Utah State men’s basketball looking for fourth straight WAC title in 2011

“Obviously, we are excited about the potential for our basketball team in the upcoming season. Expectations will be high and we certainly expect as much as anyone does from our group of players. However, excitement and expectations don’t provide wins. You have to go out and mesh veteran players with new players, and everyone must buy into our system for us to have the chemistry we’ve had in the past.” — USU head coach Stew Morrill For the second year in a row, Utah State returns four starters from a team that won a Western Athletic Conference regular season championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, not to mention the reigning Coach of the Year in the WAC in Stew Morrill who has won the award each of the last two seasons. And with all that Utah State returns for the 2010-11 season, expectations will once again be as high as ever for this group of Aggies. And why not? Overall, Utah State’s four returning starters have played in a combined 353 games during their Aggie careers, which includes an astronomical 288 starts. USU also has four other returning letterwinners who have a combined 195 games played. Furthermore, this group of seniors has won three-straight regular season WAC Championships and compiled an overall record of 81-24 (.771) with a WAC mark of 40-8 (.833). “I think people who follow WAC basketball know we return an experienced group of starters and players off the bench,” said Morrill. “Our senior group has won three-straight WAC Championships, and it would be a huge feather in their caps to get four-straight during their playing careers. “Experience is a wonderful thing, but we have to make up for the loss of a first-team all-league point guard in Jared Quayle, and past success doesn’t always equal future productivity. In other words, our experience only helps if we go out and get the job done, Morrill said.” Under Morrill, Utah State has had little trouble getting the job done year in and year out as it has advanced to 11 straight postseasons (7-NCAA, 4-NIT), which is a school record, including back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. USU is also one of just three programs in the nation to win at least 23 games in each of the last 11 years along with Gonzaga and Kansas, and has the fourth-best winning percentage in the country during that time period at 76.4 percent (279-86). USU has also averaged 25.4 wins in each of the last 11 years and its current streak of 11 straight postseasons ranks tied for the 13th longest in the nation. The reason Utah State has been so dominate during the past decade has been the approach, discipline and leadership established and maintained by Morrill, who is the winningest coach in 107 years of Aggie basketball. Entering his 13th season at the helm of the USU program, Morrill – who is the second-longest tenured coach in school history behind E. Lowell Romney (1920-41) – owns a gaudy 294-99 (.748) record, which includes a 152-48 (.760) conference mark and a 23-7 (.767) record in conference tournament play. He has also been awarded conference coach of the year honors on four separate occasions during his time at Utah State, including being named the 2009 and 2010 WAC Coach of the Year. Leading the way for Utah State heading into the 2010-11 season will be one of the most complete players Morrill has ever coached in senior forward Tai Wesley who earned first-team all-WAC honors during his junior campaign. As a junior, Wesley ranked fourth in the WAC in field goal shooting (.574), fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86), sixth in blocked shots (1.31), 10th in rebounding (6.6), 11th in assists (3.34), 13th in scoring (13.7) and 15th in free throw shooting (.701). “Tai Wesley is a player we have depended so much on because of his basketball ability and basketball IQ,” stated Morrill. “He also provides tremendous leadership for our team and he has gotten better ever year. His senior year should be special.” Heading into his senior season, Wesley already ranks as the only player in school history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocks as he has career numbers of 1,247 points, 602 rebounds, 283 assists and 108 blocks. Joining Wesley will be three other senior starters in forward Nate Bendall and guards Tyler Newbold and Pooh Williams. Bendall started all 33 games he played in during his junior season and ended the year by being named to the WAC’s all-newcomer team after averaging 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 56.2 percent from the field and 81.5 percent at the free throw line. Newbold averaged 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists in his third year as a starter, while Williams averaged 8.7 points, 2.2 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game and became the first Aggie ever named to the WAC’s all-defensive team. Along with its four returning starters, Utah State welcomes back four more letterwinners in senior forward Matt Formisano, senior guard Brian Green, junior forward Brady Jardine and sophomore guard Preston Medlin. Formisano has played in 82 games during his USU career, averaging 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds. Green joined Bendall on the WAC’s all-newcomer team a year ago as he averaged 7.6 points and led the league in three-point shooting at 50.0 percent (53-106). Jardine had a breakout year as a sophomore as he averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds, which included averages of 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in WAC games, while shooting 61.7 percent from the field to rank second in the league. Medlin appeared in 22 games as a true freshman and averaged 3.7 points in 10.6 minutes of action per game, while shooting 40.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. Even with all the experience and depth returning for Utah State this year, Morrill and the Aggies will have to find a quality replacement at the point after losing both of its letterwinners from a year ago in Jared Quayle and Jaxon Myaer. Quayle earned first-team all-WAC honors as a senior as he averaged 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, and Myaer played in 66 games during his two years at USU as he averaged 2.7 points before transferring to Montana State-Billings. The newcomers battling to replace Quayle and Myaer at the point are junior college transfer Brockeith Pane and freshmen Leon Cooper, Jr., and James Walker III, and all three bring a tremendous amount of talent and potential to the table. Pane averaged 12.0 points and 2.9 assists at Midland (Texas) Junior College as he earned first-team all-conference and all-district honors. Cooper, Jr., earned first-team all-state honors as a prep senior at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan., as he averaged 18.3 points, 4.6 assists and 3.8 steals per game. And Walker III averaged 19.7 points and 8.0 rebounds at Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School during his senior year as he was named the Sunset League’s Player of the Year two-straight years. “It’s pretty obvious with what we have returning off a WAC Championship team that its natural to look at the point guard position as being a big key for this season,” Morrill said. “We do feel confident that we’ve addressed that position in our recruiting, but until players adjust to our system and this level you’re never certain how it will all work out. I do want all our new players, but especially our point guards, to know I am confident in their abilities and unselfishness, and I feel like they will be very productive with this group of veterans.” Even with all the hype surrounding Pane and Walker III, Utah State’s 2010 recruiting class is much deeper and much more talented as it also added a junior college All-America in Antonio Bumpus, to go along with a highly-touted prep player in Ben Clifford. Bumpus earned third-team NJCAA All-American honors both years at Harcum (Pa.) College and averaged 18.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game during his sophomore season. And Clifford earned first-team all-state honors as a senior at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah as he averaged 16.6 points. Another player who is expected to make a impact is junior forward Morgan Grim who redshirted as USU last year after transferring from the University of Utah where he played in 42 games in two seasons. “We are certainly optimistic on the future of this recruiting class, but I am also a believer that the proof is in their production,” Morrill said. “I’ve never bragged much about players until they show what they can do at our level. With that being said, I think we’ve added athleticism and skill for the present as well as the future with this class. I will be surprised if we don’t look back and feel like it was a very good group recruited to Utah State this year.” Joining the list of newcomers will be two walk-ons in sophomore guard E.J. Farris and freshman forward Brad Brown. Farris sat out the 2009-10 season after averaging 12.0 points as a freshman at the College of Sequoias. Brown redshirted at Utah State during the 2007-08 season before leaving for a two-year LDS Church Mission. As a prep senior at Orono (Minn.) High School he averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. SCHEDULE Utah State will play a total of 31 games during the regular season, which includes five contests against in-state opponents and a minimum of 11 games against postseason teams from a year ago. Highlighting Utah State’s non-conference schedule will be a game against Big East Conference power Georgetown on Saturday, Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C. It will be the Aggies first regular season matchup against a BCS school since defeating Iowa, 75-62, in the 2007 South Padre Island Invitational. It is also the first time USU has traveled to a BCS school during the regular season since it played at Rutgers during the 1992-93 campaign. Overall, Utah State’s non-conference schedule consists of five games against postseason teams from a year ago as it will host Northeastern, Troy and Weber State, and play at Brigham Young along with its game at Georgetown. Both the Cougars and Hoyas played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, while Northeastern, Troy and Weber State all participated in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 2010. USU will also host Utah at home during the preseason, a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament two years ago. In all, Utah State’s non-conference schedule consists of nine teams with winning records in 2010, including six who won at least 20 games. Other postseason teams from the 2009-10 season on Utah State’s schedule include New Mexico State who played in the NCAA Tournament, Nevada who played in the NIT, and Louisiana Tech who played in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Utah State will open the season with four straight in-state games including its season opener at home against Weber State on Nov. 13. USU will then play at BYU on Nov. 17 and at Southern Utah on Nov. 20 before hosting Utah on Nov. 24. The Aggies will conclude the month at home against Northeastern on Nov. 27. Utah State will begin December with a pair of road games at Denver and Georgetown on Dec. 1 and Dec. 4, respectively, before returning home to host Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 7 and Dec. 11. USU will then play its final road game of the preseason on Dec. 18 at Utah Valley followed by home games against Idaho State, Western Michigan and Troy in the 2010 World Vision Invitational sponsored by Gossner Foods which runs from Dec. 21 through Dec. 23. Following the Christmas holiday, Utah State will remain home and begin its quest for a fourth-straight Western Athletic Conference regular season title on Dec. 29 against Hawai’i, followed by a New Year’s Eve matchup versus San Jose State in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Utah State will have just two home games during the month of January as it faces Louisiana Tech on Jan. 20 and hosts New Mexico State on Jan. 22. USU returns home on Feb. 2 against Nevada and then plays Boise State at home on Feb. 5. The Aggies also have a home game against Fresno State on Feb. 12 before stepping out of league to host Montana Western on Feb. 16. Utah State will play its final home game of the regular season on Feb. 26 against Idaho and conclude regular season play on the road against Louisiana Tech on Mar. 5. Utah State will also participate in the annual ESPNU BracketBusters for the sixth-straight year and play a road game on Feb. 19. The 2011 WAC Tournament will be held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas from Mar. 9-12. This year’s tournament will have a different format and will reward teams based on regular season success, giving the top two teams byes into the tournament semifinals. POINT GUARDS Utah State has plenty of questions and no experience at the point guard position heading into the 2010-11 season after losing a pair of lettermen in senior starter Jared Quayle and sophomore backup Jaxon Myaer. Quayle led USU to a combined 57-13 record during his Aggie career and earned first-team all-WAC honors as a senior as he averaged 12.4 points, 6.2 rebound and 4.1 assists per game. Myaer, who transferred to Montana State-Billings, played in 66 games during his two years at USU and averaged 2.7 points per game. The three newcomers battling to replace Quayle and Myaer will be junior Brockeith Pane and incoming freshmen Leon Cooper, Jr. and James Walker III. Pane, a junior college transfer from Midland, Texas, averaged 12.0 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds as a sophomore as he earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-district honors. Cooper, Jr. averaged 18.3 points, 4.6 assists, 3.8 steals and 3.4 rebounds as a prep senior at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan., where he earned first-team all-state honors. And Walker III averaged 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a prep senior at Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School and was named the Sunset League Most Valuable Player as both a junior and senior. SHOOTING GUARDS Utah State returns three letterwinners at the shooting guard position, including three-year starter Tyler Newbold who has played in 105 games and started 95 straight during his USU career. As a junior, Newbold averaged 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from three-point range and 88.1 percent at the free throw line. He finished the year ranking fifth in the WAC in three-point shooting, and first in league games with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.00-to1.00. Along with Newbold, Utah State returns perhaps the best overall jump shooter in the WAC in senior Brian Green who led the league in three-point shooting at 50.0 percent during his first year at USU. Overall, Green finished the season averaging 7.6 points and shot 47.7 percent from the field and 84.0 percent at the free throw line. In league games, Green shot an unbelievable 63.3 percent from behind the arc and 56.3 percent from the field to rank fourth in the league as he averaged 8.8 points during conference play. USU’s third returning letterwinner here is sophomore Preston Medlin who appeared in 22 games as a true freshman and averaged 3.7 points while shooting 40.9 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from three-point range and 92.9 percent at the free throw line. Joining all of Utah State’s experience here is sophomore E.J. Farris who sat out the 2009-10 season to finish some required course work after averaging 12.0 points as a freshman at College of the Sequoias. SMALL FORWARDS Once again, Utah State returns its most athletic player at small forward in senior Pooh Williams who has played in 97 games during his Aggie career, including 66 starts. As a junior, Williams averaged 8.7 points, 2.2 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.6 percent from the field, 35.6 percent from three-point range and 54.7 percent at the free throw line. Williams also became the first USU player ever named to the WAC’s all-defensive team. Another familiar face returns to the depth chart here in freshman Brad Brown who redshirted at USU during the 2007-08 season before serving a two-year LDS Church Mission in Porto, Portugal. Prior to USU, Brown prepped at Orono High School in Minnesota where he averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a senior. One newcomer here is junior college transfer Antonio Bumpus who earned third-team NJCAA All-American honors as both a freshman and sophomore at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. As a sophomore, Bumpus averaged 18.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the field, 37.1 percent from three-point range and 73.0 percent at the free throw line. As has been the case in years past, Newbold will also see time at this position. POWER FORWARDS Utah State returns a wealth of experience and has tremendous depth at power forward, highlighted by the return of senior Tai Wesley, who will be starting for the fourth-straight year at this position. As a junior, Wesley earned first-team all-WAC honors as he ranked fourth in the conference and 12th in the nation in field goal shooting (.574). He also ranked fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86), sixth in blocked shots (1.28), 10th in rebounding (6.6), 11th in assists (3.34), 13th in scoring (13.7) and 15th in free throw shooting (.701). Wesley, who was named to the WAC’s all-tournament team as a junior along with earning second-team NABC All-District honors, scored in double-figures 29 times during the year and posted three double-doubles. Joining Wesley here is the most athletic post player on the team in junior Brady Jardine who emerged as the team’s top reserve in the paint during his sophomore campaign. As a sophomore, Jardine averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game, which included 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in WAC play, while shooting 61.7 percent from the field. The one newcomer to this position is freshman Ben Clifford who earned first-team all-state honors as a prep senior at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah as he averaged 16.6 points and scored in double-figures 22 times, including a career-high 31 points. CENTERS Returning for his second year as a starter in the middle for Utah State is senior Nate Bendall who started 33 games at this position in 2010 after transferring from Salt Lake Community College. As a first-year starter, Bendall averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, and was named to the WAC’s all-newcomer team. He finished the year ranking seventh in the WAC in field goal shooting (.562), eighth in free throw shooting (.815) and 11th in blocked shots (0.88). Backing up Bendall will be senior Matt Formisano and redshit junior Morgan Grim. Formisano has played in 82 games during his USU career and averaged 2.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game as a junior. Grim sat out the 2009-10 campaign after transferring from Utah where he played in 42 games during his two years, including four starts. Prior to his collegiate career, Grim was named Utah’s Mr. Basketball as a prep senior at Riverton (Utah) High School as he averaged nearly 23.0 points per game. Wesley could also see time at this position.

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