College Station, Texas Once upon a time, which is how all fairy tales begin, Texas A&M; basketball filled the conversation between football and spring football, or, to be precise, the lulls in arguments over the merits of defensive backs from Marfa or Iowa Park.
And now, three years after the most popular thing to hit campus since they voted in women, what has Billy Gillispie wrought?
College students camping out two nights for Monday's game against Texas, and they already had tickets.
Dick Vitale in the house for the first time in a quarter-century.
A defense that can make the nation's best player disappear?
Well, not exactly.
Kevin Durant, who led Texas with 28 points and 15 rebounds, is even more compelling live and up close: long, smooth, poised, a perfectly elegant player.
Or everything that A&M; is not. And that's no insult. The Aggies reflect their gritty, rough-hewn coach. On any given night, they present the nation's best defense, hounding and pestering and frustrating opponents.
Gillispie ran five players at Durant, occasionally more than a couple at a time. The concept took awhile, but it finally wore on him. Bumped and battered, he couldn't hit big shots late and finished 9-of-23 from the field.
Bottom line: The Aggies eventually ran away with a game, 100-82, they had no business winning so big.
Not when Acie Law limped to the locker room with 10 minutes left and A&M; fighting to stay even.
As good as Durant has been this season - and he's clearly the best NBA talent to come through this state since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler - Law has been the league's biggest clutch player.
His three-pointer to beat the Jayhawks in Kansas on Saturday was one of the biggest shots in school history.
He's been at his best late in games, too. He demanded the play and the ball on the winning shot against Kansas.
So what happens when he goes down Monday? Sophomore Josh Carter steps up with 24 points, freshman Donald Sloan chips in with 11 and freshman Bryan Davis adds eight points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes.
Frankly, Gillispie might be the best hire A&M; has made in any sport, with the possible exception of a guy named Bear Bryant.
Certainly, no one has ever moved a sport further along any quicker. Even in the best of times, Aggie basketball was a tough sell. And the good times haven't exactly rolled.
Before this season, the last time the Aggies appeared in the polls during the regular season was in 1980-81.
And that note was followed by this line from the official Aggie release: " . . . and A&M; disappeared from the polls for almost 26 years."
Sounds like a line straight out of a fairy tale, doesn't it?
And now for his next trick: Can Gillispie turn A&M; into a basketball school?
Answer: Let's not get carried away, hoops head.
Football will always be king here. But the transformation at A&M; in the last three seasons is nothing short of phenomenal. The Aggies keep this up, no telling what happens here next.