A&M Hoops off to another hot start

Have you heard the latest Aggie joke? Texas A&M has won 19 straight regular-season non-conference games and is now 23-3 at home over the last two seasons . . . not in football, but in basketball. Yes, basketball.

Here he goes again. After leading the Aggies to a surprising 8-8 Big 12 conference record and an NIT berth last year, Texas A&M head basketball coach Billy Gillispie continues to make waves in Aggieland, and the name of the game this season is defense.

In just his second in College Station, the reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year named by the Associated Press has the Aggies off to another fast start, leading A&M to a 6-0 record so far this season. And while critics point to a less-than inspiring non-conference schedule, for the long-struggling Texas A&M basketball program, it's a starting point.

After a brutal football season that left fans in maroon with little to cheer about and no post-season bowl game reservations to make, Gillispie has this team and its fans believing, once again, that big things can be accomplished on the court at Reed Arena. And this hard-nosed mentality is exactly what is helping to create legions of "Billy Clyde" followers in Aggieland.

Gillispie is under no false illusions and knows exactly the caliber of talent he and his team is up against in the Big 12. "All the games are going to be close," Gillispie said. "And when it comes down to the end, you have to have major league players in this league. It will be interesting to see how we respond."

"Our guys are a little ahead of the game defensively," Gillispie said. "But our problems are our physical size. We're a little light in the pants on the perimeter compared to other Big 12 teams." But expectations are high.

After losing leading team scorer and NBA first-round draft selection Antoine Wright from last season's team, the Aggies appear to have missed very few beats, if any. A&M returns four starters, including sophomore big man Joseph Jones, and some new recruits expected to make an immediate impact.

Enter freshman phenom (and football standout) Martellus Bennett, and the Aggies once again have the makings for big things this season.

"He fits the profile of a guy I would definitely always want to have on the team," Gillispie said. "A tough guy, a great kid, a guy that loves life and who will compete and fight for his teammates."

"I like our defense. Our transition defense has been fantastic," Gillispie said. "Offensively, we've moved the ball about as well as you could possibly move it this early."

"It's easy for us to want to be as good as we were at the end of last season, and we're not, but nobody is," Gillispie said. "But I do think we're doing a lot of things that are way ahead of where we were a year ago. I think our defense is much better. I think our transition defense is much better. I think our rebounding is better. Our offense is 50 times better, but it's still not good enough yet."

And for now, that's good enough for Aggie fans.

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