The Texas A&M men’s and women’s basketball teams practice in gyms just feet from each other.
But as the two teams enter their first exhibition game of the season Friday, expectations for each program seem worlds apart.
The Aggie women will kick off the preseason doubleheader against Oklahoma City at 6 p.m. Friday at Reed Arena with the men to follow at 8 p.m. against Texas A&M-Kingsville.
A&M’s women enter the season as the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference as voted on by the league’s coaches. They also will enter the season No. 6 in the preseason AP national rankings released Wednesday.
While the women’s squad is living in the present and preparing for the first real opponent of the season, all eyes also are pointed toward the ultimate goal. Head coach Gary Blair has made no qualms that he wants another championship ring to go with the one he wears daily from the 2011 national title run.
“I’m not in this thing to win games,” Blair said as practice opened earlier this month. “I’m in this thing to compete to win championships and to touch kids’ lives.”
While the season will revolve around preseason SEC player of the year Chennedy Carter, Friday’s exhibition will bring into focus key players returning from injury.
Guard Aaliyah Wilson will see her first action since suffering a season-ending knee injury after nine games last year. She averaged 13.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game before the injury. Her outside shooting will be vital as she regains confidence in her knee, Blair said.
“Wilson is really working,” Blair said. “When you come off an ACL, which she had surgery in January, you’re always going to be better the second year than the first year. First year, you’ve got to get your strength back.”
A&M junior forward N’dea Jones has been limited through preseason practice with a hamstring injury, Blair said. Friday could be a chance for the post to test her leg. Jones averaged 7.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last season and ranks eighth all-time at A&M with 10 career double-doubles.
“No one spent more time in the spring and the summer than N’dea Jones trying to increase her versatility to add to our offense,” Blair said. “We’re missing her right now.”
Across the hallway in the Cox-McFerrin Center, the A&M men’s team is still in the assembly process under new head coach Buzz Williams. Since Williams joined the program in the spring, he only has had two chances to see his team face opposition: during a team trip to Costa Rica, where the Aggies faced local squads, and in a scrimmage against Baylor last week. Williams said on his radio show that his team still has a long way to go, losing all of the simulated game action they faced against the Bears.
Each day has been a new opportunity to grasp the new system and culture Williams and his staff brought to Aggieland, he said. Because of those growing pains, Williams said he still is unsure who ultimately will lead this team on the court.
“I don’t know if we can say in mid-October that this guy is a leader, because in order to be a leader, you have to have followers,” Williams said. “I don’t think they know where to lead. Not that they don’t want to lead — they’re just not exactly sure where we are going.”
The Aggie men hope Friday they can showcase half a year’s worth of work that will bring some excitement back to Reed Arena when it’s their turn to play.
“I hope that the things that we are making a priority trend towards people respecting how we work and how we play, and hopefully that will lead to more people in the seats,” Williams said.