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Texas A&M Basketball

How a December to forget spurred A&M's turnaround to remember

March 13, 2023

NASHVILLE — The ceiling of Julius Marble II’s bedroom in Dallas was getting a thorough inspection.

Home for Christmas, he lay in bed staring into space. Marble, a 6-foot-9 forward, had left a blue-blood basketball program at Michigan State to get closer to home.

But his new team, Texas A&M, was 6-5 and had just suffered the indignity of a home loss to Wofford on Dec. 20.

He felt he was being underutilized. Had he made a grave mistake?

“Going home for Christmas, it was depressing, honestly,” Marble recalled. “Just because of what we expected and what kind of team we knew we were and just weren’t showing it at the time.”

He dutifully returned to College Station for a Christmas Day practice.

He noticed a difference.

Coach Buzz Williams installed three of four more plays for post players. The concept of Williams’ defense started to sink in. A sense of urgency enveloped the team.

Call it a Christmas miracle. Or call it the gift that keeps on giving.

Call it whatever you want, but that practice serves as when the cocoon cracked and the Texas A&M basketball season took flight.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Averaging 9.2 PPG, Julius Marble showed his ability to take over when he scored 21 in the A&M’s win over then-No. 11 Tennessee.

“At Christmas night, we were 6-5,” star sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV said. “We had practice that night. We had the best practice of the year. I said we’re going to be fine.’”

You know the rest. Left for dead at 6-5, the Aggies arose like Lazarus.

They won their next seven games. They went 15-3 in the Southeastern Conference to finish second in the standings.

They beat Alabama. They beat Tennessee. They beat Arkansas. They beat Auburn, Missouri, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Florida twice.

They moved up to as high as No. 18 in the NET rankings. They earned a place in March Madness.

The No. 7-seeded Aggies face No. 10-seed Penn State on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

If A&M has a successful run in the Tournament, the Christmas resurrection of its season will gain traction as a national story.

“There’s so many stories within this team,” junior forward Henry Coleman III said. “So many guys who were under-recruited, weren’t playing at schools before, didn’t receive a shot, were told they were too small or weren’t able to handle the basketball. There are a ton of stories, so everybody comes in with a chip on their shoulder each and every day.”

A&M is literally a melting pot of transfers like Marble.

Coleman transferred in from Duke, and guard Tyrece Radford came from Virginia Tech last year. Guard Dexter Dennis came from Wichita State.

“At Christmas night, we were 6-5. We had practice that night. We had the best practice of the year. I said we’re going to be fine.’”
- Texas A&M guard Wade Taylor IV

They form the starting lineup along with Taylor, who actually signed with A&M out of high school.

Further, key reserve Andersson Garcia transferred from Mississippi State.

Perhaps with that many transfers, maybe A&M’s slow start should have been anticipated. Williams anticipated it to some degree, but not because of the number of transfers.

“I think we lose a game before Christmas that we shouldn’t every year,” Williams said. “I think my career reflects that, and I think we win two games after Valentine’s Day that we shouldn’t.

“My assistants would tell you the reason we lose is because of how we spend the month of September and the first two weeks of October.

“I would say that’s why we lose before Christmas, but that’s why we win after Valentine’s Day.”

Williams said the weeks after Labor Day are generally spent on constructing a team culture. He estimated that until the second week of October, only about five percent of the time is spent on basketball.

“It’s all related to what we want to be about. The type of teammate, the level and pace and intensity of work, the intangibles,” Williams said. “I’ve tried … ever since we’ve been here … I’ve tried to do better.”

That perhaps unorthodox approach has paid off. The Aggies are a close-knit team and highly unselfish.

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
For the incredible turnaround, Buzz Williams was named the SEC’s Co-Coach of the Year. He also received SEC COTY honors from the Associated Press.

Taylor is the Aggies' unquestioned star and leader. He has earned All-SEC and All-American honors. Yet, he credits a bench player at the team’s heart.

“I think Andersson Garcia is our glue guy,” Taylor said. “He’s been playing phenomenal. He’s been making winning play after winning play that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. Charge after charge … he’s been playing at a high rate. He’s the glue to our team.”

The team sticks together despite changing roles.

Last season, Coleman was A&M’s second-leading scorer with an 11.0 PPG average. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds.

This season, he’s the fourth-leading scorer. His numbers have dipped to 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds.

Though Coleman remains quite capable of producing at a high rate, which he demonstrated with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC Tournament victory over Arkansas, he’s accepted his reduced role.

“That’s what separates a great team,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of good teams. You’ll see that throughout March.

“But teams that are great have guys that are basically chameleons. They have guys that adapt to any role. They’re able to change who they were maybe earlier in the season to fit in who they are now. This team, we have a lot of guys who’ve been able to adapt into a role. I know that’s not a stereotypical norm of a college basketball player now.

“Everybody wants to score the basketball. Everybody wants to be the main guy. You can be the main guy in your role.”

That illustrates how the Aggies are unselfish. They’re also unflappable. Mental toughness may be their greatest asset.

Seven times in SEC play they’ve rallied from deficits of eight points or more to post victories. In the SEC Tournament, they trailed Arkansas by 13 points at halftime. They won by six.

It was just another example of how far the Aggies have come since Christmas. Now, if they’re lying awake at night, it’s because of the excitement of what possibilities await.

But make no mistake: The Aggies are no longer staring at the ceiling.

“I don’t want there to be a ceiling on us,” Taylor said. “I think we could do some special things here.”

Discussion from...

How a December to forget spurred A&M's turnaround to remember

4,743 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 2 mo ago by Wrecking Crew 21
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very good write up. this team is special. there may be more successful teams under buzz while at a&m but i doubt any other team he ever coaches will be like this team. it's hard to describe and you don't see it often but when you see it, you know. it has been a pleasure to watch.
Wrecking Crew 21
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This team is unique in that they play so much better than the talent level they have! The character and buy in can't be matched!
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