldn't be surprised to see him an Aggie after the weekend.
8) Seriously Al Roker? I know you are hocking a new book and making the talk circuit rounds, but I don't need to know that you pooped your pants at the White House due to your gastric bypass surgery.
9) I'm hearing that the assistant coaches' salary pool has been increased significantly and all is well on that front. As far as Sumlin, I'm hearing they are making good progress on his renegotiation and that an average salary between $3.4-$4.0 million is probably where things settle out after bonuses and such. From what I'm told, it needs to get done so everybody can move on, but for the most part everybody is rowing in the same direction on this one.
10) Expect to hear something formal very soon on the Kyle Field project. I'm still hearing 103k with a phased-in construction schedule.
Hop's Musings and Whimsical Thoughts
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