Talent can always be found on the court. LSU coach Matt McMahon knows it far too well.
McMahon, who replaced Will Wade this offseason in Baton Rouge, spent seven seasons at Murray State, leading the Racers to three NCAA Tournament appearances. He's seen what the "small-school" mantra can bring to the big boy table.
It's no wonder why he wasn't surprised that Texas A&M's Dexter Dennis' transition from the American Athletic Conference to the SEC has come with ease.
“He’s been a player of the year on the defensive end in his previous league,” McMahon said of Dennis, a transfer from Wichita State following an LSU 69-56 loss at Reed Arena earlier this month. “But he really carried (the Aggies) on the offensive end in the first half. They were able to dominate.”
Dennis has been a star for Texas A&M since the start of conference play, but he's just a fourth of the puzzle. Julius Marble continues to be a factor inside the paint. Henry Coleman III has been as consistent as they come in a rotational role, while Tyrece Radford currently is second on the roster in points (12.4) and rebounds (5.2) per game.
What do all four players have in common? They're transfers who first bought into another program's vision. Now, the quartet could be the reason that Texas A&M makes the tournament for the first time since 2018.
“A lot of the (current) players were part of the team last year,” Radford said. “It’s up to us to steer the rest of the team and the new guys in a different direction. We’ve been there and know the feeling. We know that winning one game out of that (losing) streak could have changed the whole end of the season for us. We don’t want to be in that same situation.”
Marble began his career as a bench player at Michigan State. He's now averaging 20 minutes and 9.4 points per game. Radford, a former depth piece at Virginia Tech, has averaged 12.7 points per game during the Aggies' 4-0 start in conference play.
Dennis, who won AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022, has arguably Texas A&M's most versatile player. And Coleman, who began his career taking advice from Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, has registered six 10-plus point games.
Transfers are often viewed as "damaged goods" in the public eye due to their inability to make an impact on their former teams. Fourth-year coach Buzz Williams views them as prospects needing a change of scenery instead.
No one has benefitted more than Williams over the previous two seasons thanks to the transfer portal. Last year with the addition of Coleman and Radford, the Aggies began conference play 4-0 and made it to the NIT Championship in New York City after an impeccable run in the SEC Tournament.
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With the additions of Marble and Dennis a year later, the Aggies (12-5, 4-0 SEC) remain undefeated in conference play entering their Wednesday night rematch against Florida (10-7, 3-2 SEC) at Reed Arena.
“We’ve grown in the right direction,” Radford said Tuesday. “We’re better than when we played (the Gators) the first time. But they’re better, too.”
With the Aggies' "Fab Four" finding their rhythm, wins continue to pile up. Since its 66-63 victory at Florida, Texas A&M has picked up wins over LSU, then-No. 20 Missouri and South Carolina. Against the Tigers and Gamecocks, the Aggies outscored both programs by 18 and 39 points, respectively.
Wednesday's showdown at 6 p.m. should be more than just a rematch on paper. The Gators have found their offensive identity during a three-game win streak under first-year coach Todd Golden. Senior Colin Castleton has scored at least 12 points in his previous four games. Will Richard, a sophomore transfer from Belmont, followed up his 14-point game against Georgia with a season-high 18 points at home against Missouri.
Should Texas A&M pick up its fifth consecutive SEC win of the season, it would mark the best start for the program in conference play since 2016. That year under Billy Kennedy, the Aggies punched their ticket to a Sweet Sixteen appearance against No. 7 Oklahoma.
McMahon, who coached NBA stars like Ja Morant and Cameron Payne while at Murray State, can spot talent miles away. Even though he never faced the Shockers during Dennis' four years with the program, McMahon already knew what a two-way player of his skillset was capable of when heating up.
Now, the nation is starting to figure it out as well. And the Aggies are proving to be the real deal.
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