To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy about coaching one of the best tight ends in NFL history.
Last March in the SEC tourney you had an 8-point 2-overtime loss to Missouri: what did your team learn from that loss that you think can help you this year? I think we learned the importance of all the little things at the end of the game: making free throws, boxing out, finishing strong. That will let us take the next step.
Your non-conference schedule includes games against Dayton, ASU, Baylor, and Kansas State: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? I would say Dayton just because it is our earliest test and is on a neutral floor. They had a lot of success last season and we might not have all of our pieces that early in the season due to some players who have transferred in.
Last year your team led the SEC in defense by only allowing opponents to shoot 40% from the floor: what is the secret to playing good defense? We emphasize that everything we do begins defensively. The problem is that we did not rebound too well, so we need to focus on limiting our opponents’ 2nd-chance points.
Your leading scorer Jamal Jones left school in the spring and joined the D-League over the summer: how will you try to replace his 82 three pointers? We have several guys like Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso who will be much better shooters this year.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? Our goal is to get to postseason play and I think we are capable of doing that. We have experience as well as some new talent so we should have more depth than in the past.
In the 1997 NCAA tourney as an assistant to Ben Braun at Cal, Tony Gonzalez scored 13 points (including all five of your team’s points in the final minute) in a 3-point win over Princeton: how good a basketball player was he back in the day, and could you have ever imagined that he would become one of the best tight ends in NFL history? I knew that he was going to become a special player due to his athletic ability, but I had no idea how good a tight end he would become.
In 2005 as coach at your alma mater of SE Louisiana you set a school record with 24 wins and made it to the first NCAA tourney in school history before losing to Oklahoma State: how were you able to turn things around after going 7-20 only three years earlier? We brought in some good players and quality guys with a good work ethic, and we got on the right track by doing the right thing. We just stayed the course and ended up winning some conference championships.
In the 2010 NCAA tourney Danero Thomas scored 15 points including a 15-footer at the buzzer in a 1-point win over Vanderbilt: why did you draw up a play the team had never run before, and did you think Danero could win the game as your third option? I thought that if any of our guys could get a good shot then we could win the game: we had several double-digit scorers rather than one specific go-to guy. It was a blessing more than any credit to my strategy.
In the following round you had a 2-point loss to eventual runner-up Butler: have you ever seen a crazier combination of great 3-point shooting (64.3%) and terrible free throw shooting (41.7%)? It was not a lot of fun to watch us miss all those free throws, but we fought all the way to the end.
You were named OVC COY in both 2010 and 2011: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? I was very thankful to get those honors, but I think my best coaching jobs were earlier in my career. I was prouder of winning championships at SE Louisiana.