What to watch for
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 03:11
Sports fans need landmarks. Think of it like attending a concert for whatever kind of music it is that you listen to. Drop in on a new band and you might enjoy a riff, a verse, a song, but to truly enjoy the musical experience is to know the musician and his or her work. You know what to watch for. You know how things are supposed to look and sound and you can tell when the experience deviates. Enjoying sports — to me — feels like that. But what are the landmarks for this crop of Aggie basketball players?
Kennedy gets a mulligan for last season. That one didn’t count, so strike it from the books. I’m sure I could squint at last season and find something that went well, but it would take a while. Kennedy was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s disease in his first season at a new school while trying to fit an offense around some other guy’s players. Losing three of his five best players to injury and having his only backup point guard quit the team at the season’s midway point didn’t help either.
I would crumble, but Kennedy hasn’t. He was, however, dramatically out-coached in several late-game possessions against teams like Missouri and Texas last season, but I’m trying to let go of those memories. Mulligan, remember? The Kennedy era starts now.
Remember that, because this season might not be pretty. Kennedy should be thrilled about the SEC. His new conference moves the ball, pushes the tempo and takes shots early in the shot clock. The Big 12 was a conference of ball-stopping isolation offenses. Kennedy likes to run and he’ll get to do so. That said, while the SEC West isn’t particularly strong, the east — with defending national champion Kentucky and never-really-goes-away Florida — is.
In only one season it’s impossible to revamp the entire roster to fit a coaching scheme, but the graduation and — in the case of Khris Middleton — early exit for the NBA draft drained the team of most of former head coach Mark Turgeon’s guys. Give Kennedy credit for the batch of new faces he brought in.
True freshman guards J’Mychal Reese and Alex Carruso landed in Kennedy’s lap as renowned recruits who happened to grow up in the Bryan-College Station area. They’re young and the backcourt is deeper than other positions, but they’ll see time and they’ll contribute. Reese could be the Aggie baller we’ve been waiting for since Acie Law IV captured our hearts.
Junior point guard Fabyon Harris came in as a junior college transfer with tattoos and a demeanor that bring a sense of toughness to the roster that I like. He and Reese are both scorers from the point and Harris can play off the ball as well, so look for Kennedy to occasionally go small with Reese and Harris at the guards while sliding senior guard Elston Turner to small forward. Creative small-ball, big-ball lineups like that one, if timed correctly, will be the key for Kennedy to create matchup problems and stay in games against more talented schools.
If this roster has a star for fans to latch onto, it’s Turner. He’ll pour in close to 20 points per game whether the looks are open or not, but his trigger is a touch too quick sometimes. Senior forward-center Ray Turner will be asked to carry the load in the post. He’s shown flashes, but I’m not convinced he can be a first option down low.
Presence in the post will cost the Aggies a chance to compete in the SEC. After Ray Turner, where does Kennedy go? It’s just not there. The wings and shooting bigs like Daniel Alexander will score and are tall and rangy enough to match up with anyone defensively, but who’s going to stand up to Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel in the low block? If Ray Turner and, say, sophomore Kourtney Roberson can consistently pose a threat in the interior, it will stretch the floor enough to give shooters like Elston Turner and Carruso quality looks.
I’ll break it down as simply as I can. If you’re watching this team and they’re not running: bad. If the Aggies aren’t facilitating through the post but the other team is: bad. If Elston Turner is shooting and he’s smiling afterwards: good. If Kennedy can get serviceable minutes out of his bigs and employ his cache of athletic shooters and slashers in ways that keep opposing coaches guessing: very, very good.
I feel about this team about how I did about Johnny Football and Friends before their season began: quietly optimistic for a few thrills, some growing pains, a handful of quality wins and an armful of face-punching losses. I’m not predicting a return to the NCAA tournament for A&M, but if I’m even 75 percent as wrong about this team as I was about the football team, Reed could be rocking.