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Gillispie's Era One of Major Growth On and Off the Court

In the three years Billy Gillispie was at the helm of Texas A&M's men's basketball team, there was an unprecedented change both on and off the court.

For some, it may be hard to remember back to a time when Texas A&M basketball wasn't much to look at, and when not too many people did.

However, in 2005, things began changing as the Aggies made a run at an NIT bid. Postseason play hadn't been seen in Aggieland in quite some time.

It's when cash registers starting clanging for a different sport. Merchandisers were prepping for possible tournament play by creating t-shirts for everything from NIT to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. It felt to many like unprecedented hoopla.

"We have success with our football team, but the recent success we've had with our basketball teams has gotten the crowds excited," said Anne Saner, who worked at the MSC Bookstore in 2005, "and they're wanting new merchandise that they don't usually purchase as they do for our football team."

A small February gathering of students awaiting Texas Tech tickets foretold bigger things to come. The night before the seating arrangements were determined for Bob Knight and the Red Raiders' visit to Reed Arena, a few lonely tents sprawled across Reed's front lawn.

"We were told people were going to be here Thursday," said student Aubrey Bloom. "We wanted to make sure we were first."

It was Gillispieville 2005. The February 2007 version was different -- so different, in fact, that Aggie basketball success forced changes in the way students pulled tickets. A late-night gathering of thousands before the UT-A&M ticket pull was deemed too dangerous, forcing university officials to call off the campout.

It also changed the way Aggie donors spent their money. Private funding will soon create the multi-million dollar Cox-McFerrin Center to provide state-of-the-art facilities for A&M basketballers, a happening unlikely for a program that had posted zero wins in conference play before Gillispie's arrival.

"Three or four years ago, we're fighting for last place in the Big XII conference in men's and women's basketball and look at us now," said Director of Athletics Bill Byrne at the time.

Coach Gillispie added his two cents at the time as well. "It's amazing to look at these plans and what we're about to put together here because it'll be the absolute best one in the country," he said.

To a person, the weight of Billy Clyde Gillispie's impact on A&M will be distinct, just as their reactions to his departure are different.

Just days ago, fresh off a Sweet 16 loss in San Antonio, the Aggies were received by a small group of fans. Gillispie lobbied for more.

"We'll start selling out games in early November/December, and that'll be the next step for the fans to take if we want to continue to have a better program each and every year," Gillispie said in what would be one of his last interviews as the Aggie coach, "and I think our players and our coaching staff is going to do their part, and I'm sure the fans will as well."

In 2006, the city of College Station held a contest to name the new Highway 40. The city council would eventually title the road in honor of William Fitch.

The overwhelming leading vote getter, however: Billy Gillispie, who has now taken a different road -- the one out of town.


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