So What's the Deal With A&M Hoops?
Yeah, I know. We shouldn't be talking about Aggie basketball in April. But the posters are the ones fueling the hoops talk for a change, and not me. That's because Billy Kennedy decided to make a change in his staff and let associate head coach Glynn Cyprien go. There are a lot of rumors why Cyprien and why now? Was it a budget issue? Was it Hyman catching wind of questionable recruiting practices and dictating the move? Was I Kennedy trying save himself and use Cyprien as a scapegoat? Or, was it that Kennedy felt under the current circumstances that he needed more of a bench coach, player development guy with specific recruiting ties to a region? Other than that last question that I added, these were all rumors going around the A&M Internet message boards this weekend.
To be honest, we don't know exactly what the reason was for the firing. I suspect it was a combination of several reasons. I have my own thoughts on the situation, and you can add this one to the pile of other rumors. Glynn Cyprien is a recruiter…a national recruiter who had a great reputation for knowing the right people in the power AAU programs including coaches and mentors. His reputation is catching the big fish. He's not known as a bench coach and typically during the season he's on the road recruiting, like most ace recruiters are…even during the season leaving practice to be administered by the head coach, the one assistant at home, and the back-up staff. In A&M's case, Mitch Cole played a big role in player development and game planning. He was a former head coach at Birmingham-Southern, and a pretty good one.
Cyprien made some early waves in the fall before the first season under kennedy…and before the Parkinson's diagnosis. The Aggies received an early commitment from a Top 20 national guard from Illinois, Kendrick Nunn. There was also a lot of buzz when Cyprien scheduled an official visit for a football game weekend with the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation, Shabazz Muhammad. There were others. He secured a visit from national-elite small forward Marcus Lee who I assume you saw playing for Kentucky in the title game last week.
But, then came the Parkinson's diagnosis and Kennedy left the program during the critical fall practice sessions and remained away into the early portion of the season when the team looked lethargic and out of sync. Then there was the major knee injury to Khris Middleton to go along with the December defection of Jamal Branch, and the rest is history. From that point forward, it didn't matter how great Cyprien's recruiting contacts were nationally, the top kids weren't coming to A&M given the immediate hole the program fell into during that first season.
And this program has been trying to claw its way back ever since. But Cyprien's biggest strength (national recruiting) was basically neutered from that point forward. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't Kennedy's fault. It was fate. Sometimes stuff happens and you do the best to overcome that.
For the staff, they had to start grinding on average to above average juco's to fill spots. They had to identify good transfers. They had to start uncovering international players and beating the bushes in Colombia, England, Slovakia, and Senegal for quality recruits. They had to build long-term, close relationships with local Texas prospects. They had to be the first on these kids to get their foot in the door. Cyprien, Kyle Keller, and Kennedy did that and did it well. They landed a few decent recruits like Alex Robinson, Shawn Smith, Peyton Allen, and Davonte Fitzgerald along with picking off a few high potential, raw international players like Dylan Johns and Tony Trocha. And then they topped it off with some transfers like Antwan Space and Jalen Jones.
And while I do think next year's roster is pretty good by Texas A&M standards and about as talented as could be expected given the recruiting hand this staff has drawn, this situation does not play to Cyprien's strength and his value as a national recruiter with a very strong network within the AAU system nationally.
Cyprien knows that and Kennedy knows that. Yeah, Cyprien says he was surprised by his release, but he knew the writing was on the wall because his talents weren't being utilized at A&M under the current circumstances. He had been looking at several jobs since last season. Once the shock wears off and he's hired by an established program (hearing Oregon could be his destination w Dana Altman) that can best use his talents and connections, he'll be happy and in retrospect realize that this was the best thing to happen for all parties in the long run.
It sounds like Kennedy wants an assistant with strong development skills and specific ties to the state of Louisiana and the region. Keller has been strong in Texas and heads up the international effort, but with the proximity to Louisiana, the talent in Louisiana, and Kennedy's Cajun background, there's no reason why Texas A&M shouldn't be a factor in Louisiana for Top 100 talent. The state produces quality talent every year.
Roman Banks' name has come up and a Baton Rouge newspaper confirmed that the southern university head coach has interviewed for the A&M job and has spoken to Kennedy on several occasions already. Banks worked for Kennedy on the NCAA Tournament team at SE Louisiana that is still considered the best basketball team in school history. Banks has been named the SWAC coach of the year in two of the last three seasons, despite Southern being on NCAA probation for submitting inadequate APR data. The sanctions are likely to be extended on June 1, and if that happens, all Southern players are eligible to transfer and play immediately. Thus, a good coach in Banks with ties to Kennedy is on the market looking at his options. He's getting paid about $170,000 now, and the A&M job would bump his salary. Having spent most of his playing and coaching career in Louisiana, you can expect him to add an A&M presence in the Bayou state if he joins the staff. I'm hearing there are other candidates being interviewed, but the odds-on favorite appears to be Banks.
I'm hearing different rumors regarding the no. 3 assistant job vacated by John Reese and temporarily replaced last season by Mitch Cole. I've heard that Cole is a serious candidate to remain the No. 3 assistant while other sources have told me that Kennedy is open to other outside candidates. So I'm not sure what will happen with the No. 3 assistant post.
Anyway, I have no idea if this change in the staff will be for the good. Just the same, the people crying foul about the departure of Cyprien don't know the change will be for the bad either. Kennedy is the head coach. For some time now, we've known he would be the head coach in 2014-2015, so I'm a bit surprised by the negativity of the Cyprien news. Obviously, Cyprien isn't being made the scapegoat because Kennedy's job was already secured. Kennedy didn't backstab him because by every account, Kennedy met several times with Cyprien before the decision to let him go. Kennedy is well aware he has one year to prove he's a capable coach who can get A&M back to the NCAA's. Could it be that he thought he had a better chance to make the NCAA's with a different type of coach as the associate head coach who would focus more on player development and bench coaching?
I'm not saying Kennedy made the right decision. That's yet to be seen. But what I don't understand is the personal vitriol that has emerged from this announcement. I'm sorry, I don't buy the "what a lousy guy Kennedy is for releasing his friend and his buddy." The coaching industry is built on hiring friends and acquaintances from earlier days, and head coaches fire good friends all the time at all levels of sports. Hell, Lane Kiffin fired his father. So can we get past the "the backstabber Kennedy fired his buddy." Well, it appears he's going to hire another buddy to take his spot. It's called high D-1 coaching and assistant coaches rarely stay in one spot longer than 3-4 years. So don't cry for Cyprien. He'll land on his feet making 5-10x more money than most of us do.
Kennedy has one year to get the job done. Win 24-25 games at a minimum and get to the NCAA's, or be fired. That's the current proposition for Kennedy and this basketball program regardless of who's on the staff. So why have some Aggie fans become so emotional on his topic? Cyprien's release has nothing to do with Kennedy's task at hand next year…win big or you be gone and you stay gone (couldn't resist a Pulp Fiction reference). That's why I'm not worked up over the change. Either way, he will be judged by wins and losses, not who is the new assistant coach.
So Can This Team Win 24-25 Games Next Season?
Yeah, I think the team can win 25 games if the chemistry comes together and the team gels. While observers believe the key will be the freshman Alex Robinson at point guard, I think the key will be the emergence of a big man and an inside game in general. A&M was basically inept in the paint this season. Kourtney Roberson is a decent physical specimen but he plays way too soft for a 250-pound 23 year-old post. His hands are questionable and that affects his rebounding. If Trocha can at least be functional on the defensive end and block some shots along the way, I think the play in the post can improve.
Coming down the second half of the season, the team played with nine scholarship players and basically utilized seven decent players. Eight of those nine players return including the two most productive players from last season Alex Caruso and Jamal Jones. Avery Johnson told me yesterday that in pick-up games, transfer Jalen Jones was the best player on the court. I've heard similar comments from staff sources, so there's reason to believe the 6-foot-6 stretch forward will improve mid-range scoring and points in the paint.
For all the hand-wringing about Caruso, the junior-to-be developed into a pretty good sec basketball player and i expect even more improvement next season. You know what you are getting from Jamal Jones, and Davonte Fitzgerald was just coming into his own when he suffered the knee injury.
That's a lot of added scholarship players to a team that won 18 games and blew last minute leads against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Missouri to name a few. Barring a slew of injuries, this team will be better on paper. It's hard not to project an additional 5-6 wins when looking at the SEC and this lineup…again, on paper. If Kennedy can't get these 13 scholarship players to win 24 games playing 18 SEC games and another 8-9 home tune-up wins in November and December, then he will deservedly lose his job after the season.
Hop's Basketball Tidbits
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