Entering its eighth and final year in the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State men’s basketball was tabbed to finish first in the league by the conference’s media, while the coaches have picked the Aggies second, as the WAC’s preseason polls were announced Wednesday by the conference office.
Additionally, USU junior guard Preston Medlin was selected as the Preseason Player of the Year by the media and the coaches. He was also named to the first-team preseason all-WAC teams by both. Junior center Jarred Shaw was also chosen as the preseason Newcomer of the Year by the league’s media. The conference’s coaches also selected a second-team preseason all-WAC list, which included Aggie senior forward Kyisean Reed.
"It's early. We're only 12 practices in and as always, the preseason picks are a surprise," USU head coach Stew Morrill said. "We finished fourth last year and scrambled around to do that, yet we're picked fairly high in the pre-season polls. That's a positive in a lot of ways. It reflects on what's been done in the past and what our potential is. We have a lot of new players and a few returnees and we're just trying to mesh it all together. It's far from being meshed just yet. So we'll see how it goes as we get through this preseason and get toward conference."
This is the fourth year in a row Utah State has been picked first by at least one of the voting groups, being tabbed first by the media last year, along with being selected first by both groups in 2010-11 and 2009-10. It is also the fifth time in the last six years that an Aggie has been chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year.
"Preston is a really good player. He had a sophomore year that surprised lots of people," Morrill said. "We certainly knew he was a good player, but he probably surprised us even a little bit with the quality of year he had. As far as Player of the Year goes, what I'll tell Preston, and I've told a number of Preseason Players of the Year before, is it all really depends on our team's success. The actual Player of the Year at the end of the year is usually from the team that wins the conference. So if we've got a good basketball team, he'll certainly have the chance to be the Player of the Year. By good, I mean win-the-league type good. I think sometimes that takes some of the pressure off those players. It's not all on them. We've got to have a real good team for that to become a reality. It's a nice preseason honor for him, certainly."
Shaw's preseason recognition marks the second time in the last three years that USU has had the Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
The Aggies were selected as the preseason favorites by the media, receiving 232 points and 15 first-place votes. New Mexico State was picked second with 223 points and eight first-place votes.
In the coaches poll, NMSU edged USU by one point, with New Mexico State collecting five first-place votes and 77 points. Utah State also garnered five first-place votes but only 76 points.
In the media poll, Denver earned 181 points and one first place vote for third place followed by Louisiana Tech with 162 points. Idaho was fifth with 144 points followed by UT Arlington with 137 points and one first place vote. UTSA was seventh with 104 points, followed by Seattle (77) in eighth, San Jose State (61) in ninth and Texas State (54) in 10th.
Denver also took third in the coaches poll with 65 points. With 54 points, Louisiana Tech secured the fourth spot. UT Arlington (48) and Idaho (45) followed closely behind in fifth and sixth place, respectively. UTSA was picked seventh with 31 points, while Seattle U was selected eighth with 22 points. San Jose State (18) and Texas State (14) were selected ninth and 10th, respectively.
Medlin leads the coaches and media preseason first-team all-WAC teams, which consist of the same five players on both lists. He was joined by Denver junior forward Chris Udofia and Idaho senior center Kyle Barone. Louisiana Tech sophomore guard Raheem Appleby and New Mexico State sophomore guard Daniel Mullings round out the first team selections.
The coaches second-team selections include USU’s Reed, along with senior forward Kevin Butler (UT Arlington), junior forward Jeromie Hill (UTSA), senior guard James Kinney (San Jose State) and senior forward Tyrone Watson (New Mexico State).
Medlin was chosen as the 2012-13 Preseason Player of the Year following the 2011-12 season in which he was a first-team all-WAC honoree. He led USU in scoring last season with 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting 49.6 percent from the field (204-of-411), 42.8 percent from three-point range (95-of-202) and 80.1 percent at the free throw line (125-of-156). He finished the year ranking second in the WAC and 16th in the nation in three-point shooting, third in the WAC and 80th in the nation in points per game, and 10th in the WAC and 75th in the nation in overall shooting.
"It's a great honor. Obviously it was really what happened at the end of last season that got me this honor. It's really nice. Hopefully I can carry that over to the season and have a good year," Medlin said. "It's an honor, but because of what happened last year. This is a new team, a new season, with a record of 0-0. It doesn't really matter to some extent. It's nice to have the honor, but it's all about what you do in the season."
Medlin also ranked fourth in the league in free throw shooting, seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.70) and ninth in assists a year ago. Medlin was just the second sophomore in school history to earn first-team all-league honors along with Nate Harris (2004).
"Obviously I always strive to help out the team," said Medlin about how this honor affects season goals of being the Postseason Player of the Year. "If that causes me to be WAC Player of the Year, if that's what my team needs, then hopefully I can do that. They go a little hand-in-hand. It all just depends on what this team needs me to do."
Shaw redshirted last season after transferring to USU from Oklahoma State. At OSU, Shaw averaged 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field (12-24).
Reed, who was named to the 2011-12 WAC all-Newcomer team, averaged 10.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game, while shooting 61.4 percent from the field (135-of-220) and 67.9 percent at the free throw line (91-of-134). He finished the season ranking first in the WAC in field goal shooting, sixth in blocked shots and 14th and rebounding, and had 40 dunks to also rank first in the conference.
In addition to the WAC polls, collegesportsmadness.com recently announced their preseason all-conference teams and awards, and the publication tabbed USU's Morrill as the Preseason Coach of the Year. Medlin was on its first-team all-WAC list, while Reed and junior forward Danny Berger were on the second-team all-WAC list.
Last season Berger sat out the first six games of the year as a potential redshirt, but then started in 25 of 31 games played. Berger netted double-digit points 10 times last season, including three of the final six games, highlighted by tying a school record with five three-pointers in a postseason game as part of his career-high tying 17 points. Berger finished the year with a 6.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game average, while shooting 37.2 percent from the field (64-of-172) and 36.7 percent from three-point range (36-of-98) to go with a 76.9 percent free throw shooting (40-of-52).
Utah State returns three starters among five lettermen from last year’s team that finished the season with a 21-16 record, advancing to the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT).
USU enters its final year in the WAC having amassed a 178-65 (.732) overall record, including 83-27 (.755) in WAC games, going 8-6 last season, finishing fourth.
Besides the three starters, USU returns two other lettermen, including sophomore forward Ben Clifford. After redshirting his first year at Utah State, Clifford played in 36 games, starting four in 2012, and finished the season averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field (58-of-114), 38.9 percent from three-point range (7-of-18) and 72.9 percent at the free throw line (35-of-48) in 16.8 minutes per outing.
The fifth returning Aggie letterman is sophomore center Jordan Stone, who gained valuable playing time as a freshman last year and is expected to pick up where he left off in his progress from a season ago, as Stone saw action in 31 games. He tallied 2.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest.
Joining Utah State’s five returning lettermen are two redshirts, Shaw and sophomore center Matt Lopez, as well as eight newcomers. The newcomers are evenly split of four junior college players in junior forward/guard Spencer Butterfield, junior forwards Sean Harris and Marvin Jean along with junior guard TeNale Roland, and a four-player freshman class consisting of forwards Quincy Bair and Quinn Taylor, along with guards Riley Bradshaw and Marcel Davis.
The Aggies open the 2012-13 season Friday, Oct. 26, in an exhibition game against Grand Canyon at 7 p.m. USU will host Simon Fraser in an exhibition game Saturday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., before kicking off the regular-season schedule by hosting Idaho State on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. USU opens the season with four-straight home games at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Utah State men’s basketball season tickets for 2012-13 are now on sale at the USU Ticket Office.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.