Utah State returns strong nucleus
Tim Duryea begins his second season at the helm of Utah State’s basketball program with four solid returnees and 10 new players.
Duryea, who took over for the legendary Stew Morrill, guided the Aggies to a 16-15 record in his first season. Duryea had served as an assistant coach for USU from 2002 to 2015.
Jalen Moore, a 6-9 225-pound frontcourt player, leads the Aggies after averaging 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds a contest. Also back are point guard Shane Rector (9.3, 2.5), off guard Julian Pearre (8.0, 1.7) and 6-8 sophomore forward Quinn Taylor (4.2, 3.7).
“All four returners are solid players,” Duryea said at the recent Mountain West Media Day in Las Vegas. “We have a lot of young talent albeit inexperienced. This is a very high character team.”
Of the 10 new faces, seven are freshmen, including Portugese star Diogo Brito, a 6-5 guard, and 6-4 guard Sam Merrill, who’s coming back from a 2-year mission. Koby McEwen, a four-star recruit, averaged 18 points a game at Wasatch Academy.
The Aggies also brought in 6-11 Norbert Janicek, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game at Snow College. Alexis Dargenton redshirted last year after transferring from Laramie Community College where he averaged 12 a game.
Moore became the 37th player in USU history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. In three years, he has scored 1,119 points and grabbed 482 rebounds.
Duryea is moving Moore to the small forward spot this year, which is probably his natural position.
“He has a chance to use his length and size (on the wing),” Duryea said. “I like his motor. He’s a very competitive guy and a high energy guy. He comes to practice everyday and works hard.”
“I’m feeling good about playing the 3,” Moore said. “I’ve worked hard on improving my game (to play on the outside).”
Moore is a capable scorer from the outside, hitting 33 percent from beyond the arc and 47 percent overall. He believes he can defend in space, and has the ability to go inside and help out. Chances are he sees some action at power forward, too.
Rector started 12 games last year, including two at point guard during the conference tournament. He will start the season at the point.
“I feel good about my game,” Rector said. “It’s a new role for me, but I believe I’m capable of more things. I’m ready for the challenge. It should be an exciting year.”
“Shane played very well in the tournament,” Duryea said. “He knows what he needs to do and what’s expected of him.”
Duryea said both Moore and Rector have taken on more of a leadership role.
“They are trying to take control of the game, and I feel good about that,” Duryea said.
Pearre finished the season strong with 14 points in 29 minutes in an 88-70 win over Wyoming at the MW Tournament, and he followed that up with 12 points in 18 minutes in a season-ending 71-65 loss to San Diego State.
“He is extremely tough,” Duryea said. “I love his mentality on the floor.”
Taylor started eight of the last nine games in 2015-16. He reached double digits three times last season with a high of 16 points and 10 rebounds against San Jose State on Feb. 23.
The Aggies have four tough neutral/road games this season — at UC Irvine (Nov. 14), Purdue and or Auburn or Texas Tech at the Cancun Challenge (Nov. 22-23), and BYU in Salt Lake City on Nov. 30.
Utah State is one of the toughest place to play in the nation. The Aggies win nearly 90 percent of their home games, and nine times since the 1996-97 season have gone undefeated at the De Glen Smith Spectrum.