LOGAN — It’s nearly 4 p.m. on a Monday at the Smith Spectrum. As seen many times in Utah State coach Stew Morrill’s career, Kyisean Reed sets a low-post cross screen, freeing up a wiry, athletic 6-foot-10 post player for a flush that welcomes shouts of approval from several Aggie players.
The moment is not the first of Jarred Shaw’s USU career. In fact, he’s been doing it for the better part of 11 months now. The only problem for Aggie fans and supporters is that it’s only been in practice, rather than unleashed on the likes of BYU or New Mexico State.
The Dallas native looks forward to “prove himself” starting Saturday in Logan against Idaho State, as the Aggies look to continue their 13-season string of postseason appearances and 21-plus wins with a collection of post players assistant coach Tim Duryea said is larger than any he nor Morrill have experienced in their USU careers.
The Aggies were picked first in the WAC’s preseason media poll while being tabbed second in the coaches poll.
“I’ve been excited to show what I can hopefully do,” said Shaw, often short of words but not without talent. The media’s pick for the WAC newcomer of the year a season removed from averaging 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds in 7.3 minutes during his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, Shaw is expecting more of himself this season.
“I look forward to being able to be a better low-post scorer,” he said. “I know I will have great opportunities to do it here.”
Shaw cited USU’s reputation for developing post players — that includes the likes of Spencer Nelson, a member of Spain’s Gran Canaria pro team and former Utah Jazz camp invitee. Shaw stopped short of saying he would lead the Aggie bigs in scoring, though he did so in exhibition play with a 13.5 average in wins over Grand Canyon and Simon Fraser.
He can partially thank Brockeith Pane for it. During the 2010-11 season, the two-season all-WAC point guard began to sell the USU program to Shaw from the quality big man angle. Officially released from OSU in May 2011, Shaw was seeking more playing time, although OSU coach Travis Ford had indicated Shaw would be a starting player last year. USU post players, including Jordan Stone and Morgan Grim, said Shaw was often practice’s best player.
When it comes to the court and inside play, Reed said he can’t wait for Shaw to join him, Stone, redshirt sophomore Ben Clifford and La Salle University transfer Matt Lopez.
The Aggies’ leading scorer among post players last year, Reed is not convinced Shaw will always be the go-to guy.
“We have a lot of options to do that,” he said. “It’s good that we have a lot of guys we can count on.”
Reed returns for his senior season after being named to the preseason all-WAC second team. The conference all-newcomer selection last season averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while leading the league with 40 dunks.
If he doesn’t play often at small forward, Clifford figures to back him up and averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds last season.
Stone, a Sky View High graduate who saw 34 games last season, will battle Shaw and Lopez for minutes at center. That balance will be found more in WAC play, however. Lopez, an Erial, N.J. native, arrived in Logan in December and must sit per NCAA rules until conference play begins at UTSA Dec. 29. Morrill said since only one of the three will be on the floor regardless — and with the top power forward in Reed at just 6-foot-6 — the size advantage is, well, diminished.
“Height isn’t such a concern for me as much as we got knocked around last year,” he said. “We had the ‘all-skinny team.’ We have gained a little strength and that’s what’s more of a concern for me. We need to hold up physically strength-wise during the season.”
Morrill mentioned Danny Berger on that team last season. Morrill has repeatedly said that the junior received an “unfair draw” last season, when his redshirt was pulled after six games. With some 20-plus pounds of added muscle, Morrill said Berger should be able to play both forward positions. Berger shot 36.7 percent from the 3-point line but just 37.2 percent from the field overall.
Regardless, no doubt exists that Preston Medlin leads the wings. The 6-foot-4 native of Carrollton, Texas, is the preseason WAC player of the year and last season became the second Aggie sophomore named to the all-conference first team.
A few junior college transfers will fill minutes left open by the departure of Mitch Bruneel. Spencer Butterfield was named California JC co-player of the year last season, shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc for Yuba Community College. Marvin Jean, a native of Harriman, N.Y., earned first-team Mid-Hudson Conference honors during both of his years at Sullivan (N.Y.) CC.
The point guard position may be the most uncertain on the team. The balance of the minutes will fall between TeNale Roland and Marcel Davis. Roland, a Louisville, Ky., native, was a D-II second-team All-American at Rend Lake (Ill.) College and should be the starter.
However, Davis might push him. The true freshman and American Fork native was an all-state player last season and played significant minutes in both exhibition contests.
The group represents a larger quirk: USU welcomes eight newcomers this season, the most since 2008-09.
“I look at the returnees from last year and I felt like they hung in there — did a pretty good job in some respects,” Morrill said. “You look at the new guys and they’re just trying to understand everything at this point. There’s so much teaching going on. Meshing it all together is going to be the challenge. Every season brings on new challenges. I like our guys. They’re good kids to coach every day and for me that’s always a huge positive.”