Logan • On Wednesday, the first snow of autumn settled on the mountain tops clustered around Cache Valley.
It’s not as if Stew Morrill needed another reminder that basketball season is right around the corner, beginning on Friday. With new NCAA rules, Utah State men’s basketball will start practice a lot earlier than it used to, spacing 30 practices over 40 days.
Even though it seems school just started, the Aggies will be grateful for a few extra days to prepare for their first season in the Mountain West.
“I’m not naïve to the challenge of the Mountain West,” said Morrill, entering his 16th season at Utah State. “I also think that we’ve got to feel like, ‘Hey, we can compete.’ I do feel that way, and I know our players feel that way — that we’re going to prove that we belong.”
The challenge is this: Find a way to compete in a league that, by some measures, is one of the nation’s best. The Mountain West was one of the top two conferences in RPI nearly all of last season and sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies, meanwhile, are eager to put last season behind them.
After starting out 14-1, a glut of season-ending injuries caused Utah State to stumble to 21-10, finishing a disappointing fifth in its final WAC season.
Preston Medlin, the team’s leading scorer with 16.3 points per game, was one of two key starters lost for the year early in conference play. After recovering from his wrist fracture, Medlin sometimes doesn’t know whether to forget all the nights he was confined to the bench, or use the memories as motivation.
“You kind of what to look over it and kind of forget it a little bit,” he said. “It was tough — all those injuries, starting the way we did and finishing the way we did. It was tough, but you want to remember the good stuff.”
The positive for Utah State is that it returns a lot of players who logged many minutes last year. Aside from losing forward Kyisean Reed to graduation and two transfers, the Aggies will have plenty of experience.
That includes Medlin, a feared shooter at guard who was on a scoring tear before he was injured last year. Guard Spencer Butterfield and center Jarred Shaw were both all-WAC honorees last season, combining for 26.4 points and 15 rebounds per game.
Although Utah State will be missing forward Ben Clifford early on, it will have point guards Marcel Davis and TeNale Roland, reserve center Jordan Stone, even wing Danny Berger, who survived a heart attack last December. A number of Aggies should make their debut this fall, including Southern Utah transfer Kyle Davis and local high school star freshman Jalen Moore.
Utah State will start its season with a bang, welcoming USC on Nov. 8 to the Spectrum. The conference season begins Jan. 1, with Air Force.
Maybe getting an early start won’t be so bad.
“The schedule this year is definitely the toughest we’ve had since I’ve been,” Medlin said. “Hopefully the fans will come back out, and I believe they will. It should be a fun year.”
Lead returners for Utah State
Preston Medlin, sr., G • 16.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.3 apg
Jarred Shaw, sr., C • 14.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 53.9 FG%
Spencer Butterfield, sr., G • 12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.7 apg
Marcel Davis, sr., G • 7.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.3 apg