He’s only a sophomore at Utah State, but Koby McEwen’s adventure in the state of Utah is now in its sixth year. First, it was four years of a boarding school experience followed by his current role of college student.
And it has all been because of basketball.
“Number one, he really likes to play. Number two, he really wants to play for a long time — wherever basketball takes him,” Utah State coach Tim Duryea said.
Right now, McEwen’s upward trajectory has hit a holding pattern. But he’s in the process of making adjustments.
Aggie opponents all season have zeroed in on the 6-foot-4 guard as a focal point of their defensive efforts. As a result, McEwen’s scoring average has remained at about the same level (14.9 points per game) as last season, with some wide variations along the way.
Case in point: In McEwen’s last three games he scored seven points against Wyoming, erupted for 23 in the win over Boise State, then took just five shots in Wednesday’s loss at New Mexico.
“He’s learning how to play and operate when the other team is constantly scheming against you,” Duryea said. “You’re one of the two priorities in their scouting report and preparation. They’re going to do things to try to get the ball out of your hands and make it hard on you.
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“That’s something he’s still adjusting to,” the Aggies coach added.
McEwen arrived at Utah State via Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, a school that reels in elite prep basketball players from around the nation — and beyond. So, the Toronto native wasn’t alone in traveling a long distance to play high school ball far away from home. But McEwen does remember being the youngest player on the team at the time.
“It was for sure different than what I was used to,” he recalled, noting he was only 15 when he left Canada for the trip south. “It was kind of shocking at first to see how secluded [Mount Pleasant] was from everything. The culture was different, the people were different — it wasn’t really anything I was used to.
“It took a little time to adjust,” he added. “Obviously it was a little hard because my mom wasn’t making every meal for me and my mom would’ve done my laundry — stuff like that. But I learned to adjust and, honestly, got used to it very quick.”
Duryea said that being away from home for so long has made McEwen more mature than most sophomores in college.
“He’s an emotional kid, a competitive kid. He’s more emotional on the floor than he is off the floor,” Duryea said. “He’s a kid that’s going to handle his business, he’s not going to have any issues with the community. He’s going to work hard, be in the gym and do extra work.”
In his ongoing college basketball education, the USU coach says that McEwen has evolved into a whatever-it-takes kind of player, so he doesn’t need to carry the scoring load to be effective. This season, for instance, he has become a much better rebounder — a result of the Aggies’ ongoing shortage of big men. That kid mixing it up down low? That would be McEwen.
“He’s done a real good job defensively over the last six or seven weeks. For the most part, until last night, he’s stayed out of foul trouble,” said Duryea, who notes that the post problems also make it tougher for the Aggies offensively.
“It’s hard when you have no low-post presence at all. Defenses are going to push out on you,” Duryea said. “You’ve got to be good off the dribble at making basketball plays.
“We have a lot of things we run for Koby, but the other team is determined to trap him — take the ball out of his hands. Then he’s got to be compliant enough to do what the game tells him to do,” he added.
As for McEwen, who said that his goal is to compete professionally when he’s done with college — “Why not get paid for something you love?” he said — he’s upbeat about the Aggies’ up-and-down season, despite all the challenges.
“I feel like everything is going really well, especially with all the adversity that we’ve been through, with the injuries and guys in and out of the lineup,” McEwen said.
The Aggies host league-leading Nevada on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Smith Spectrum. With a win, Utah State (14-13, 7-7) could push north of the .500 mark once again in Mountain West play.
“I thought we handled it really well, especially with a more talented team last year, we’re on pace to do better this year,” McEwen said. “It’s pretty amazing to me.”