Utah State favored to win the WAC | NevadaAppeal.com

Utah State favored to win the WAC

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Utah State.

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

When Utah State was picked by the league’s coaches as the preseason pick to win the WAC, it wasn’t a huge shock.

After all, the Aggies went 23-12, reaching the WAC tournament finals and making its eight straight post-season appearance when it was selected for the NIT.

Veteran coach Stew Morrill has eight new players in the program, which is a lot. Most will be expected to play big roles off the bench, as WAC Preseason Player of the Year Jaycee Carroll, who averaged 21.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, returns along with 6-8 center Stephen DuCharme (10.2, 5.1), point guard Kris Clark (3.5, 4.2 assists) and reserve forward Nick Hammer (3.7, 2.3).

“We have four guys who have never checked into a game for Utah State,” Morrill said. “We have a chance to be good. We’ve got an interesting mix of players with three starters back and yet we have a lot of new players that are going to have to step up.

“Anytime you have a player like Jaycee coming back, it makes you feel like you have a better chance to be successful. I was talking to him on the way over (to Media Day), and I told him I hoped that he always didn’t have to play really well for us to win. He’s a tough kid; a self-made player.”

Morrill is like any coach. He doesn’t want all his eggs in one basket. DuCharme played well offensively in the WAC, but certainly Clark will need to contribute more.

“He (Clark) has got to be better and he knows that,” Morrill said. “He needs to shoot a lot better. We have some JC help in Desmond Stephens (5-9, 150). He’s a little guy that runs all over the place and he can shoot it from deep.”

Morrill needs a center and small forward to round out his lineup.

Brayden Bell (1.4, 2.3 at Ohio State), a 6-9 redshirt sophomore, and 6-9 center Modou Niang (32, 18) are battling for the top spot in the middle.

The small forward contingent includes 6-6 freshman Brad Brown (13.0, 5.0 ), Hammer, 6-3 DeUandrae Spraggins (11.3, 4.8 JC) and 6-3 freshman Pooh Williams (27.0, 5.0, high school).

There is plenty of help behind DuCharme at power forward, including 6-8 redshirt freshman Matt Formisano (15.2, 7.0 in high school), 6-6 redshirt freshman Tai Wesley (16.7, 8.0 high school) and 6-9 junior Gary Wikinson (18.5, 8.1 JC).

“One thing that is a plus on paper for the team is we will again have size,” Morrill said. “I also think we have the flexibility to play big or small at the point and we have some interchangeable wings.”

Diminutive Jaxson Myaer (5-9, 150) averaged nearly 19 a game in high school, and he’ll push for time at the point along with Stephens. Tyler Newbold, a 6-4 freshman who averaged 18.7 last year in high school, will back up Carroll at shooting guard.

Utah State will play 10 games against teams that reached post-season play a year ago, including SEC member Vanderbilt and either Bradley from the Missouri Valley Conference or Iowa from the Big Ten.

“This schedule has a nice mix of traditional games to go along with new challenges,” Morrill said. “In the nonconference we have the always competitive in-state games, a renewal of some Big West rivalries and the tough South Padre Island event that should help us prepare for WAC play.”

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

THE AGGIES FILE

Head coach: Stew Morrill

2006-07 record: 23-12 overall, 9-7 in the WAC

Lettermen/starters returning: 4/3

Newcomers: 8

Key Non-conference games: vs. Vanderbilt at South Padre Invitational on Nov. 23; at Utah, Dec. 8; vs. Santa Clara Dec. 1