LOCATION: College Station, TX
CONFERENCE: Big 12
LAST SEASON: 12-15 (.440)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 5-11 (t-10th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 3/2
COLORS: Maroon & White
HOMECOURT: Reed Arena (12,500)
COACH: Melvin Watkins (UNC Charlotte '77)
record at school 12-15 (1 year)
career record 54-35 (3 years)
ASSISTANTS: Tom Billeter (Illinois '83)|
Lew Hill (Wichita State '87)
Bobby Kummer (UNC Charlotte '96)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 19-14-11-7-12
RPI (last 5 years) 167-176-137-237-157
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in conference first round.
The idea for any new coach is to wait out the players recruited by his predecessor and get his own in as soon as possible. The process has been accelerated for Melvin Watkins at Texas A&M. The newcomer class numbers nine. Is there one larger in Division I? The numbers alone would push A&M's class into the ranks of the heralded. But the Aggies picked up a couple of gems Watkins has no choice but to start immediately. The attrition wasn't by design. Watkins wasn't looking to lose a guy like point guard Clifton Cook, last season's Big 12 Newcomer of the Year who was ruled academically ineligible for the season. Cook (15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 156 assists, 67 steals) would have been a senior. Without a player returning who averaged more than six points per game, it's in with the new at A&M. The Aggies are excited about the rookies, so let's start there. Shooting guard Bernard King may be the highest recruit ever landed by the Aggies. Recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons had him No. 29. The 6-5 leaper from Gibsland, La., was elected Louisiana's Mr. Basketball after averaging 28.9 points, 11.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 5.4 steals and 3.7 blocked shots. He led Coleman High to a 46-3 record and a state championship. In a five-year varsity career, he scored more than 4,000 points. A&M beat out the likes of Purdue, Minnesota, Tulane and LSU partly by selling King on the idea that he can be a foundation player for the program.
"We believe we got a good one," Watkins told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'd be shocked if he didn't come in and play right away. He's the kind of kid who could play for anybody in the country. He has a chance to be something really special." Some other new faces also have that chance. Guys like 6-11 freshman center Andy Slocum (no relation to the Aggies' football coach, R.C.), who made Gibbons' top 100 list. He averaged 21.0 points and 11.0 rebounds for West Monroe, La., High. Point guard Jamaal Gilchrist, a 6-1 freshman, has a chance to start. He averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 assists for Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Va. His team went 64-8 in two years. Watkins also lured in two junior-college transfers who should help right away. Damon Escoffery is a 6-4 sophomore shooting guard who played high school ball in Brooklyn, N.Y., and averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for Monterey Peninsula (Calif.) Community College in 1997-98. He sat out last season and will have three years to play at A&M. Small forward Carlton Brown, a 6-7 junior, led the North Texas JC Conference in scoring with a 23.8 average at Temple Junior College. He was third in the league with 8.3 rebounds per game and will battle for time at both forward slots. It's not like the Aggies have no experience. Two starters are back. One is 6-5 senior swingman Jerald Brown, who's about to wrap up a most peculiar career. He came to A&M as touted as King. Brown was Mr. Basketball in Texas and a McDonald's All-American as a senior, and looked to be that cornerstone player for former coach Tony Barone. But hasn't happened for Brown, whose scoring average has dipped from 10.1 in a Big 12 Freshman-of-the-Year season to 7.4 as a sophomore to 5.9 last year. He has never shot better than 36 percent in a season. But Brown has started 66 of 80 games in his career, and nobody else on the roster comes close to that experience. The other returning starter is 6-10 sophomore center Joe White (6.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .377 FG, .670 FT), who was chosen to the league's all-freshman team. The Aggies will have to sort through an abundance of centers. Two 6-10 redshirt freshmen, Brian Brookhart (16.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg at Crowley HS/Crowley, Texas) and Larry Jackson (14.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg at St. Joseph HS/Trumbull, Conn.) will battle for minutes. Brookhart started his career at TCU. Power forward Aaron Jack (5.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, .565 FT, .763 FT), a 6-8 senior who started at Penn State, was the Aggies top player off the bench last year and will continue in that role this year. Two other returning players will fight for time. Senior forward Paul Jacobs (3.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .431 FT), 6-9, started seven early games last year. Jacobs never played high school ball, and came to A&M after honing his game at two junior colleges. Sophomore guard Andy Leatherman (2.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg, .349 FG, .429 3PT) was the Aggies' top three-point shooter but averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game.
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C BENCH/DEPTH D|
FRONTCOURT C INTANGIBLES D
Signs of progress abounded last year. In the first year of Reed Arena, the Aggies' home attendance increased 18 percent. They went from winning one Big 12 game in 1998 to five last season. One of those victories came over Oklahoma, a Sweet 16 team. There is momentum. But with so much youth, it may take a while for A&M to jell. It might not happen this season. "I don't think I've ever been associated with a team this young," coach Melvin Watkins said. "But we will bring some excitement to this campus that hasn't been around here in a long time. We have some kids who have the talent to eventually be able to play at the Big 12 level." If Clifton Cook were returning, one could see the Aggies possibly splitting their conference games. But this is another uphill battle for A&M. With one of the nation's top recruiting classes, the Aggies are headed in the right direction.
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