Basketball preview:Texas A&M adjusts after loss of big men to NBA
A year ago, Texas A&M’s first option was feeding the ball inside on a team built around center Tyler Davis and forward Robert Williams.
With both big men gone for the NBA after declaring early, the Aggies will have to change the way they play to adjust to the loss.
“Our team’s definitely going to be different, more guard-oriented than post-oriented like we’ve been in the past,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “We lost some really good players, but I’m excited about the guys we’ve got coming back and the two newcomers we’ve signed.”
Davis was A&M’s leading scorer last season by averaging 14.9 points a game and was second in rebounding with 8.9. Williams led the team in rebounding with 9.2 and was fourth in scoring with 10.4 points a game. Instead of trying to force the remaining players to be something they’re not, Kennedy is embracing his smaller lineup and its strengths.
“We could be possibly playing four guards and be a little bit faster and take advantage of the 3-point line,” Kennedy said.
Those guards will be led by senior Admon Gilder, who was second on the team averaging 12.3 points last year despite missing time with a knee injury.
“I appreciate it,” Gilder said. “I enjoy practice. I enjoy shooting a quicker shot. When you come across half court and feel it, you feel it.”
The Aggies will look for TJ Starks to take a step forward as a scorer after the guard averaged 9.9 points as a freshman last season in 32 games with 15 starts. Though Starks played just one season with the big lineup, he’s excited about the new look to the offense this year.
“I love it,” he said. “I love everything we’re doing. We’re running, looking for the break. It’s definitely more fun.”
The transition has been a bit more difficult for Kennedy, who lamented one of the things that comes with playing this style of offense.
“I’m going to have to get used to guys kicking it out of bounds more than I’d like right now,” he said. “I’m trying to be patient and stick the different style of play. Playing more up-tempo and taking advantage of the 3-point line and taking advantage of our perimeter play.”
Other guards that should play important roles for the Aggies this season include Savion Flagg and Jay Jay Chandler. They averaged less than eight points combined last year, but both showed to be 3-point threats in limited work last year.
The Aggies reached the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years last season with a team led by Williams, who was the 27th overall pick in the draft, and Davis. A year after losing to Michigan in the regional semifinals most aren’t expecting much from the Aggies this year. The losses of Williams and Davis along with DJ Hogg to the NBA left major holes in the roster and have Texas A&M predicted to finish 12th in the SEC in the preseason media poll.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
Gilder considered leaving school early for the NBA draft, but withdrew his name and decided to return for his final season and get his degree.
“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said. “But I think the process helped me continue to grow.”
The Aggies will have a tough early test when they travel to play No. 3 Gonzaga in their third game on Nov. 15. Five days later Texas A&M will face No. 25 Washington in the Vancouver Showcase. The regular-season opener is at home Nov. 7 against Savannah State.