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Priorities shifting for Texas A&M women's basketball team amid pandemic

Priorities shifting for Texas A&M women's basketball team amid pandemic

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Texas A&M’s N’dea Jones, center, fights for a rebound over Alabama’s Megan Abrams, left, and Cierra Johnson on Thursday at Reed Arena.

COVID-19 has changed everything, including expectations for Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair and his 13th-ranked Aggies.

“This might sound crazy, but winning the national championship shouldn’t be the No. 1 goal this year,” Blair said Tuesday on a Zoom conference. “It is being competitive, staying healthy and having a season for these young people. We’ve been through a lot. The most important person on our staff is our psychologist, who’s having to work with so many kids in different areas with what’s gone on.”

A&M sophomore guard Jordan Nixon, who is from New York City, had four people close to her die because of COVID-19, including her grandfather and high school coach.

“Now think about that,” Blair said. “These are not people necessarily in their 80s or 90s. How do you deal with that as a young person, 18 to 22? I want to get the season through where everybody can say we got better because of it. We accepted the challenge. We did something about it, and hopefully we’re making this world a better place and giving people hope.”

A&M was denied a 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance when the 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19. The Aggies will open this season against Lamar at noon next Wednesday.

The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball coaches picked A&M to finish third behind South Carolina and Kentucky. The poll released Tuesday had Arkansas fourth followed by Mississippi State, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida, Vanderbilt and Auburn.

“I really love my basketball team,” Blair said. “I think we’ve got a lot of interesting parts to the puzzle, but the puzzle cannot be put together until we can see what it can do in live action.”

A&M won’t scrimmage another team nor have an exhibition game as was the case in previous seasons. The Aggies have the benefit of a veteran unit with three starters returning from a 22-8 team that went 10-6 in the SEC, tying Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee for third behind South Carolina (32-1, 16-0) and Mississippi State (27-6, 13-3).

NOTES — A&M senior forward N’dea Jones made the SEC coaches’ 10-woman preseason first team. Senior wing Kayla Wells made the second team. Jones, who averaged 11 points and 11.7 rebounds per game last season, also made the Naismith and Wade trophy watch lists. ... A&M is COVID-19 free. Blair said the program’s last positive case came in early July. “Our kids have been doing that they’re supposed to be doing,” Blair said. ... A&M is still awaiting decisions on transfer waivers for junior guards Zaay Green (Tennessee) and Alexis Morris (Rutgers). ... Blair would favor all NCAA tournament games played at one site, which is the plan for the men’s tournament. “If it’s going to make us safe and have an NCAA tournament, let’s do it,” Blair said. “The heck with the home-court advantage. Let’s have the best basketball that we could possibly have. Let’s get through this COVID 2020 and 2021.” The women’s Final Four is slated for San Antonio.

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