Newcomers, healed veterans bolster Aggies

Sunday, November 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) _ Melvin Watkins would like some distinction other than being the best-dressed college basketball coach in the Big 12.

A Web site last season voted Watkins' staff as the nattiest among the league's college basketball programs. Watkins would prefer to win games instead of fashion awards.

``We're hoping to compete a little better on the floor this year,'' Watkins said. ``We're not going to worry too much about that other stuff.''

Last season was a flood of injuries for Aggies. Watkins finished with eight scholarship players and a 10-20 record. The Aggies were 3-13 and finished in 11th place.

Just getting a couple of guys off the injured list is going to help. Seven-footers Tomas Ress and Andy Slocum each sat out last season. Ress missed the season while recovering from a staph infection and Slocum had shoulder surgery.

``You don't wish that on your worst enemy, that's how bad it was,'' Watkins said. ``You can't prepare and come up with a game plan. It's difficult to try and get anything done.''

Slocum, an avid weight lifter, used his time wisely. He'll return at 280, although coaches would like to see him drop a few pounds.

Ress, also a 7-footer, lost down to 197 during his illness but is back to 240. They'll add rebounding and bulk to the lineup.

``Just to have that presence defensively as well as having true big men to feed off the offense means so much,'' said guard Andy Leatherman, the only senior on the team.

Leatherman has been especially impressed with Slocum.

``The guy is huge, so huge the coaches in the off season stopped him from lifting weights,'' Leather man said. ``I think other schools will be surprised to see him in the big man spot, how big he really is.''

Two junior college transfers also should make an immediate impact on the point guard position.

Michael Gardener, a sophomore from Garden City (Kan.) Community College, and Bradley Jackson, a junior from College of South Idaho, will battle for playing time.

``I think Michael is probably more of a high energy type and wants to play faster on both offense and defense,'' Watkins said. ``Bradley is more of a steady type, not as flashy but he gets the job done. There is value in both of them. It's a good problem to have.''

The Aggies success still will lean heavily on Bernard King, one of three Division I-A players to average 18 points and at least 4.5 assists last season. Duke's Jason Williams and Monmouth's Rashaad Johnson were the others.

King is as happy as Watkins to see help on the way. It means who won't be forcing up as many shots as last season.

``I feel a lot more comfortable now that we've brought in a lot of better players,'' King said. ``Last year, we just didn't have enough bodies. It was kind of frustrating. We've been through those hard times but I think this year will be better.''

Nick Anderson returns for his sophomore season at forward after being pressed into duty last season and becoming the only Big 12 freshman to start every game. He averaged 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Leatherman says the Aggies ran out of energy late in games last season.

``I think the depth this season is going to make an incredible difference,'' Leatherman said. ``Last year, so many games in the last 20-30 minutes, we ran out of gas. Just the depth makes us better.''