|David Loubeau :: Ray Carlin/Icon SMI |
During the summer, new Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy took his team on a 10-day trip to Switzerland and France, where the Aggies played exhibition games and toured landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Kennedy believes the tower tour will provide some foreshadowing because he fully intends on taking A&M to unprecedented heights.
"My goal here is to win national championships," says Kennedy, who coached for five seasons at Murray State. "[A&M women's coach Gary] Blair was able to get a [national] championship here [last season]. We need to be the next team that gets a championship here."
Kennedy inherits a program that has advanced to six consecutive NCAA tournaments. He also assumes control of a roster that returns three starters, including six of the top eight scorers, and a couple of potential impact newcomers.
Athletic forward David Loubeau chose not to enter the 2011 NBA draft and returns to the Aggies after an up-and-down junior season. While he averaged 11.8 points per game -- second-highest on the squad -- and ranked in the top three on the team in blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and rebounds, Loubeau also scored seven points or fewer in five regular-season Big 12 games.
Leading scorer Khris Middleton has similar goals. In his sophomore season, the smooth-shooting swingman occasionally took over games. In an overtime win against Arkansas, he scored 31 points and added 28 in an overtime victory over Missouri. But physical defenders occasionally took Middleton out of his game. He needs to be more assertive, and Loubeau must become a dependable go-to scorer for the Aggies to take the next step.
Starting point guard Dash Harris returns for his senior season and the Aggies are hopeful that he will be a much better scoring threat. Harris had surgery on his right (shooting) wrist in the summer of 2010; the injury hampered his shot as he connected on only 26.8 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from three-point range. If he can't make more shots, A&M will turn to true freshman Jamal Branch, a talented playmaker who can score in a variety of ways, for more minutes.
The Aggies lose clutch shooter B.J. Holmes, but they may be more versatile with the addition of 6-foot-4 transfer Elston Turner. Toward the end of his sophomore season at Washington, Turner showed he could shoot much like Holmes, draining 54.5 percent of his three-point attempts in NCAA tournament games.
Realistically, the Aggies don't appear to have enough overall talent yet to duplicate what the A&M women did, but it would not be too surprising to see Kennedy and Co. scale some lofty heights during March.
Mark Turgeon didn't leave the cupboard bare when he departed for Maryland. In fact, this appears to be one of the more athletic teams A&M has fielded, perfectly suited for Kennedy's up-tempo offense and pressure-oriented defense. Plenty of questions still must be addressed, especially in the backcourt. But this is a program that has won at least 24 games five straight years. Kennedy's first team in Aggieland is quite capable of matching that, contending for an upper-echelon spot in the Big 12 and making a nice run in March.
Daniel Alexander (F, Fr.): Has the size (6-9) to score in the paint and the shooting range to be a factor from the outside.
Jamal Branch (G, Fr.): Prized recruit who was rated as the No. 46 prospect nationally by one scouting service.
Jordan Green (G, Fr.): A 6-4 shooting guard will provide scoring punch off the bench.
Grant Jolly (F, Fr.): Not likely to see siginicant playing time as a freshman.
Elston Turner (G, Jr.): Will likely play significant minutes immediately.