Basketball is back this week, as the Aggie hoopsters will play a double header of exhibition games on Friday night. The Women lead off at 6PM against NAIA Oklahoma City University, while the Men will debut the Buzz era against Texas A&M Kingsville with an estimated tip at 8PM.
Last year in the preseason rumors were swirling about whether Blair would survive losing two senior starters from the 2017-18 team that went 26-10 (11-5 in the SEC) and lost to eventual National Champs Notre Dame in the S16 84-90. A contingent of Old Ags allegedly offered Blair a buyout to retire while nursing the fantasy that Vic Schaefer would come home to take over. In my mind this would have been a lose-lose situation for both coaches and teams as Vic would have to leave a national contender where he’s built his own legend to come home to face constant comparison to his mentor.
As it turned out, Coach Blair would show that he can still coach as the 2018-19 edition, returning only All-American Chennedy Carter to the starting five, would finish 26-8 (12-4 in the SEC) and lose in the S16 to defending champs Notre Dame 80-87. This was done despite losing transfer starter Aaliyah Wilson to a knee injury for the year and losing Carter for the SEC tournament with a broken finger. Neither of the grad transfers would make the final four as Anriel Howard and Coach Vic were beaten in the E8 as a 1 seed by the Oregon Ducks, and Danni Williams and 7 seed Texas lost in the first round to 10 seed Indiana.
The 2019-20 Texas Aggie Women’s Basketball Team
The inexperience and question marks from last year have become a team of returning veterans with high expectations. The Ags have only one freshman on the roster, PG McKinzie Green. In an era where the transfer portal makes a lot of the off season news, the Ags lost one returning rising senior, Jada Walton and gained a transfer from Notre Dame in Jordan Nixon. Walton was a valuable bench player but was unlikely to get more minutes this year. Nixon will sit this season under transfer rules.
I’m highlighting six “starters” because I’m not sure what the plan is to reintegrate Wilson after rehab from her knee injury. This is one of the questions that might be answered from the early games and exhibitions.
- #3 5-7 Jr G Chennedy Carter - preseason All-America. Preseason pick for SEC player of the year. Carter spent part of the summer with the Pan Am games national team, where the US went 4-1 and got the Silver medal, losing to champ Brazil in the finals. Carter is the first Aggie to get preseason recognition as an AP All-American and the only junior on this year’s group, which includes Carter, Baylor’s Lauren Cox, Miami’s Beatrice Mompremier, Maryland’s Kalaina Charles, and Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. Carter led the SEC last year in points per game, finishing second to Arkansas’ Chelsea Dungee in total points due to missing games. Carter is on the Nancy Lieberman award watchlist for the best PG, but may see fewer minutes at the point.
- #40 6-4 Jr C Ciera Johnson - preseason 2nd team all-SEC. Johnson improved a lot over the course of last season and ended up in the SEC leaders in rebounds (6) and blocked shots (T10). She averaged 12 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Ciera is on the Lisa Leslie award watch list for the best center and was voted onto the preseason all-SEC second team by the coaches.
- #31 6-2 Jr F N’dea Jones finished second in the SEC in rebounding, behind only Miss State center Teaira McCowan. N’dea averaged 11.3 rpg and added 7.7 ppg and just under 1 block per game. N’dea is on the Katrina McClain award watch list for power forwards. Coach Blair said she probably worked the hardest in the off season to improve her scoring. Unfortunately she’s starting the season with a hamstring injury that will limit her for a while.
- #11 6-0 Jr G/F Kayla Wells - In my opinion, Kayla should have made all-SEC last year, as she outplayed players on other teams who made all-conference. She’s gone from an energy sub as a freshman to a serious scoring threat both inside and outside. Wells is on the Cheryl Miller watchlist and was voted by the coaches onto the preseason all-SEC second team.
- #4 5-7 Sr Tr G Shambria Washington - Sham went from looking lost in the early season to hitting the key game winner vs Marquette in the NCAA round of 32. Washington wasn’t flashy but gained confidence in running the team and Blair described her as a very coachable team player. There’s a good chance she starts at PG to open the season.
- #2 5-11 Jr TR G Aaliyah Wilson - The only way Sham goes back to the bench is if Coach Blair decides to put Wilson back into the starting group, which is how the Ags started last season. Before she went down, Aaliyah was averaging 13.8 ppg and playing more than 30 minutes/game as a starter. If her knee is fully recovered, she gives the Ags a stronger scoring threat than Washington.
The Bench for the Aggie WBB team will be led by either Washington or Wilson, depending on who starts. Others on the roster include:
- #12 5-11 Sr F Cheah Real-Whitsett - Cheah was a juco transfer last season and saw some playing time. She was recruited as a high energy undersized power forward and she did bring energy to the floor when she came in, but sometimes looked lost in the larger schemes. With Jones’ hamstring situation, Cheah could see a lot of playing time early in the season. Hopefully a year in the system will help her integration into the overall offensive and defensive schemes.
- #33 6-5 Jr Tr C Anna Driemane - Aggie fans kept hoping that Anna would be granted eligibility for the second half of the season. Now we hope she lives up to the talk about how well she was doing in practice while sitting out her transfer year. The coaches called her the best shot blocker on the team.
- #23 5-6 Fr PG McKinzie Green - Green was a 4 star recruit out of Manvel HS. She may be expected to sit and learn for most of this year, but her HS highlights show a player who is quick, has moves to the bucket, and can hit from midrange to beyond the 3 point line. She also looks like an aggressive defender.
- #15 5-10 Sr G Jasmine Williams - Jasmine has had injuries that had her in a boot for large parts of her Aggie career. She’s a vocal cheerleader for the team and a crowd favorite in limited minutes.
- #1 5-10 Jr G Aaliyah Jackson - Jackson is listed as a junior based on a medical redshirt. She’s had nagging injuries that kept her from being available for much of her career so far.
- #5 5-8 So Tr G Jordan Nixon - Nixon will sit out this year after transferring from Notre Dame. Nixon was a McDonalds AA out of HS. Injuries kept her from playing on the U19 National team this past summer.
The choice of the Ags to win the SEC makes sense both in terms of what comes back from last season and in terms of what is happening around the league. The Ags return every starter - 6 if we count both Wilson and Washington, and 94% of the point production returns. In Jones and Johnson, the Ags return two of the top rebounders in the SEC, and A&M is the only team with 3 members of the preseason All-SEC first or second teams.
Meanwhile, the other contenders lost key contributors to graduation and/or transfer.
Come check out the teams at Reed on Friday night!