Preston Medlin was feeling the love as Utah State rolled closer to its season opener.
The media and Western Athletic Conference coaches had picked him as the preseason player of the year. National pundits tabbed the junior guard as one of the nation’s best shooters, a label he had most definitely earned with his gaudy sophomore shooting percentages.
Nicholls State at Utah StateDee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan)
Tipoff » Thursday, 8 p.m.
Radio » 610 AM, 102.1 FM, 97.5 FM
Records » Utah State 6-1; Nicholls State 1-5
Series history » First meeting
About the Aggies » Utah State is the No. 3-ranked team in rebounding margin with an average advantage of 15.0 boards per game. … Junior center Jarred Shaw is leading the Aggies in both scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg). … True freshman point guard Marcel Davis has led Utah State in scoring in the last two games, pouring in a combined 38 points against Western Oregon and Utah Valley. … Utah State has won its last 42 home tournament games, with the last loss to Wyoming in 1971.
About the Colonels » Senior Fred Hunter has played in only four games, but he’s leading Nicholls State with a 25.3 ppg average. … The Colonels are on a seven-game stretch on the road, and will not play one home game in December. … Nicholls State has not won a road game all season, but has visited Missouri, Vanderbilt and Michigan State this year.
But a player who gets that much adulation also merits another kind of attention: hands to the face and bumps in the lane. Almost no room to breathe, much less get a shot off.
"It’s frustrating," Medlin says. "There’s not much I can do about it. A lot of teams saw what I could do last year, and they think if they can stop me, they can stop this team."
Luckily for Utah State (6-1), that hasn’t often been the case. Jarred Shaw and Kyisean Reed have stepped up the inside scoring production, while true freshman point guard Marcel Davis has been a revelation in the past two games for the Aggies.
But it’s not as if Medlin has disappeared. This season, he’s worked on making a more subtle impact while leading the squad as its most tenured member.
"We’re not worried about getting Preston Medlin more shots," coach Stew Morrill said prior to the game against Western Oregon. "He’s our second-leading scorer, he’s playing within the system. When people really focus on you, you have to give the ball up. And that’s what he’s been doing."
On the surface, Medlin’s numbers are down. He’s scoring fewer points (17.0 ppg to 12.9 ppg) and his shooting percentages have dropped (.496 FG shooting to .453). As Utah State has stressed punching the ball inside, he’s become less of a focal point of the offense.
But that’s not a bad thing — for Medlin or the Aggies. He’s also the third-leading rebounder on the team (5.0 rpg), and he’s doled out the second-most assists. He has a way of pushing other players when the team needs them at their best.
"Preston’s not going to force up a bad shot, he’s going to open plays up for our teammates," Davis says. "It’s up to us to make those, and we all know we have to step it up."
Even when he’s denied, Medlin has shown that he’s always ready for the big play. Against Santa Clara when he was held to only one field goal through 39 minutes of regulation, Medlin got the ball in his hands for the final shot, a 3-point attempt.
He drained it. And no one was all that surprised.
It’s an encouraging sign of growth and maturity for Medlin, whose father, Dwayne Medlin, describes as "an emotional player."
"I’ve told him this is a good life lesson: No matter what you do, if you’re successful, it comes with added pressure and responsibilities," Dwayne Medlin says. "He’s learning to deal with it, and it’s making him tougher mentally. As a dad, I could not be prouder at how he’s progressing as a man."
So even with a slightly less pronounced role on offense, even with defenses determined to throw him off, Medlin is cruising. To him, statistics always take the backseat to wins.
"We have a lot of guys who can score," Medlin says. "It’s a good thing when your teammates play well. It takes a lot of pressure off of me."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.