COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Buzz Williams is entering his third season at Texas A&M.
But after a 2020-21 that was all but lost to the pandemic, the veteran coach feels like it’s Year 1 with the Aggies.
“Just been so much that’s transpired,” Williams said. “Some of it good, but a lot of it bad. And some of the bad was out of our control. And so, I do feel like it’s just a reset. I understand I won’t be judged according to the reset and I’m accountable to that, but yeah, I feel the energy of what we’re doing is Year 1-esque.”
Williams was expected to help the Aggies reach the next level when he was hired after guiding Virginia Tech to three straight NCAA tournaments, capped by a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2019. The Aggies went 16-14 in his first season before things fell apart last season.
The Aggies finished 8-10 and 2-8 in Southeastern Conference play last year in a season with multiple stops and starts because of the coronavirus. They were shut down from Jan. 30 until March 3 and lost consecutive games to Mississippi State and Arkansas to close out the regular season before falling to Vanderbilt in the first round of the conference tournament to end their season.
Then came an offseason where almost all the top players transferred, leaving Williams and his staff to basically start from scratch. Despite the excessive turnover, Williams remains as optimistic as ever as he works to get the program back on track.
“There is pureness in the energy,” Williams said. “Everything is kind of new as far as what we’re teaching. What they’re doing is new every day. Has that spirit of newness, which has been fun and good.”
Gone is Emanuel Miller, who led the team by scoring 16.2 points per game last season. Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg, who combined to add 17, also opted to transfer, as did Jaxson Robinson, who was a heralded high school recruit last offseason.
Texas A&M’s top returning players are Andre Gordon, Hassan Diarra and Hayden Hefner. Gordon started every game last season and averaged 8.3 points, 2.4 rebound and 2.7 assists, but the other two players were used mostly as reserves.
Williams will look to these three players to take a step forward this season and will need top recruits Manny Obaseki and Wade Taylor to come in and contribute immediately.
SPEED OVER EXPERIENCE?
What the Aggies lack in experience, Williams hopes that they can make up for in speed. As Texas A&M began practicing this season, that quality was the first thing Williams noticed in his team.
“We’re faster,” Williams said. “We have more players, more talented players, faster players … I would think you would say (that’s) the major difference relative to what it was last year.”
Williams won’t be coaching the Aggies when they start the season after he was suspended for two games and the team was placed on two years of probation in August for multiple NCAA rules violations.
The violations include Williams having impermissible contact in July 2019 with a prospect. Additionally, an unnamed assistant coach observed and held tryouts with a prospect during an unofficial visit. That assistant was found to have conducted multiple supervised workouts off campus with team members and a prospect that were not allowed because of the pandemic.
The school suspended that assistant from June 2020 through the 2020-21 season.
The Aggies open the season at home against North Florida on Nov. 10. They hit the road Nov. 22 to participate in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational tournament against Wisconsin, a tournament that could also feature a game against No. 15 Houston. Texas A&M begins SEC play Jan. 4 at Georgia.
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