Texas A&M started the season under a shadow. In October, the sad news broke that new head coach Billy Kennedy had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson's disease. Kennedy announced he would be taking an extended leave of absence from the team to seek treatment. Associate head coach - and longtime friend of Kennedy's - Glynn Cyprien will take the reins in the meantime.
Fortunately, Kennedy inherited a program that needed very little in the way of rebuilding. Mark Turgeon, building on what Billy Gillispie started before him, turned A&M into a solid, consistent program. The Aggies might not be the flashiest or most hyped team in the conference, but they win. In fact, they win a lot: 24 games or more in each of the last five seasons, plus six consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
Kennedy also hails from a successful program. At Murray State, where he was head coach for five seasons, his record was 107-53, with an NCAA second round appearance in 2010. And he's no stranger to Texas, having served as an assistant coach at A&M under Kermit Davis in the early 90s.
Right off the bat, Kennedy managed to keep sought-after recruits Jamal Branch and Jordan Green, who had both committed to A&M under Turgeon. He hired John Reese, the well regarded former head coach of Bryan High School, who will be an asset for in-state recruitment. So far, Kennedy and his staff have bagged top 100 recruits Alex Caruso and Reese's son, J-Mychal Reese. (At first glance, this doesn't seem kosher, but John Reese's offer was on the table well before J-Mychal considered going maroon and white).
Kennedy has said that he wants to build the team around defense. He also wants to play a fast game, pushing the tempo and scoring quickly. This would certainly be a change from the deliberate and measured offense the Aggies deployed under Turgeon. However, Murray State wasn't exactly known for burning up the floor. This strategy of Kennedy's might have something to do with it: "Offensively, we want to score in the first seven seconds of the shot clock. [If that doesn't work], we're going to be patient...and we'll have a late clock." So... the Aggies are going to play an up-tempo offense, unless they're not. A&M fans shouldn't split hairs, though. Whatever Kennedy did at Murray State, it worked.
The duration of Kennedy's absence, as well as what it means for the Aggies, remains to be seen. Cyprien reports that Kennedy currently spends about an hour a day at the practice facilities, reviewing tape and talking with players. Although they're taking it day by day, the team is hopeful Kennedy will be back in Aggieland before long.