LOGAN — Utah State men's basketball will hold its first official practice of the 2013-14 season on Friday, Sept. 27 at 12:30 p.m. in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum as head coach Stew Morrill enters his 16th season at USU and 28th overall by welcoming 16 players to the court. Practices are closed to the public.
The Aggies are entering their first season in the Mountain West Conference with four returning starters as part of eight returning lettermen from last year’s squad. That squad started out 14-1 but lost all three of its returning starters to season-ending injuries by mid-season, as USU finished 21-10 overall and 11-7 in Western Athletic Conference play. Last year was USU's eighth and final season in the WAC before joining the Mountain West this summer.
"As always, as long as I've been doing this, I'm always excited to start practice," Morrill said. "This year is unique in that we're starting practice earlier with the new rule change where we get 42 days to get in 30 practices. It feels early, seems like we're just getting into a groove with back to school and workouts, and bang, here's practice. I'm excited about it because it gives you more time to teach, [and] you can go a little slower. It's like it used to be years ago, where you had time to do things and everything wasn't so rushed."
During the Division I Board of Directors meeting in May, it was determined that teams can begin practice 42 days before the first game of the regular season. During that 42-day period, teams will be allowed up to 30 practices. Under the previous rules, teams were allotted a 30-day period for 24 practices.
"The thing that concerns me is that we have a two-semester sport anyway. Our season is extremely long anyway, so you worry about burnout by the time you get to February and March. We've always tried to make sure our guys are still having fun playing basketball when you get to that time of the year and shorten our workouts a little bit," Morrill said. "We're going to take advantage of the 30 days of practice, but we're also going to make sure we take advantage of the days off. Like I told the players, the good thing is that they'll get some days off and some weekends off and two or even three days in a row off."
In previous seasons, practices did not start until the middle of October, allotting only two weeks of practices before the first exhibition games.
"It's kind of a work in progress. We'll see how it goes," Morrill said. "We're going to shorten practices a little bit compared to when we're trying to cram it all in when we've started around the 15th of October. We've got more time to put in our system. It should help us."
In 15 years at Utah State, Morrill has taken the Aggie basketball program to unprecedented heights leading USU to a 366-129 (.739) record, including a 186-62 (.750) mark in the Big West and Western Athletic Conferences. The Aggies are entering their third different conference under Morrill in 2013-14, joining the Mountain West.
While at Utah State, he has guided the Aggies to 14 straight 21-win seasons, as USU’s 13 straight postseason appearances (NCAA-8, NIT-4, CIT-1), was snapped last season, but both are school records. Prior to Morrill’s current run, USU had never posted more than three straight 20-win seasons and participated in more than three straight postseason tournaments.
With an overall record of 584-267 (.686), Morrill ranks 14th in the nation among active coaches and 47th all-time with his 584 career wins, while his career winning percentage of 68.6 percent ranks 19th among active coaches and 80th all-time. He is also one of 22 active coaches with 500 career wins at the Division I level and one of just nine active coaches to notch at least 18 20-win seasons. His current streak of 14 straight 20-win seasons ranks tied for fifth among active coaches and is tied for the sixth-longest streak at the Division I level.
USU is one of just five teams in the country to win at least 21 games in each of the past 14 seasons along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Syracuse. Furthermore, the 2012-13 season marked the 23rd time in school history that USU has won 20 or more games in a season.
The 2013-14 edition of Aggie men’s basketball will be veteran-led with four seniors returning in guard/forward Spencer Butterfield, guards Preston Medlin and TeNale Roland, and center Jarred Shaw. A fifth senior, forward Sean Harris, is still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out last season and his progress continues entering the year.
Harris’ absence from active playing time was part of 88 total games lost due to injuries last season. Junior forward Danny Berger collapsed in practice on Dec. 4 from full cardiac arrest and has returned to limited, controlled activity and is expected to be at full speed and strength when preseason workouts begin. Medlin suffered a season-ending wrist injury on Jan. 17, and USU’s lone senior last season, forward Kyisean Reed, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the same game, while Butterfield missed a game and a half with a hip injury. Those 88 games missed were the second-most in the country behind IUPUI, which finished its season with 125 games missed due to injuries and just ahead of North Texas, who had 82 games missed due to injury.
Prior to his injury, Medlin was leading USU in scoring at 16.3 ppg, as well as leading the team in three-point shooting at 39.3 percent (33-of-84), averaging 2.06 treys per game. He also was leading the WAC in minutes played at 36.06 mpg. Medlin was also shooting 47.4 percent from the field (82-of-173) and 81.8 percent at the free-throw line (63-of-77). He also snared 3.5 rebounds per game and dished out 3.2 assists per game, while swiping 1.0 steals per contest.
Butterfield and Shaw earned second-team all-WAC as well as WAC all-Newcomer Team accolades last season.
Stepping into Berger’s starting spot, Butterfield averaged 14.1 points per game as a starter after averaging 5.0 points per game in the first five games of the season off the bench, finishing with a season-average of 12.2 points per game. He also posted a total of seven double-doubles on the season, including a stretch of five in a row. One of his double-doubles came in the form of 20 rebounds and 10 points. Butterfield’s 20 boards was the most by a USU player since 1997 and the most in the WAC last season, as well as tied for the fifth-most in the NCAA last year. At 6-foot-3, Butterfield was the shortest player on the 19-player list with 20 or more rebounds, and he was just one of four guards on the list.
Butterfield made 49.8 percent of his shots from the field (120-of-241) a year ago, netting 42.5 percent behind the arc (48-of-113) and 83.5 percent at the charity stripe (66-of-79), which led the WAC, one of eight categories that he was in the top 13 among overall league leaders.
Shaw led the team and ranked sixth in the WAC with 14.2 points per game, while also averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, also leading the team and ranking third in the league and 71st in the nation. He posted a 53.9 percent field goal percentage (179-of-332), ranking fourth in the conference and 50th in the NCAA. Shaw was also 81st in the country in double-doubles with nine. At the free-throw line, Shaw averaged 72.3 percent (81-of-112). Defensively, Shaw averaged 0.97 blocks per game.
With a final season average of 8.4 rebounds per game (261 rebounds in 31 games), Shaw registered the highest single season rebounding mark in school history since Eric Franson in 1995-96 with 8.5 rebounds per game (282 rebounds in 33 games).
Utah State is entering its first season in the Mountain West after eight seasons in the Western Athletic Conference. USU opens the 2013-14 season with an exhibition against Central Methodist (Mo.) on Friday, Oct. 25, and then hosts Adams State (Colo.) in another exhibition on Friday, Nov. 1.
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The Aggies host USC in their regular season opener on Friday, Nov. 8, then host in-state foe Southern Utah on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
USU men's basketball season ticket renewals and new season tickets are now on sale. For more Aggie men's basketball ticket information, contact the USU Athletics Ticket Office by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or 435-797-0305 during regular hours of operation. Fans can also buy their tickets in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum or online.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.