Chennedy Carter, last year’s unanimous national freshman of the year, realizes Texas A&M is best known these days for Chennedy Carter.
But Carter, the Aggies’ star guard with an extraordinary shooting touch, insists the A&M roster is stuffed with hidden gems – and the country will find out soon enough.
“We have a great team with great players,” said Carter, whose 46 points at Southern California last season set an A&M record for a single game. “I know most people don’t know about them, but from my standpoint, we’ve worked hard in the weight room and on defense and offense, and when it comes down to it, these girls are going to fight to win.”
Last spring and coming off the program’s sixth NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance under renowned coach Gary Blair, the Aggies appeared to be one of the nation’s top teams entering this season.
But in a couple of startling moves, senior sharpshooter Danni Williams transferred to former league rival Texas, and senior forward Anriel Howard left for current league rival Mississippi State. Williams set an A&M single-season record last year with 71 3-pointers, while Howard holds the school record with 1,002 career rebounds.
“We’ll worry about who we have; not who we don’t have,” Blair said of the abrupt offseason exits. “What we have now are kids who want to be here. I’m excited about this group, and I’ve got the best freshman in the country from last season coming back. Let’s move forward.”
Carter echoed the sentiments of her coach, who led A&M to the 2011 national title.
“I’m only worried about the 14 girls we have here,” Carter said. “We’re not worried about anybody who left.”
The Aggies should receive an immediate bounce from touted transfers Ciera Johnson (Louisville) and Aaliyah Wilson (Arkansas), a couple of McDonald’s All-Americans who sat out last season.
“We’ve got talent at every position and we’ve got depth,” Blair said. “This is the first year in my 47 years of coaching that I don’t have a freshman on my team. We’ve got 10 sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.”
All eyes will be on one of those sophomores, and Blair and Carter both know it.
“The hardest thing Chennedy is going to have to realize is last year she was still unknown in certain ways, but with four starters gone, she’s going to have to adjust her game and get her teammates involved in the offense,” Blair said. “Last year, everybody could score. This year, people will play us differently, until some of our other kids step up and become proven scorers.”
Carter averaged 31.3 points per game in the 2018 postseason, fourth most in NCAA Tournament history. She coolly sank a game-winning 3-pointer against DePaul in leading a 17-point comeback to push A&M back into the Sweet 16, a loss to eventual national champion Notre Dame.
“We had no answer for her,” a frustrated DePaul coach Doug Bruno said of Carter.
Blair is a considered a treasure in College Station, but in the spring it will have been eight years since A&M reached the Final Four. He realizes fans expect greatness from his program – so does he.
“We have high expectations, too,” Blair said. “That happens when you’ve been to 13 straight NCAA Tournaments.”
Will the Aggies make it 14? There’s little doubt. And with Carter leading the way, they might make a second Final Four.
Projected Starting Five:
- PG Chennedy Carter, So., 5’7, Mansfield, Texas
- G Aaliyah Wilson, So., 5’11, Muskogee, Oklahoma
- G Kayla Wells, So., 6’0, Dallas, Texas
- F N’Dea Jones, So., 6’2, Lawrenceville, Georgia
- C Ciera Johnson, So., 6’4, Duncanville, Texas
G Chennedy Carter. The unanimous national freshman of the year already holds down three of the program’s five all-time top spots for scoring in a game, topped by 46 points at Southern Cal last December.
The Aggies are immensely talented across their starting five, but they’re not especially deep following a couple of key transfers out of the program. Should A&M stay injury free and gel with the newcomers (including touted transfers Ciera Johnson and Aaliyah Wilson), this team could make a run at the Elite Eight – or better.
Should the mish-mash of multiple transfers in and handful of veterans fail to develop quick chemistry, the Aggies’ school-record streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances could be in jeopardy – and the administration’s eyes are on Gary Blair following a topsy-turvy offseason.
Game of the Year:
Mississippi State, Feb. 17. Aggies claim they don’t boo, but that will be tested when former forward Anriel Howard visits Reed Arena.
Impact First Year Player:
C Ciera Johnson. The McDonald’s All-American from Duncanville makes a triumphant on-court return to her home state after transferring from Louisville and sitting out last season.