Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The writer on the phone, big-time national guy, was asking Stew Morrill about two subjects that wear out the Aggie coach: (a) "Wild Bill" Sproat, the colorful, culpable USU super fan who wears a grass skirt and coconut bra, and (b) the ages of his players.
Both are subjects Morrill has addressed ad nauseam. When Morrill responded a little unenthusiastically, the writer pointed out he was providing publicity the Aggies rarely get.
"I said, 'I'm kind of used to that. I've been here 13 years and if we're under the radar, I don't care,'" Morrill says. "If all of a sudden we get some notoriety, that's great, but it's not what we're living for. We're just trying to do the best we can. If somebody notices once in awhile, that's great."
It's hard not to notice the Aggies these days. They're as inconspicuous as a bloody nose. USU moved up from 21st to 17th in the coaches' poll, this week, having extended its win streak to 17. USU hasn't been ranked higher than 17th since 1975.
The Aggies bring a conference-record 25 straight wins into Wednesday's game at Idaho. One more and they will clinch a tie for a fourth straight regular-season title.
Moreover, the Aggies are ranked ahead of both North Carolina and Kentucky in the coaches' poll.
"What a wild deal that is," Morrill says.
The Aggies are the only team in America with a 10-game win streak each of the last four years. Their only two losses this year were to BYU and Georgetown, currently ranked seventh and 11th, respectively.
And while the situation may be wild, Morrill isn't. He's as hip as a farm implement. He buys his suits off the big-and-tall rack. He wears big glasses, is clean-shaven and eschews body piercings or tattoos. His hair has never known the caress of mousse.
Thus, his indifference to publicity is no false front; he really doesn't care. If he did, he would have left Logan long ago. With 12 straight seasons of winning at least 23 games, getting a job at a bigger school would be simple.
He loves the fact there isn't much media in Logan. Just give him his players and a gym and he's happy. He doesn't long to be on SportsCenter. He has his team — a mishmash of juco transfers, undersized recruits and LDS returned missionaries. He has his crowd, which led by Sproat is the best in the West. (BYU's crowd is deafening, but nobody's executes better than USU's.) And he has a contract that extends through the 2015 season.
"I keep telling people that at some point we're going to have a .500 team," Morrill says, "and they'll have to realign their expectations."
Not this year. If USU is careful, it will cruise unmolested into the WAC tournament. It does have a game at No. 23 Saint Mary's on Feb. 19. But even if that's a loss, it would be hard to turn down a 28- or 30-win Aggie team for the NCAA Tournament. USU will have then played three ranked teams this season.
If you're wondering why the Aggies don't build their RPI rating by playing even more big teams, the answer is that Morrill is stubborn about scheduling home-and-home series. Few major teams will play in Logan, and Morrill doesn't like one-way streets.
"Top 25 teams, on their court, you're going to lose, most likely. So I'd like to play them on our court," Morrill says.
Meanwhile, the Aggies are doing just fine with their nondescript, under-the-radar team. No player averages more than 14 points, and none is likely to stick in the NBA. Fine by Morrill.
"I've got a ton of respect for this group," he says, calling the 2011 team possibly his best defensive team ever. (It ranks in the top 10 nationally in three defense-related categories.)
So it goes, with Big Stew sweating the small and big stuff, half-expecting a flaming collapse any day.
"Fragile," he says, describing his situation. "Doing this is all just so fragile."
A fragility that, he admits, can turn even a conservative guy like him "pretty much wacko on the court."
Which makes it a perfect two-for-two. On the court and in the stands, madness rules the kingdom.
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