Along with getting to know his players, establishing recruiting ties and settling into a new home in the College Station area, Billy Kennedy may want to add this item to the checklist he made after becoming Texas A&M’s basketball coach: “Send Mark Turgeon a thank you note.”
While he’s at it, Kennedy might want to drop Billy Gillispie a line, too.
Most coaches are faced with rebuilding scenarios when they move from one school to another. But of all the jobs that were available during the offseason, Kennedy seems to have inherited the healthiest program.
Gillispie and Turgeon guided the Aggies to seven straight postseason appearances before leaving for different jobs. The thought heading into the offseason was that Texas A&M’s 2011-12 squad would be one of its best teams yet, as seven of the top 10 players return from a unit that finished 24-9 overall and 10-6 in the Big 12.
“The program is in really good shape,” Kennedy said. “The job that was done by the former staff of coaching these guys and preparing them for his level is definitely a positive.”
“This is a dream for me,” said Kennedy, the head coach at Murray State the past five seasons. “There is no Maryland, Kansas, Carolina or wherever. This is a destination job for me. I plan on retiring here.”
Kennedy and Texas A&M certainly seem like a good fit.
The Louisiana native spent the 1990-91 season as an assistant with the Aggies under Kermit Davis and liked the university so much that, when his daughter was born that year, he named her Alexandra Marie so that her initials would match those of the school.
Kennedy has also held assistant coaching positions at schools such as Wyoming, Tulane, Creighton, Cal and Miami. He was the head coach at Centenary and Southeastern Louisiana before landing the Murray State job in 2006.
Four years later, the Racers advanced to the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament, where they lost to eventual national runner-up Butler by two points. The Racers finished 31-5 that year before winning their second straight Ohio Valley Conference title the following season.
As much as he enjoyed his time there, the Texas A&M opportunity was too tough for Kennedy to pass up. Kennedy – who was making $225,000 at Murray State – signed a five-year contract with the Aggies for $1 million per year.
Kennedy described Texas A&M and its wealthy athletic department as “Murray State on steroids.”
“When you’ve been in some of the places I’ve been and then you finally get to a school that has resources, you really embrace that,” said Kennedy, 47. “With the facilities we have here and with all of the support for the program … those kinds of things mean more to be than being at a quote ‘big-time basketball school.’”
In fact, with so many recruits to choose from in Texas, Kennedy doesn’t see why Texas A&M can’t become one of those very programs. The Aggies were certainly on their way under Turgeon and Gillispie.
“We let our players know that what they’ve accomplished has been very good,” Kennedy said, “but we don’t want to settle for that. We want more. Being an NCAA tournament team and a national contender year-in and year-out is something we think we can achieve.
“But saying it and doing it are two different things.”
Kennedy has plenty of recruiting ties in Texas from his days of coaching in the south. He said strengthening those relationships – and establishing new ones – will be one of his priorities throughout the rest of the summer.
He’s also looking forward to getting on the court with his new team, which returns its top two scorers (Khris Middleton and David Loubeau) from last year’s squad. As well, the Aggies will welcome a pair of talented newcomers in four-star recruit Jamal Branch, a point guard, and shooting guard Jordan Green. Both players attended Kennedy’s introductory press conference.
“He seems like my kind of coach,” Branch told reporters.
Kennedy said his teams will play a style that resembles that of his predecessors, with defense being the focal point.
“Pressure and man and trying to speed things up,” he said. “If your personnel allows that – and I think we have the personnel that allows that.
“The response has been great. The fact that all of our players are coming back and didn’t want to transfer is huge. The incoming recruits didn’t want out of their letters of intent. It says a lot about Texas A&M.”
And a lot about Billy Kennedy.
- Mark Turgeon