You know Elston Turner and the Texas A&M men's basketball team have arrived when Johnny Manziel tweets about them.
"Been trying to tell people for over a year now. … my boy @ElstonTurner31 is REAALLLL!!" Manziel tweeted Saturday after Turner's 40 points led the Aggies to an 83-71 victory at Kentucky.
A&M free safety Steven Terrell also gave a shout out to Turner and the team on twitter for beating the defending national champs. Manziel and Terrell know firsthand how tough it is to beat the defending national champs on their turf -- having won at Alabama -- and they understand how much support means, whether it's verbal, physical or via social media.
With A&M off to a 2-0 start in Southeastern Conference play and 10th-ranked Florida coming to Reed Arena on Thursday, the program needs to seize on the opportunity to bring back some fans and win over new ones.
"Hopefully it spurs on some fan interest for Thursday night more than anything else," A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said Monday at his weekly press conference.
The program sure needed the 69-51 victory over Arkansas, followed by the win over Kentucky. Basketball has been dwarfed by football at A&M, but to be fair, what Manziel and company did was bigger than anything that's happened around here in some time. And a problem with the A&M men's basketball program is it had become a stepchild before Manziel was even named a starter.
It was an ugly stepchild at that because of last season's 14-18 record, which included a pitiful 4-14 Big 12 mark, with only hapless Texas Tech worse than the Aggies. It was an abrupt end to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, and interest had nose-dived. Crowds have been small this season and narrow victories over so-so teams along with a loss to Southern haven't helped energize those who were still attending games.
"There weren't that many people in the stands tonight," said Turner after a 66-54 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 18. "We have games where we just have to create our own energy. It's about us."
Of course on Dec. 18 it was all about Johnny Football. That day, Manziel became the first freshman to be named the Associated Press' Player of the Year, just one of what seemed like 100 honors for him.
The basketball team playing A&M-CC, Southern, Army and Houston Baptist were no match for a Heisman Trophy winner and his 10-2 teammates getting ready to beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. But give Turner and the Aggies credit. They've earned the right for Manziel and his followers to come to Reed Arena now that football season is over.
"The football success, they deserved it and earned it," Kennedy said. "Hopefully, that will bleed into this Florida game and from there. Hopefully people will understand that there's good basketball played in the SEC and we'll get our student body back involved in our games."
That's the key. The students can create anywhere from a five- to 10-point home court advantage. A tweet from the Heisman Trophy winner might be worth a couple of points, but Monday night Manziel tweeted he'll be at the game, which set off a flurry of social media activity.
Johnny Football and E.T. together? Reed will be rocking.
Turner was named the SEC player of the week. He was just the third opposing player to score 40 points at Rupp Arena. Navy's David Robinson had 45 in 1985 and LSU's Chris Jackson had 41 in 1990.
"The only other players I know that have scored over 40 at Rupp are great NBA players," Kennedy said. "For him to have that, it was just a special feat."
Georgia senior forward Jasmine Hassell was the SEC women's player of the week. She combined for 40 points in victories over Alabama and South Carolina. Tennessee forward/center Bashaara Graves was the freshman of the week after leading the Lady Vols to victories over Missouri (16 points, 8 rebounds) and Florida (17 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists).
The pollsters sure noticed A&M's victory at Kentucky, but not in a good way. Last week in the Top 25 polls Kentucky received 43 points in the USA Today Coaches Poll (28th) and 27 in the Associated Press (32nd.) Kentucky didn't get a vote in either poll this week, with 39 teams getting votes in each.
The voters in the women's basketball poll recognize that the Aggies have played quality competition, leaving A&M at 20th in this week's AP poll after a 65-62 loss at Kentucky, which moved up a spot to fifth.
Robert Cessna's email address is email@example.com.