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December 2, 2007
Aggies' fast start keyed by frontcourt depth
We're four weeks into the season, and most teams are still searching for their identity.
Texas A&M is not one of those teams.
A big preseason question was how the Aggies would respond without Billy Gillispie and Acie Law IV, the coach and star guard who turned A&M from a doormat into an NCAA Tournament threat.
The Aggies have filled those voids with size, and plenty of it. Ninth-ranked Texas A&M, which plays at Arizona tonight (6 p.m. EST), won the Preseason NIT in impressive fashion. The Aggies have gotten off to a 7-0 start by overpowering opponents on the inside.
"You remember Space Jam, with all the big people?" asked Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, after the Aggies beat his Huskies 77-63 in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT. "That's what they look like. They have a couple of giants."
Well, they have at least one – 7-foot freshman center DeAndre Jordan. The former five-star recruit has joined an experienced frontcourt that features senior power forward Joseph Jones (6-9) and junior small forward Josh Carter (6-7). Jones and Carter have been starters since their freshman years.
That deep group gives the Aggies more than just a size advantage.
"Other teams have tall players, but can't rebound," Romar said. "(Texas A&M's) guys really attack the glass. You have to box out. They are relentless on the boards. They have an identity."
A&M's six other opponents would certainly agree. The Aggies have outrebounded every team they have faced. They own a stellar plus-12.4 rebounding margin, which leads the Big 12.
Jordan, who leads the way with a team-high 7.4 rebounds a game, is most responsible for the transformation. He has given the Aggies an intimidating presence around the basket, something they lacked under Gillispie. Jordan has blocked at least one shot in six of the seven games, and he has altered many more.
"DeAndre has given us a totally different dimension," Jones said.
Convincing Jordan, who originally committed to Gillispie, to stick with his letter of intent was Turgeon's first priority when he took the job in April. He says Jordan has already made remarkable strides. Turgeon expects Jordan to improve rapidly.
"If you could have seen DeAndre in August you wouldn't believe how far he has come," Turgeon said. "I'm proud of him and he still has a way to grow. It's pretty frightening. … I think he can become one of the best defenders in the country."
But Carter's outside shooting touch didn't have much to do with the Aggies' dominance in the Preseason NIT. After A&M beat Washington, they went on to crush Ohio State 70-47 in the final. Carter was just 5-for-19 from the field in the last two games of the tournament, perhaps a testament to the Aggies' improved inside game.
"That's a good sign for us," Turgeon said.
Jones was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. The veteran had 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskies and Buckeyes. He also slowed down Washington power forward Jon Brockman. Brockman had 19 points and the score was tied at 51 with eight minutes to go when Turgeon asked Jones to guard the Huskies' star player. Brockman scored just two more points as the Aggies pulled away.
"After the first five minutes of the Washington game, I thought Joe was fantastic," Turgeon said. "He did an unbelievable job on Brockman."
Davis may be the most improved of the bunch. The former four-star recruit is playing three times as much as last season (21.4 mpg to 7.1). He had his best game against Washington, with nine points, six rebounds and two steals.
"Bryan came in and made some open shots and gave us a big lift," Jones said. "He played very well."
Elonu, whom teammates call "Junior," barely played when Gillispie was the coach. Now, Elonu is adding valuable depth. One of the team's most athletic players, he saw 17 minutes of action in the Aggies' 76-63 win over Alabama on Wednesday. He contributed six points, four rebounds and three blocks.
With the addition of Jordan, the return of Carter and Jones and the emergence of Davis and Elonu, the Aggies will look to overwhelm opposing frontcourts all season long.
"Other teams have similar size, but (A&M) has huge bodies, long arms and are unbelievably athletic," Brockman said. "They just keep coming at you."
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.