Wildcats see tough test in Texas A&M

By Cole Manbeck

Frank Martin burst onto the scene as a college basketball coach in 2000, when he became an assistant at Northeastern. But before that, Billy Kennedy, the head coach at Southeastern Louisiana from 1999-2005, came calling.

“Offered me my first college job,” Martin said. “He’s big time. He’s an awesome, awesome human being.”

Kennedy is in his first year as the head coach of Texas A&M, Kansas State’s opponent Saturday. This is Kennedy’s “dream job.” He’d worked his way up to this point, serving as an assistant coach at Southeastern Louisiana, New Orleans, Wyoming, Northwestern State, Tulane, Texas A&M, Creighton and California.

He became the head coach at Centenary in 1997 before taking the head coaching job at Southeastern Louisiana. In 2005, he took an assistant coaching job at Miami (Fl.). From 2006-2011, Kennedy was the coach of Murray State, which is currently the only undefeated team in all of college basketball.

After all of his work to get to this point — to be a head coach in a power conference — things took a turn for the worse. Before Kennedy, 47, ever got to coach a game or even run a practice with the Aggies, he was diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

“It pains me as hard as he’s worked in his career that when he finally caught his break at a big-name school, that he’s got to battle this health situation,” Martin said.

The medical diagnosis caused Kennedy to miss several practices for the Aggies. With his absence, associate head coach Glynn Cyprien ran practice. And what was supposed to be a great situation, turned into an extremely difficult time early on.

On Nov. 13, Kennedy returned to the sideline to coach his team to a win over Southern, but that time away likely led to some of the struggles the Aggies had early on. Texas A&M was picked as the co-favorites to win the Big 12. The Aggies currently are 12-9 overall and 3-6 in the league, placing them in a three-way tie for ninth in the conference.

“What we do is not rocket science, but it takes time,” Martin said. “Billy Kennedy — dealing with his health issues and missing about a month of practice, that’s not easy to do. Now when he comes back, and yes his assistant was running practice and (Cyprien) is big time, but you’ve got to understand (Cyprien) and Billy didn’t coach there last year and had not coached together before.

“So it’s hard for (Cyprien) to demand what Billy wants in practice. Now when BK gets back that team has to relearn what he wants them to do.”

It appears all of that has happened now. The Aggies are playing better basketball, despite having two starters, including their best player in Khris Middleton, miss significant time with injuries.

Don’t let the record fool you, as A&M led No. 6 Baylor with less than 30 seconds remaining. On Jan. 23, the Aggies were right there with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, before suffering a 10-point loss. In between those two losses, A&M defeated Oklahoma State 76-61.

“Now, they’re deep enough in to where those kids are really understanding what (Kennedy) wants and they’re playing like it,” Martin said. “He’s understanding those players better and they’re comfortable in who they’ve become. You watch them play now and they’re playing their tails off.

“Think about this: How good they’re playing right now, add those three (injured) guys back on their roster and put them full speed, then you understand why a lot of people picked them to win the league. They’re going to be alright, they’re real good.”

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