It was a game that would determine who would win in a three-way tie for fourth place in the SEC. So, it was actually a battle for first step on the basement floor, not exactly an easy goal from which to draw strength, confidence and courage to attain. And the outcome was not good, as the Texas Aggies lost to the Georgia Bulldogs, 62-50 on Sat., Feb. 8, 2014 in Athens, Georgia.
What is there to say about the Texas Aggie men’s basketball team? There’s only platitudes and placation in the arsenal to explain how it is that the Texas Aggie men’s basketball team, full of potential, can’t seem to find a groove where they can win the mental game before they pick up the basketball.
The tough task faced by every coaching staff in Division 1 basketball is to take a group of kids who were high school superstars and hometown heroes and try to make a team out of individuals who’ve never played together. That said, so many chances—second and third chances—have been given to the men’s team. They came out playing strongly in their nonconference games. Their morale was high, the crowds at home were large and things looked good that “this year” would be different.
Last year, the team showed a lot of poise and had some acclaim thanks to Elston Turner’s game against Kentucky. The buzz from that lasted for weeks. But Ray Turner had an off year compared to his previous year. And, it seems that this year, that trend continues as Kourtney Roberson was strong last year, but only had one good game, against the “other Bulldogs” from Mississippi State. But that was not the case in yesterday’s contest.
Jordan Green is clearly doing his best off the court to be a leader and mentor to younger players. At the most recent Billy Kennedy “Wings N More” radio broadcast, special guest Shawn Smith talked about how he really appreciated Green’s mentoring him and others, including inviting them to “Breakaway,” the student-oriented Tuesday night Bible study at Reed Arena. That plus going to class, doing community-related appearances and practicing the NCAA-allowed number of hours is what’s on their plate.
In addition, Jordan Green invited some of the players to join him at 6:30 a.m. in the gym last week, to practice on their own time to prepare for last week’s game against Mississippi State. That paid off as the Aggies succeeded. But the magic wore off as the Aggies went back on the road.
It’s not unexpected that the Aggies would have trouble with the road game, as the tape recording in their heads of road losses to Kentucky and Florida, especially on national television, still played in their heads and it simply has to be impossible to get the “loser image” out of your head if you’re on the Aggies’ team.
Add to the mix that you’re competing against a team with a similar record. Yesterday, before the game, Georgia was 11-10 overall and 5-4 in conference play, compared to the Aggies 13-9 overall and 4-5 in conference play. The difference in Georgia’s mindset was that they felt like winners, even though their record did not reflect some of the great talent on their team.
Is it about attitude more than talent? When are the coaches to blame? When are the players to blame? It’s ironic that the longtime Aggie Coach Shelby Metcalf earned his D.Ed. degree (Record of Study in Education) from Texas A&M about the impact that the crowds had on Aggie team play and wins. Go figure. If people are in your corner, you feel like a winner. But when you miss a play, or two, or three then the crowd, by human nature, starts dogging on the individual players by name, and the mindset of the crowd begins to assume the position similarly and the thick cloud of failure fills Reed Arena.
Step outside your seat as a fan and put yourself on the bench with these young men. You have an assistant coach, John Reece, who is beloved and valued. And at the beginning of the year, you are without your starting point guard who has a year of experience at the helm. He knows all the plays. And he’s benched for a violation of team policy. No one discusses it. But you have to realize that it takes stone cold guts to bench a player, much less a starter, much less the son of one of your own coaches.
Then that player comes in, for a while, and then is dismissed from the team for violation of team policy. His scholarship is gone. His father is not on the bench for weeks now. No one says anything. No one has to. But you’re one of those kids on the team who is missing two of your own, no matter the circumstances.
There’s no question that Alex Caruso is a hometown crowd favorite. Last night, even the announcers on ESPN 3 said, “oh, that team is missing Caruso out there right now,” when he was on the bench. But the fact is that Caruso was not born and trained to play point guard. He’s a shooter who is forced to play point guard. Everyone makes a giant fuss about leading the way in assists. Unfortunately, every assist means Caruso didn’t score. Every turnover means Caruso didn’t score. Still, the coach is the coach and the coach decides who plays where. You can cheer for Caruso, forgive every turnover, call him the heart and soul of the group you’re trying to build a team around. In the past two weeks of the radio broadcast, Coach Kennedy has said that Caruso and Green are the players he’s anchoring his team around.
What does that tell the enthusiastic playing-time-hungry freshmen who’ve been able to shoot lights-out basketball (sporadically) and be the big gamers? They’re not who the team is built around. Freshmen aren’t that far removed from their days in the high school hallways being the big men on campus.
These kids are playing with heart, soul, emotion, passion, frustration, and they need support. They deserve it because they’re wearing the maroon and white. Those players on the bench, if not on the court, can see people leaving with 5 minutes to go in the game. It used to be something that the 12th Man simply does not do, lest you be called a two-percenter. But fans have been leaving, grousing all the way to the parking lot and on the way home.
Then there’s the attendance at Billy Kennedy’s Monday night radio show. It’s more than clear that there’s not a seat left in the house for Gary Blair’s radio broadcast from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., but seats have cleared at 7:01 pm, and that’s demoralizing for the entire men’s basketball team.
Actually, this same thing has been occurring for the past six weeks and it’s actually the one place Aggie fans are needed, moreso than even in the seats at Reed. The student body is coming to games, and the Corps of Cadets is turning out for the men’s games, and the Hullabaloo band is always there for the men’s games.
Eight games remain, and Wednesday night, the Aggies face LSU, then travel to Nashville to play Vanderbilt on Saturday. The following week we have two home games vs. Alabama and Tennessee, then a road game to Baton Rouge to play LSU again. That’s just in February. In March the Aggies have two home games vs. Ole Miss and Auburn, and they go back to Columbia, Missouri to play the Tigers the week before Spring Break.
But the men’s basketball radio show audience is like a ghost town. It appears to each young player who has been Coach Kennedy’s guest each week on the show that even the Aggie fans think there’s nothing worth sticking around for. You can count on about four couples who’ve been watching Aggies play for at least 40 years to be there for both shows. And that’s about it.
But is it really? Are there not any fans of Texas A&M men’s basketball who can find the faith and take the time to support their team when they most need supporting? The next Billy Kennedy radio broadcast is at 7 p.m., Mon., Feb. 10, 2014 at Wings N' More on University Drive in College Station. It’s time for the 12th Man at Texas A&M to step up for men’s basketball—when they need support. Gig ‘em Aggies and good luck to the 12th Man.