COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) The Texas A&M Aggies improved in each of the last three seasons and believe they will take another big step forward this year and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
In fact, coach Billy Kennedy all but guaranteed it in March when the Aggies were eliminated in the second round of the NIT tournament.
''I'll go on the record and say now we'll be a tournament team next year ... I'm talking about NCAA,'' Kennedy said.
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He has plenty of reason to be confident in his team with a trio of senior starters led by guard Danuel House, who is in his second season with the team after a transfer from the University of Houston.
House earned first-team All-SEC honors last season after finishing fourth in scoring in league play with 16.2 points a game. House is one of just three returning players in the SEC who earned first team honors last season.
House had a foot injury late last season and missed time in the offseason with a knee injury, but Kennedy said he's ''really healthy now.''
He's joined by fellow senior guard Alex Caruso, who led the SEC with 182 assists last season to become the first player in the league to lead in that category in consecutive seasons since 2009. The third senior is forward Jalen Jones. He earned second-team All-SEC honors a year ago after averaging 13.7 points a game and leading the Aggies with 6.6 rebounds a game.
The Aggies ramped up preparation for the season on Wednesday night when they had their annual Maroon and White scrimmage. House was encouraged by what he saw.
''We just tried to focus mainly on defense, staying positive and sharing the ball with each other,'' he said. ''Not trying to be selfish or not trying to be outside ourselves because we have talent at every spot.''
Though those three are the leaders of the team, Kennedy, who is entering his fifth year at Texas A&M, is excited about the players behind them, too.
''We have more depth than we've had in the past and we have guys who can score,'' Kennedy said.
The Aggies open the season on Nov. 13 against University of Southern California-Upstate.
Some things to know about the 2015-16 Aggies:
The Aggies welcome a recruiting class that is arguably the best in school history. The group is highlighted by Tyler Davis, ranked by ESPN as the top player in Texas and the seventh-ranked center in the nation. He was named Mr. Basketball by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches after averaging 18.7 points, 12.2 and 3.4 blocks a game in leading Plano West to the 6A state title last season. He's joined at A&M by high school teammate DJ Hogg, rated by some as the second-best player in the state. The forward averaged 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in Plano West's championship season last year.
A new addition on the team will also be one of the oldest ones. Anthony Collins is a 23-year-old who played 101 games with 98 starts at South Florida before joining the Aggies this year as a graduate student. Collins averaged 8.1 points and 5.6 assists in his career at South Florida. He gained an extra year of eligibility after missing most of the 2013-14 season with an injury. His 569 career assists at South Florida are second in school history.
Texas A&M's seniors are joined by Tavario Miller, Alex Robinson and Tonny Trocha-Morelos who all played at least 25 games a year ago. Robinson is a guard who appeared in 32 games last season and averaged 5.2 points a game. The Aggies are looking for more from Trocha-Morelos after the 6-foot-10 center from Colombia averaged just 1.5 points and two rebounds last year.
''He continues to get better and I think he is going to help our team a bunch,'' Kennedy said.''
WHAT A TRIP
The Aggies got some early bonding time this summer when they went on a 10-day tour of Italy and Greece. The tour included four exhibition games and plenty of sightseeing. House, who made the trip but didn't play because of an injury, said the experience was a great chance for the group to work on their chemistry in a low-key atmosphere before the hard work of the season began.