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May 5, 2007
Mark Turgeon was expected to leave Wichita State last offseason.
The Kansas native was linked to several coaching searches at the time, and for good reason.
Turgeon guided the mid-major school to an improbable run to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, far beyond anyone's expectations. It was the breakthrough moment of his 19-year coaching career.
At 41, he had a resume that included stints under Larry Brown (his coach during his playing days at Kansas) and Roy Williams, plus a reputation for turning out players who excel off the court.
Everything seemed to point toward a move to the big leagues of college basketball.
But Turgeon wound up staying put in Wichita. A year later, we might have the reason why.
Turgeon was looking for more than just a move up the coaching ladder. He was looking for a place that fit specific criteria.
Turgeon believes he has found that place in Texas A&M, which hired him to replace Billy Gillispie four weeks ago.
Gillispie, who transformed the Aggies from a Big 12 doormat to an NCAA tourney contender in his three years in College Station, took the Kentucky job.
"There were three main factors I looked at," Turgeon told Rivals.com. "The first was (Texas A&M athletic director) Bill Byrne. I wanted to work under an athletic director with great success. I've known him for a long time, watched his career everywhere he's gone and his programs have been successful. I knew he would put the finances in needed for us to be successful.
"No. 2, I did not want to follow a coach that had been fired. (Former Texas A&M coach) Billy Gillispie has done a great job of building this program up and A&M was coming off a great season. That was important to me.
"No. 3, I wanted to be somewhere that I could recruit from a deep pool, and Texas has a lot of basketball players."
Turgeon certainly did his homework. Texas A&M is working on a $22 million dollar practice facility that will be ready for the start of the 2007-08 season.
The Aggies also could return as many as three players who have started the last two years ? the program is 47-16 over that period. A&M also has a very good four-man recruiting class on the way.
That class includes the top-ranked prep senior from talent-rich Texas, 7-foot center DeAndre Jordan. Keeping Jordan, Rivals.com's No. 8 prospect in the class of 2007, was Turgeon's first priority. The two met soon after Turgeon took the job, and Jordan quickly re-committed.
"DeAndre has the chance to be pretty special," Turgeon said. "He has all the tools. Obviously, his development depends on how much time and effort he puts in."
Turgeon's second biggest move may have been hiring Jordan's former AAU coach, Byron Smith. It should pay off with more than just Jordan, because Smith has great recruiting ties in Texas. A former player from the University of Houston, Smith also coached at Texas Southern and at McLenanan (Texas) Junior College.
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer believes Turgeon has assembled the necessary staff to make the recruit at the high-major level.
"I expect Coach Turgeon to successfully make the leap from recruiting in the Missouri Valley Conference to recruiting in the Big 12," Meyer said. "He has a great assistant in Scott Spinelli and hiring Byron Smith will help him recruit the state. I think that is the key for him. Coach Turgeon has to recruit the state of Texas well. There is a lot of outstanding young talent in the state."
Nine prospects in the Rivals150 for the class of 2008 play their high school ball in Texas, and none have committed.
But Turgeon's biggest recruiting job may be convincing one of the players on his current roster to remain an Aggie. Junior power forward Joseph Jones, who would be the team's leading returning scorer (13.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg), has entered the NBA Draft but has not signed with an agent. He has until June 18 to pull out of the draft.
"We've done a lot of homework," Turgeon said. "(Entering the draft) was something Joseph wanted to. We'll see what happens and we'll know more by next week. Joseph is trying to prepare himself, but he's also being realistic. He's not going anywhere unless he's a first-round pick."
If that's the case, Jones will likely be back. He isn't projected as a first or second-round pick on most draft boards. With Jones and guards Josh Carter and Dominique Kirk back, the Aggies would have the pieces to be one of the league's top teams again.
Wichita State guard Matt Braeuer, who played for Turgeon last season, doesn't believe there will be much of an adjustment for the A&M players. Turgeon and Gillispie are defensive-minded coaches.
"If you don't play defense, you aren't going to play," Braeuer said. "That is the No. 1 thing Coach Turgeon stresses. It doesn't matter if you struggle on offense as long as you play great defense."
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.