LOGAN — At an open intersquad scrimmage last week, Utah State head basketball coach Stew Morrill could look down the bench of his split squad and see one or two players ready to enter the game. It’s a situation that Morrill was all too familiar with by the end of the Aggies' 2012-13 season. Injuries and transfers whittled USU down to seven healthy scholarship players. Utah State declined to pursue a postseason berth for the first time in 13 years because there simply weren’t enough healthy bodies to justify playing any more games.
While last season was a struggle for Aggie fans, coaches and players, it should reap benefits this year in the form of increased depth and experience. Jarred Shaw, Spencer Butterfield, Marcel Davis and the rest of the returning Aggies come back having played tons of meaningful minutes down the stretch last season.
“I think it gives us a lot of depth. We had a lot of guys get opportunities they might not have,” guard/forward Danny Berger said. “I think it got a lot of guys’ confidence up.”
Davis, Shaw and Butterfield won’t have to do it all themselves this year either, as the Aggies get almost a full team back from injuries. Preston Medlin is 100 percent after breaking his wrist last season. Berger is at full strength after a heart attack in December. Butterfield is rounding into shape after having offseason hip surgery. Forward Sean Harris is finally able to play after recovering from multiple knee injuries before last season even began. Power forward Ben Clifford is the only Aggie sitting out to start the season but is aiming for a December return from a foot injury.
The returning players will also get a boost from some pretty talented newcomers. True freshman Jalen Moore headlines the group. Moore dazzled Cache Valley last year at Sky View High, leading the Bobcats to a state championship. The 6-foot-7 wing has a level of athleticism that the Aggies don’t normally see and should contribute immediately, a rarity for a true freshman under Morrill. The other newcomer to watch is forward Kyle Davis. A 6-foot-7 transfer from Southern Utah, Davis gives the Aggies some experience and toughness in the post alongside Shaw.
“I think our potential depth is a result of having some new guys,” Morrill said. “We were in a makeshift situation and the value of their playing time was great, but we had some guys playing out of position.”
The increase of depth and talent is a welcome addition as the Aggies' schedule has been upgraded over the last few years. USC and Mississippi State will both visit the Spectrum in the non-conference, and the move to the Mountain West places the Aggies in one of the best basketball leagues in the nation. Last year, the MWC finished as the No. 1 conference in terms of the ratings percentage index (RPI), one of the key barometers the NCAA selection committee uses to help select teams. The strength and depth of the Mountain West was good enough to get five teams to the Big Dance, a far cry from the final few years of the Western Athletic Conference, where it was win the conference tournament or bust.
Add all of that up, and Morrill and the Aggies hope to return to the powerhouse team they had been for the previous decade and leave last season far behind.
“I think we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” Berger said about the team’s potential. “We have a lot of depth. We just need to all buy into the system and be there for each other.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
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