The road to San Antone begins tonight

It's here. Aggie Basketball season has finally arrived--even if it is just an exhibition game. As the Aggies tip off the first exhibition game of the year tonight at Reed Arena, Aggie Websider takes a look at the key returners from last year's Sweet 16 team, and profiles freshmen who could make a big impact on the 2007-2008 squad.

While most of Aggieland is waiting on the edge of their seat for one of the internet rumors to come true regarding the fate of Texas A&M football coach Dennis Franchione, there are bigger fish to fry across the railroad tracks, and it begins tonight at Reed Arena.

And while the game might not mean anything to the NCAA Selection committee, for Aggie hoops junkies like Kevin Pike of Arlington, a charter member of the "Fightin' Texas Aggie Basketball Tailgaters," this is a date that's been circled on the calendar since the schedule was released.

Aggie Websider thought we'd give you a list of key players to look for tonight, whether you're driving in for the game, or just watching on Aggie All-Access. Most of the names you've probably at least heard of, but some may be new.

2007-2008 KEY RETURNERS

Joseph Jones
The 6-foot-9 Pride of Normangee, Texas is the heart and soul of this year's Aggie squad. He tested the NBA waters in the offseason, but chose to come back to Aggieland for one more year, which was as big for new head coach Mark Turgeon as holding on to the entire group of talented commits. Had he chosen to leave, the A&M front court would have still been fairly well stocked, but with Jones returning, the group has a solid anchor with experience that they'll be able to depend on in clutch situations.

Dominique Kirk
Kirk is the lock down defender that thrived in Billy Gillispie's defense-first system for the past three years, but he's going to be given more responsibilities this year, including handling the ball more than he's ever done during his time at A&M. Good news for the Aggies—he's one of the hardest working athletes at A&M and he'll be ready. Expect him to split time with Donald Sloan at point while Turgeon continues to groom future point guard BJ Holmes into his primary starter.

Josh Carter
Carter led the nation last year in three-point percentage and holds every three-point related record in Texas A&M history—with two years of eligibility remaining. With the departure of Acie Law, Carter will be called upon to make big shots in key situations, but for Carter, that's not a problem. The new motion offense will also help free him up for a lot more open shots, which will create match up problems for defenses. They'll either have to come out and guard Carter's deep shots, opening up the paint for the loaded Aggie front court, or sit back and let him take his shots. Those shots could be one of the biggest the keys for the Aggies this year.

Bryan Davis
Davis came on strong in Big 12 play last year, pulling down some key rebounds and making a couple of big-time plays in the Aggies thrilling win at Kansas. As a sophomore, and playing with at least three other big men who could each start on most teams in the Big 12, he could be the guy off the bench that makes a difference if Jones or Jordan get in foul trouble. Look for a lot from Davis in non-conference play as well while Jordan gets his feet underneath him.

Donald Sloan
Sloan was one of the most valuable players for the Aggies last year as a true freshman. He learned a lot from Law and he'll be called upon to fill some of the point production lost from Law. He's not worried about it though, saying that he was a natural scorer in high school, but after playing with Law for a year, he's developed into a dependable ball handler as well. In addition to producing on the court, Sloan is another natural leader who can take care of things on and off the court for Turgeon.

Chinemelu Elonu
No one will benefit more from the coaching change than Elonu. He's extremely raw, but equally talented, he just couldn't keep himself out of Gillispie's doghouse. But after watching just a few practices, you can see that he's more confident in his ability this year, and Turgeon has said that the only person allowed to coach him in practice from now on is the head coach. He's got a wing span that is as wide as Turgeon is tall and he's one of the top shot blockers and rebounders on the team.

Derrick Roland
Okay, so maybe someone will benefit from the coaching change as much as Elonu. Roland was a high school teammate of Donald Sloan, earning all-state honors as a senior at Seagoville. He averaged 17.2 points and 3.4 assists per game his senior year, but he was another talented guy who stayed in Gillispie's doghouse. With a fresh start under Turgeon, he could get a lot more playing time and has looked good in practice so far this year.

2007-2008 KEY FRESHMEN

DeAndre Jordan
No one will benefit more from the return of Jones than seven-footer DeAndre Jordan. Jordan has been a man among boys up until now, abusing guys down low who don't have the size or strength to defend themselves. But now he's in the big leagues so to speak and he's got a lot of pressure from fans who expect for him to be the next freshman phenom. While he's certainly capable of evolving into a dominant big man, he's still got a lot to learn, but by the time conference play rolls around, he and Jones should be one of the most formidable one-two front court punches in the nation.

BJ Holmes
Holmes was one of the best point guards in the state last year and he'll have to fight for playing time this year. He's probably the best pure point guard on the team, but it's going to take some time to get used to the speed of the game, especially when Big 12 play rolls around. The good news is he's got a great teacher in Donald Sloan, who learned a lot from Acie Law last year. The quicker he can elevate his game to become a starter, the better for the Aggies.

Nathan Walkup
This kid can shoot. While watching a practice last week, I think he made about 80 percent of the three pointers I saw him shoot. But not only that, he's one of the best athletes on the team as well. He has been described by many as a Chris Walker—in terms of his fan appeal—but with talent. For those who saw his slam dunk competition appearance at Maroon Madness, it's easy to see why. He will have to fight for playing time, but he's another big weapon for Turgeon in close games that will force teams to defend more than just Carter and Jones.




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