Mark Turgeon has told anyone who will listen that he’s grateful for what he inherited at Texas A&M when he took the coaching job in the offseason following Billy Gillispie’s departure to Kentucky.
But the first-year coach is equally determined to establish his own identity for the 16th-ranked Aggies, who host McNeese State on Friday at Reed Arena.
Turgeon became a hot name in coaching circles after guiding Wichita State to the regional semifinals of the 2006 NCAA tournament. Despite failing to make the postseason after a 19-14 record last season in an under-appreciated Missouri Valley Conference, he became a candidate for the Aggies as the dominoes fell following Gillispie’s decision to take over Kentucky after Tubby Smith’s resignation.
“I’m taking a lot of good from Billy, because he programmed the program to play hard. That’s why I took the job,” Turgeon said before noting some changes needed to be made.
“I’ve never taken over a good program. It’s been unique. After that first game, it was clear I wasn’t getting through to the team and I said, ‘Screw it, I need to be happy, we’re going to do things my way.’ I’ve had to scream and yell more at this team than my Wichita State team that went to the Sweet 16. They weren’t major things, just little things. Corny? But we’re going to do things my way just to show I’m the boss.”
While the Aggies return Josh Carter, Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk from a squad that reached the regional semifinals of the 2007 NCAA tournament and been to consecutive NCAA tournaments, Turgeon does not have star guard Acie Law IV, who moved onto the NBA.
Turgeon also is making the transition to having high-profile recruits. Seven-foot freshman center DeAndre Jordan is expected to make the Aggies an elite team this season, and the coach has been leaning on his returning players to help get through to the 265-pound pivotman.
“DeAndre is 18 going on 12, so he gets real emotional. I got tired of coaching DeAndre, so I said, ‘Joe, I need some help.’” Turgeon recounted from one of his practices. “One day I saw DeAndre pout and I turned to Joe, and Joe popped him just about as hard as you could do without football pads on. DeAndre kind of stood back, knew he didn’t want to fight him.
“Then Brian Davis popped him, and from there it was on and we had our best practice of the year. He’s been a different kid ever since, and now I can yell at him and he responds to that instead of pouting.”
Jordan averaged 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in two exhibition games but made only 4 of 13 free throws.
Without a go-to player like Law, the Aggies likely will be a more balanced team offensively. Jones averaged 13.4 points, while Carter averaged 11.8 and made 50 percent (86-for-172) of his 3-point shots. Kirk, one of the top defenders in the nation, may have to shoot more after scoring only 7.2 points per game last season.
“He’ll shoot when he has to shoot,” Turgeon said of Kirk. “No other perimeter players are making shots except for Josh and him. If he doesn’t (start shooting more), then we look to get him more shots.”
After this game, the Aggies will play Oral Roberts as one of the four host teams for the NIT Season Tip-Off.
McNeese State returns three starts from a 15-17 team from 2006-07, including leading scorer Jarvis Bradley. The undersized 6-foot-6 forward-center averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent for the Cowboys— impressive statistics considering they shot only 29.5 percent from 3-point range.
Point guard John Ford, who made a team-high 45 3-pointers and scored 11.7 points per game, is back to run the offense.
Cowboys coach Dave Simmons knows his team may be in for a long night on the boards against an Aggies team that features six players 6-foot-8 or taller.
“The game will definitely be a challenge for us,” Simmons said. “They have a very talented team and we will have a tough time dealing with their size.”
McNeese State has lost all seven of its games against ranked opponents since the start of the 1996-97 season, but did post an 83-68 victory over Texas A&M in the 1995-96 season in the most recent meeting.