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Texas A&M men's basketball team should return most players from run to NCAA tournament

Texas A&M men's basketball team should return most players from run to NCAA tournament


Players on the Texas A&M bench react during the second half of their first-round loss to Penn State on Thursday night in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Dexter Dennis, the Texas A&M men’s basketball team’s lone departing senior, allowed himself a moment of perspective after the Aggies’ season-ending 76-59 loss to 10th-seeded Penn State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.

The seventh-seeded Aggies were three-point favorites to advance to the second round, where they would have faced third-seeded Texas in a rivalry matchup nearly 1,000 miles from home. The Nittany Lions crushed those dreams with a 13-for-22 performance from 3-point range, including 8 for 10 from guard Andrew Funk.

Dennis, who transferred to A&M from Wichita State prior to the season, chose to look at some of the season’s many highs — relationships built, second-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament and a record 15 SEC wins — rather than the ending that played out minutes prior.

“I think this season for me was a great experience,” Dennis said. “I think looking back on my four or five year college career, this was my best year from front to back. Not just when I say basketball, I’m thinking off the court, just being an Aggie. I think this ... is the most fun I’ve ever had being around a group of guys who love to work, who love the process. I’m extremely grateful to [head coach Buzz Williams] and [assistant coach Devin Johnson] to take a chance on me. I think in the future it sets us up well ... for being a tournament team.”

My Aggie Nation Podcast: Recapping the Texas A&M men's basketball season

Dennis’ absence from the A&M locker room while speaking to the media after the loss perfectly illustrated the future of the program. Barring any transfers, everyone on the A&M roster save Dennis will return next season for another crack at claiming the program’s first NCAA tournament win under Williams. Seniors Tyrece Radford and Andre Gordon were not recognized during A&M’s Senior Day festivities after the Aggies’ regular season-ending win over Alabama, indicating they may stay and exercise their extra COVID-19 year of eligibility.

Radford said the offseason is for building more consistency throughout the program.

“Just continue to move forward,” Radford said. “Don’t dwell over this loss. Don’t dwell over anything. Just look at it more of a blessing to be here with this group of guys and this coaching staff. Everything has been a blessing. Wouldn’t have been here without any of them. Every man on this team, whether they played every minute or the don’t play at all, everybody played a major part on getting here, and everybody knows that.”

All-SEC first-teamer Wade Taylor IV will return after a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him average a team-high 16.3 points per game to go with 3.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds. Taylor improved from 27.8% last year to 35.6% this year from 3-point range.

Taylor said the accolades he received this season were special, because they indicated how he’s grown from his freshman year.

“I’ll just continue to work every day,” Taylor said. “We know that we’re an NCAA tournament team, so we’re just going to keep working like that every day.”

The biggest question for A&M next season is which player will fill the role Dennis leaves behind. The most likely candidates are Manny Obaseki and Solomon Washington despite the fact that they present different styles.

Obaseki, who missed the majority of SEC play with a broken hand, can play any backcourt position and has the athleticism to guard opponents’ best scorer. Though he was not fully integrated back into A&M’s game plan, the sophomore was called upon to plug a hole in A&M’s defense in the Aggies’ losses to Alabama and Penn State to close out the season.

“Give credit to my teammates and the stuff just for having patience with me,” Obaseki said. “It’s been hard a little bit, but at the same time I’ve been in this program for about two years now, so I think just the language that we speak and just everything that we do everyday — the reps and all that stuff — it’s kind of second nature to me.”

Washington defended some of the SEC’s offensive stars this season as a freshman. He also led the team in “Hakeem percentage” (8%), which is the sum of a player’s block percentage and steal percentage.

Junior Andersson Garcia also will have another year to develop after leading the team in offensive rebounding percentage (14.7%) and finishing second on the team in defensive rebound percentage (16.1%). Garcia could push forwards Henry Coleman III and Julius Marble for minutes in the post.

As one of the few players who has played throughout Williams’ tenure at A&M, Garcia said he can see how the trajectory of the program has changed in five seasons.

“Probably the best team I’ve been on since we’ve been here, but every single year it’s always been grinding it out throughout the season,” Gordon said. “We started off 6-5 this year, and we never gave up. We just continue to fight, and Buzz preaches that every single day. The things that we do throughout the summer and through the year, we’re always consistent, and we’re always working to be better every day. That’s not just one the floor, that’s also off the floor as students, as players and even as people.”

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March Madness better be bracing itself. The Aggies are back, stronger than ever and with a chip on their shoulder. What happened in Nashville was just a warmup. The real fun starts this week in Des Moines. The plan is for the party to move to Kansas City the following week. If all goes well there, the Aggies will take over Houston.

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