Utah State basketball: Preston Medlin's return boosts Aggies
Logan • It's a coaching axiom in basketball: The game tells you what to do. You react to the situation, the surroundings.
Utah State's coaching staff drills this into their players. They must pay attention when the game tells them what to do. And if they don't understand that, then they can watch Preston Medlin.
In his fifth year in Logan, the senior guard has mastered that art.
"Bad players try to hit a home run every time they have the ball, but good players just do what the game tells them to do," assistant coach Tim Duryea said. "Preston has a tremendous instinct for the game. It looks so easy because he's making simple plays."
The skinny, bearded 6-foot-4 guard from Carrollton, Texas, has re-established himself as Utah State's most versatile threat on the floor. He can slash into the lane and finish against bigger players. He can run a clean pick-and-roll. He's dealing out four times as many assists as turnovers, good for eighth in the nation, and he's been shooting 46.7 percent behind the 3-point line.
Oh yeah, and this: When Medlin has a big game, Utah State wins. When Medlin scores at least 11 points in the last two seasons, the Aggies are 18-1. And as the most experienced Aggie for the past few seasons, he's used to teammates looking to him.
"I'm just trying to go out every day and do the things that you can control," he said. "Playing hard, playing for your teammates and being a leader out there."
Medlin's distinct effect is flummoxing defensive efforts to stop him. Defenders have to drift out to the perimeter to respect his deep ball, which can open up a man in the paint or allow Medlin to go rocketing by himself.
If opponents crowd the paint to take away his driving ability, he can knock down shots over them.
Short of fouling him it's hard to stop him with a single guard. And if other teams put two men on him, he has an uncanny knack for finding who is running free.
The Aggies appreciate Medlin all the more after having to go half a season without him. After fracturing his wrist against New Mexico State last year, Medlin was hopeful he could return for the WAC tournament, but a slow-healing bone kept him on the sideline.
Without him, scoring from the wings was a struggle. Utah State limped to a 7-8 finish after a 14-2 start. Spencer Butterfield was one of the Aggies who stepped in to replace Medlin's production, and he's much happier just having him on the floor.
"It's so much better he's the main reason our offense works so well," Butterfield said. "He kind of draws a lot of attention, and when his shot is on, it's awesome. His energy just builds and increases a lot. That just carries on to the team."
On the court, Medlin's competitiveness burns through his skin. He gets on rolls like no other Aggie, like his barrage of 3-pointers against Utah Valley that buried the Wolverines before they knew they were underground. Mississippi State, which watched Medlin drop 21 points, could also speak to his ability to score and dish, with fist pumps and shouts peppered in for emphasis.
But he's more reserved between games, offering other guards a model for their own Utah State careers. Duryea sees how Medlin's example trickles down, especially in the play of Butterfield. The staff was worried about how the two would play together this year, but it's been a pleasing result.
"Spencer's passing this year is probably twice as good as it was last year, and part of that is because he just sees the way Preston plays and tries to handle things," he said. "Consciously or subconsciously, that kind of rubs off. They've become good at making plays for each other."
Medlin is the last Aggie to play in the NCAA tournament, a holdover from what feels like a distant era of Utah State basketball. But having him on the team is good for continuing the culture, Duryea said.
For himself, Medlin just wants to get back to the Big Dance. And he believes this team is good enough to do it. He fleshes out their dreams with his memories, and keeps them motivated.
"That would be awesome," he said. "It's tough. It's not easy to get there. We just gotta keep fighting every day."
The wrist still aches, Medlin said, but nothing a few Advil can't handle.
His injury behind him, there are more challenges ahead. With leading scorer and rebounder Jarred Shaw suspended, the Aggies will lean on Medlin more for big-scoring nights. The team will need his aggressiveness and consistency more than it has already.
When Medlin steps out this Thursday in the first of a three-game tournament, he'll know what to do.
"The past couple years, that's kind of how it's been, with other guys looking to me," he said. "That's how I like it."
Preston Medlin file
The Aggies' senior guard is the most tenured player in the program, but also one of the top shooters in program history:
•Â No. 28 in scoring with 1,082 points, 13.0 ppg in career
•Â No. 7 in 3-pointers made with 164
• No. 5 in 3-point percentage with 41.9 percent
Utah State vs. W. Illinois
Basketball Travelers Classic
Thursday, 8 p.m.