Every college basketball team in the country felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to some degree during the 2020-2021 season. Few teams, if any, had their seasons affected as much as Texas A&M.
On Jan. 30, the Aggies beat Kansas State in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. They didn't play another game until March 3. Because of COVID issues within the program, A&M did not play a single game in February.
For the season, Texas A&M had eight SEC games postponed that it did not make up. As a result, all the positive momentum Buzz Williams generated in his first season as head coach the year before - when his Aggies won five of their final seven games to finish tied for sixth in the conference and he was named AP SEC coach of the year - slipped away.
So as Williams prepares for Year Three in Aggieland, it feels a lot like a new beginning for the entire program.
"I think it's almost a reset for us," Williams said during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" interview on SEC Now. "It's a reset relative to our roster. It's a reset relative to our staff. Similar to other teams across the country, all that transpired during the pandemic, there was never any flow. There was never any routine. So I think just being able to be around our guys every day, be around the new guys, the new staff, we're playing a completely different type of way. It is a reset.
"That does not justify what happened last year and all of the trauma that occurred, but it has - emotionally, physically, mentally - been a reset for everybody in the program thus far."
Only four Aggies have been with the program since Williams arrived: guard Quenton Jackson, who'll play as a graduate student this season; junior guard Andre Gordon, the only Aggie to start all 18 games last season; senior guard Zach Walker, a former walk-on; and redshirt junior forward Everett Vaughn.
One fresh piece of bad news that Williams announced on his radio show Monday: Mississippi State graduate transfer Jalen Johnson has suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season. Otherwise, the coach has found a silver lining in the fresh start for himself as well as a roster loaded with freshmen and five other transfers.
"It's been really good for me because it's made me have to realize that every day is a new day," Williams said. "It's a brand new day for multiple guys on our team. It's a brand-new day for people on our staff. The foundation of what we're trying to accomplish, not only on the floor but also off the floor, what we want our program to be about in each of those categories, every day is a brand-new day because there's so many people that need that entry-level foundation of what we're going to be about.
"It's been really fun, to be honest with you, as a coach to be stretched and assume that nobody knows anything, and then, if that's the case, how do we teach it and why are we teaching it."
One aspect of the game Williams himself spent the summer teaching during individual workouts was shooting. In an attempt to improve his team's accuracy while the Aggies play faster than in the past, Williams said, he spent "69 hours and 17 minutes" in sessions called "Shooting with Buzz."
"We spent more time shooting than ever before," Williams said.
As he and the Aggies discovered during that lonely February, time together is more precious than ever.