Billy Gillispie knew exactly what he was getting into when he became head coach at Texas A&M in March . He knew all about the 0-16 conference season the Aggies had just stumbled through and the 17 years it's been since the Aggies last tasted the NCAA tournament. He knew he had his work cut out for him.
With three starters graduating, Gillispie inherited a question mark as big as the state of Texas. Known as a stellar recruiter, he hasn't wasted any time trying to find answers to A&M's plentiful questions. He signed four players in his first few months on the job (though Chicago native Jamarcus Ellis did not enroll for the fall semester and will not play for the Aggies), and he's expecting his newcomers to take on a significant role.
"All of those guys are the types of guys we want to build our program around," Gillispie said. "They'll embrace work, they'll embrace everything they encounter, they'll be the type of players that everyone will identify with. We'll start building the program around those guys."
Junior Antoine Wright, who led the Aggies in scoring last year (13.5 ppg) and sophomore point guard Acie Law (104 assists) are the team's two most proven players, and their play will be a good barometer of A&M's season.
FRONTCOURTQuestions abound for the Aggies in the frontcourt as no returning players have logged significant minutes at center or forward. A&M will have to rely heavily on athleticism and hustle -- both trademarks of Gillispie-coached teams -- to match up with the taller teams in the Big 12. Freshmen Joseph Jones and Slade Weishuhn, both 6-foot-9, are the tallest players on A&M's roster.
Jones, a highly regarded big man who signed with the previous staff, will play immediately.
"Because of our lack of inside depth and quality at this point, he's going to have to play a major role for us as a freshman," Gillispie said. "He's quite a talent and has a chance to develop into a very good player."
The Aggies have a proven rebounder in junior college transfer Edjuan Green, who ranked second in the country with 14.7 boards per game last season for Temple (Texas) Community College.
The competition at forward will be between Green, seldom-used Marlon Pompey and Luis Clemente.
BACKCOURTThe guard positions are A&M's strength. Wright, who started 26 of 28 games for Melvin Watkins last year, is still the Aggies' marquee player. A hard worker in the practice gym, Wright is a natural fit to be the team's leader. "With the way his attitude is, the way his work ethic has been since I've gotten here, I would be surprised if he didn't have a great year," Gillispie said.
Law has proven he can be a dependable point guard: He averaged 7.5 points per game with twice as many assists as turnovers as a freshman. Senior Bobby Leach split time with Law last season but didn't produce as much, averaging less than four points per game.
Freshmen Dominique Kirk and Kenneth White, both from Dallas, will also be in the mix for playing time.
FINAL ANALYSISGillispie, who is humble and soft-spoken off the court, isn't making promises of postseason glory to Aggie fans just yet. And with so many question marks, so many new faces, and a brutal conference, it wouldn't be fair for the fans to expect a deep run in the postseason in Gillispie's first year.
One thing A&M opponents can expect, however, is a team that won't be the same easy 'W' it was last year.
"It takes time," said Gillispie, who coached UTEP to an 18-win turnaround last year. "Things are heading in the right direction for the future, but it's not the easiest league in the world to show immediate progress and immediate results. We'll do it the right way. We'll build our way."