The following excerpt comes from Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the “bible” of college basketball now in its 32nd printing. Edited by SEC Digital Network contributor Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon is a 400-page preview that features full stories on 345 Division I teams. To order a copy, go to www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 877-807-4857.
Theoretically, everything about the Southeastern Conference makes sense for Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy.
He was born and raised in New Orleans and spent his formative coaching years in the South. He has most of his best recruiting connections in that part of the South, particularly nearby Louisiana.
But maybe as significant as anything is the style of play.
“I think the biggest difference is just the athleticism in the SEC,” Kennedy said. “It’s more up and down basketball. The Big 12 tends to be a grind, especially after you go through the first round of games and you play people for the second time. In the SEC there’s more transition baskets, it’s a quicker-pace league.”
Just the way Kennedy likes it.
When he took over the job from Mark Turgeon last season, his intent was to totally revamp the Aggies’ style of play. Whereas Turgeon’s teams played a deliberate, low-risk/low-reward style on both offense and defense, Kennedy wanted to gamble. He wanted to get a shot up within the first seven seconds of every possession. He wanted to pressure on defense, to go for steals, to overplay, to push the game to the edge of chaos.
Then, well, he got a little bit of a better feel for his roster.
Those players had been recruited by Turgeon to play Turgeon’s style, and that was going to make it difficult enough in year one. And then almost anything that could have gone wrong did.
It started with Kennedy himself, who shortly after taking the job was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s disease, which degenerates the central nervous system. Though it did not seem to have any direct effect on his ability to coach the team, he was forced to take some time off early in the season. This was a major setback for a coach trying to get to know his team and implement his system.
Then it started in on the players. Injury after injury. By the time Texas A&M hosted Baylor on Feb. 1, Kennedy was playing a walk-on guard named Alex Baird key second-half minutes in a close game. Khris Middleton and Dash Harris were both out, and so was any chance of the Aggies salvaging a season that began with them being picked to win the Big 12 championship their last year in the conference.
The point is, nobody really knows what kind of coach Kennedy is at this level yet.
He starts fresh in the SEC with an excellent signing class, all things considered. The Aggies signed two four-star prospects in 6-5 shooting guard Alex Caruso out of College Station, Texas, who ESPN rated the No. 17 shooting guard in the country, and 6-1 point guard J-Mychal Reese out of Bryan, Texas, who ESPN rated the No. 11 point guard and who chose the Aggies over Kansas, Texas and Baylor, among others.
Perhaps just as significantly, though, Kennedy made sure he got a second point guard after going through what he did with Harris last year.
"I promised we would never go another season with one point guard," Kennedy said.
So he signed 5-10 junior college All-American Fabyon Harris, who is built like a point guard but plays like a small forward, averaging 17.1 points and 5.1 rebounds as a sophomore at College of Southern Idaho, which won the NJCAA national championship in 2011. Texas A&M will look to him for point guard minutes, though, as Kennedy said, “His scoring ability also allows him to play off the ball.”
The well-traveled Harris is a native of Chicago who originally signed with Houston. But he left there without playing, also tried Howard County (Texas) Junior College and eventually wound up at CSI.