Sports talk show host, KTCK-AM, Dallas
John P. Lopez
Sports columnist, Houston Chronicle; talk show host, KBME-AM, Houston
Hollister: I’m expecting to see pigs fly any day now, because Texas A&M can call itself a basketball school—legitimately. Where the heck did these guys come from?
Lopez: Well, the main ingredient was there already: Acie Law. I don’t know if I have ever seen, in Texas, a more clutch player than him.
Hitzges: Even before Law, though, A&M was a sleeping giant. It simply needed the right person—maybe that was the right coach, in Billy Gillispie, or the right player, in Law—to awaken the program. There are a handful of Texas A&Ms around the country: enormous institutions with really strong fan bases that for some reason just don’t click as basketball schools. Now, you can say that that’s the state of Texas, that football is king here. But A&M had the potential to be a powerful basketball team. The only negative about this whole situation is, Can they keep Gillispie? Because you know programs around the country are gonna look at what he has done here and think, “Oh, my. He can do that at our place.”
Lopez: I was there the day they announced his hiring, and one of his assistant coaches came up to me, and I said, “Well, now you guys have got yourselves into it.” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “No, we’re gonna be a basketball school.” And I went, “Yeah, ha-ha, funny. Texas A&M, a basketball school.” And he said, “No, really, we are going to be a basketball school.” They’re not deferring to football. They’re not acting or performing like the second sister. Gillispie has sold it like that, he has recruited like that, and now they’ve got DeAndre Jordan coming next year—who is arguably the number one player in the state.
Hitzges: One of the reasons Gillispie may not move on is that, number one, A&M will pay to keep quality. Number two, he is so comfortable recruiting in the state of Texas. Something that might keep him from leaving is to think, “Oh, man, who do I know in Pennsylvania?”
Lopez: And high school coaches here love him, because he was one of them. He still goes, believe it or not, to the high school coaching conventions. So they pull for him. And, well, if you’ve got the high school coaches pulling for you, they’re going to send you players. Let’s not forget also that A&M is building a 70,000-square-foot basketball facility just for Gillispie. He’s got the recruits, he’s got the facility, and now he’s got the success.
Hitzges: One more thing: Gillispie understands how to keep boosters and moms and dads and current fans happy. He beats the bejeebers out of people when he gets the chance. And there’s nothing like kicking back after you’ve beaten somebody by 25 points and hoisting a couple and saying, “My, wasn’t that great?!”
Hollister: Let’s move on to another onetime cellar dweller. How ’bout them Dallas Mavericks? Now that’s a team that gives hope to Texas basketball. After the disaster that was the nineties, who would have thought that, in terms of winning percentage, the Mavs would be in the same league as, say, the ’71-’72 Lakers or the ’95-’96 Bulls?
Lopez: Here’s how I would put it: Mark Cuban has performed a transformation. Billy Gillispie has performed a miracle. For all you want to say about Cuban—and I’ve said as much as anyone—the plan was always in place. First thing he did was the most important: He made it cool to go to a Mavericks game, even though they really weren’t that good when he took over, in 2000. Once he got people there, he started working on the franchise. And he had some pretty darn good pieces to work with—Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley. Two seasons ago, coach Avery Johnson fell into place and injected a lot of defense, and now they’re absolutely the favorites to win the NBA championship.
Hollister: And if they don’t win it all …?
Lopez: Two words: Indianapolis Colts. That’s what it’s going to be, because they are so entertaining, so tough. They have the superstar, their Peyton Manning, so to speak, in Nowitzki. But I’m telling you, there’s no guarantee, with the Western Conference the way