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Basketball: Visit by Aggies has feel of family

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

Each summer over the last four years, former North Texas standout Nelda Gilbert has waited patiently for the release of the Texas A&M schedule to see what the future will hold for her daughter, Karla Gilbert.

Nelda Gilbert could hardly believe her good fortune this year when she scanned the Aggies’ slate of games and saw her alma mater listed.

UNT will take on A&M and Karla Gilbert, a 6-5 post player, at 7 tonight at the Super Pit.

“I didn’t know until I looked online to see the schedule. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. They are playing North Texas,’” Nelda Gilbert said. “I put my request in the next day to have the day off.”

Nelda (Roy) Gilbert played for the Mean Green from 1988-90 before becoming a high school coach and teacher and has maintained a connection with UNT. She will be wearing a UNT T-shirt while sitting with A&M fans cheering on her daughter at the Super Pit tonight, when both the Mean Green men and women will be in action.

The UNT men will be on the road to face Oklahoma, where Mean Green guard T.J. Taylor began a winding journey in college basketball that has taken him from the Sooners to Paris Junior College to Marquette and finally to UNT.

Both the UNT men and women opened their seasons with wins last week. The Mean Green men knocked off Northwood, while the women’s team beat Missouri-Kansas City.

Improving to 2-0 won’t be easy for either team. Texas A&M is ranked 16th nationally and has been a national power for years. The Aggies won the national title in 2011, Karla Gilbert’s freshman year.

While tonight’s game won’t come close to rivaling that moment, it is a game Karla Gilbert is looking forward to playing.

“I like the idea of coming up there on Monday and playing in her old gym,” Karla Gilbert said. “My mom will get to go back and cheer for her daughter. It will be an exciting experience for her.”

Nelda Gilbert was a two-time second-team All-Southland Conference selection and helped the Mean Green knock off A&M at the Super Pit in 1988, the last time the Aggies played in Denton.

“I still follow the program as much as I can and go to homecoming,” Nelda Gilbert said. “I still talk to some of the girls I played with.”

Karla Gilbert has been carving out her own legacy at Texas A&M. She ranks ninth in program history with 86 blocked shots and seems destined to become just the fifth Texas A&M player to reach 100 in her career.

Nelda Gilbert coached her daughter at A&M Consolidated, where she was a McDonald’s All-American.

“I have watched her grow and she still has some growing to do,” Nelda Gilbert said. “She has put a lot of time in and lost some weight. She is rolling with it now and is a leader. They call her the momma of the team.”

The opportunity to have A&M at the Super Pit is one UNT head coach Mike Petersen relishes. Petersen has known A&M head coach Gary Blair for years and used that connection to secure a home game with the Aggies.

“It’s absolutely a good opportunity,” Petersen said. “One of the things I have made a priority is improving our home nonconference schedule both in terms of quality and quantity. We need to be playing more home games than they have here in the past. We have accomplished that. We also need to be playing really good teams.”

A&M certainly will qualify, as will Oklahoma for the UNT men.

The Mean Green will head to Norman, Okla., today to face the Sooners in its first game in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The game will take Taylor back to the place he started his career after a standout career at Denison.

Taylor arrived at Oklahoma in 2010, sustained a concussion in the preseason and left after just one semester. The junior guard declined to discuss the reasons he left the school but said he is looking forward to going back to Norman.

“It has been awhile,” Taylor said. “I’m looking forward to seeing a few familiar faces and going back to where I once was.”

While Taylor was at Oklahoma for only a few months, he developed friendships with several players on the team and built on another with Cameron Clark, his old high school rival from Sherman.

“Spending time with teammates is what I remember most,” Taylor said. “All those guys were very positive and supported me no matter what with everything that I was going through.”

Taylor didn’t play in UNT’s opener against Northwood due to a knee injury that puts his status for tonight’s game in question.

UNT is hoping to have Taylor back today so that it will be at full strength for a challenging game against the Sooners.

“Oklahoma is a great opportunity for us,” UNT head coach Tony Benford said. “Anytime you play a Big 12 school on the road, it’s going to be a challenge. We are looking forward to it.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.