LOGAN — The list of big men who have thrived under Utah State University head basketball coach Stew Morrill grows longer every year.
Before Tai Wesley there was Gary Wilkinson. Before Nate Harris and Spencer Nelson there was Shawn Daniels and Desmond Penigar. This year, Brady Jardine aims to place himself among the USU greats.
Jardine's path to becoming a big man has been an odd one. When Utah State recruited the 6-foot-6 Idaho Gatorade and 5A Player of the Year, he was considered a high-level prospect at the wing position where he could use his seemingly unlimited athleticism to his advantage.
"I did whatever I wanted in high school. I brought the ball up, I played wing. ... Then I went on my mission and I grew two inches, and I put on 40 pounds of muscle working out on my off days and lost my muscle memory," Jardine said about learning the new post position. "I came back and the coaches said 'He's a four now.' "
When Jardine returned from a two-year LDS Church mission to San Antonio in 2008, he was given a redshirt to take a year off and placed in big man boot camp. The redshirt didn't last long, though. Following another player's injury, Jardine was pressed into action midway through the season and sputtered through a freshman season that featured less than two points a contest and a dismal 34 percent shooting.
"The only positive from my freshman season was winning the WAC championship," said Jardine. "It was so frustrating going back and forth if I was going to play or not. I was so lost and everything moved so fast. ... I really had a hard time enjoying basketball."
While everything was spinning around him, Morrill often remarked that the always energetic Jardine was the one that needed to slow down.
"It took a long time," Jardine said about when it finally slowed down. "My sophomore year was a little better. Towards the end of the year, I learned to pace myself and figure out when I needed to go all out and when I needed to slow down. Towards the end of that year, I said 'Forget this, I'm just going to enjoy it.' ... I still go a little fast, but that's just my personality."
His sophomore season saw noticeable improvements across the board, as he tripled his points per game to six per contest and nearly doubled his rebounding average to 4.6 per game.
The improvement continued as a high-energy sixth man during his junior season, and signs of possible greatness flashed early in the season when Nate Bendall was forced out of the Aggies' lineup with a broken foot. Jardine started in seven contests and nearly averaged a double-double a game with 10.4 points and just under nine rebounds per game.
"I'd like to average a double-double this season. If I don't then I'm not working hard enough," he said. "I just want to be able to look back at the end of the season and know that I gave it everything I can."
Just when it seemed like the learning process was over for the senior, the undersized Aggies are now asking him to learn how to play center.
"I like it," Jardine said about playing in the post. "I'm trying to catch on quick. ... Most of the plays are the same, just backwards, so I just have to try and remember that. ... I was undersized at the four (power forward) so I'm going to be really undersized at five (center). I just have to work harder. I won't out-power anyone, but I will outwork them."
While he works to perfect his own game, it's all about the team success for Jardine. Should he be able to lead the Aggies to the Big Dance this season, he will have a leg up on Wesley, Wilkinson and all the others who came before him and will become the only Utah State player to appear in four NCAA Tournaments.
"All that means is that I've been on great teams," Jardine said about the March Madness possibilities. "This year,8 I want to win another WAC title. This team is good, but realistically we probably won't win 30 games. We just need to have that confidence that in a close game we know that we are going to win.
"We have all the athleticism. We just need guys to buy into the system. We will get there and reach our potential; it's just a matter of when."
For both Jardine and the Aggies, this year the potential for greatness is there, it's just a matter of realizing it.
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