COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Entering his fourth season at Texas A&M, coach Billy Kennedy has found a pair a players he believes will help get the Aggies back on track this year.
"We've got great leadership in Jordan Green and Alex Caruso," Kennedy said. "They do a great job of representing our staff and what we (believe) and it's trickled down through our roster. It's led to more unity than we've had since I've been here."
The two guards represent half of A&M's returning starters. Caruso started all but one game for the Aggies last season and averaged nine points and 3.6 rebounds per game and Green started 27 games and averaged 6.9 points.
Along with his leadership, Kennedy has also been impressed with Caruso's skills and said he made the most progress this offseason.
Kennedy led Murray State to two straight Ohio Valley Conference titles before joining the Aggies, but hasn't been able to replicate that success in his first three seasons in College Station. The Aggies haven't made the NCAA tournament or finished higher than ninth in conference play since Kennedy took over after a stretch of six straight trips to the tournament before his arrival.
He said things are much different this year now that he's had the job for a few years.
"It's been a lot more fun," he said. "Knowing these guys and having a relationship with these guys, having recruited them all ... we've got the right pieces and the right character in place and we've got to go finish it off with a great season."
The Aggies also return senior forward Kourtney Roberson, who started every game last season and was second on the team with 9.8 points a game and had a team-leading 6.8 rebounds.
"So many guys, you talk about the one-and-dones, guys who leave after two years — transfer, but Kourtney's been in the system for five years and that usually equates to a great year," Kennedy said.
Some things to know about the Aggies, who open the season against Dayton on Nov. 20:
FAMOUS FATHER: A newcomer to the team is freshman Avery Johnson, whose father with the same name played in the NBA for 15 seasons before coaching both the Dallas Mavericks and Nets. The younger Johnson averaged 15 points and four assists a game as a senior last season.
"He's ready to make a niche and his own name and has great humility and just wants to be a part," Kennedy said. "He wasn't concerned about who was in front of him, he wanted to come for the right reasons and be a piece of hopefully a championship-level program over the next few years."
JONES IS ELIGIBLE: Junior guard/forward Jalen Jones recently received approval from the NCAA to play this season after transferring from SMU. Jones led the Mustangs in scoring with 14 points a game in the 2012-13 season, but did not appear in a game last year before deciding to transfer.
NEW FACES: The Aggies also added freshmen Alex Robinson and Tonny Trocha and expect both of them to contribute this season. Robinson was ranked by some recruiting services as the 10th best point guard in the country after averaging 23 points a game last season. Trocha signed with the Aggies in Nov. 2012, but the Colombian had trouble gaining entrance into A&M and he didn't officially join the team until April. The 6-foot-10 center starred for his country's under-18 team at the FIBA Americas in 2012 where he led the team with 16 points and 10.2 rebounds a game.
"I expect him to be in our top eight," Kennedy said. "He hasn't played basketball in two years but we were able to get him enrolled in May and he's been here. It may take him longer to make an impact in the fall, but his length and his talent offensively is something we haven't had in this program the last couple years ... he can help us, but you may see more of a January-type thing."
TOUGH NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: The Aggies play a difficult non-conference schedule that includes games against Baylor, Kansas State and Arizona State.
"It's definitely going to help us from the standpoint that we've got more experience, we're more equipped, we're deeper," Kennedy said. "It'll prepare us for the league ... and think it'll mature us real fast for conference play."