Utah State Wins With Eclectic Collection
March 17, 2001
By JENNA FRYER
GREENSBORO, N.C. - The center is a 7-footer from Belgium nicknamed "Meat." One guard is a slick city kid from the playgrounds of New York. The other looks like he stepped right out of the movie "Hoosiers."
Meet Utah State, an eclectic bunch of players who came together to win the school's first NCAA tournament game since 1970 with a first-round upset over Ohio State.
"We try to find a good kid, wherever, however," coach Stew Morrill said. "We'll take a junior college player, a kid who has to sit out, a kid coming off a (Mormon) mission. If they're good quality kids, they can blend together and find chemistry."
The 12th-seeded Aggies (28-5) play No. 4 seed UCLA (22-8) in a second-round game Saturday. Top-seeded Duke (30-4) plays No. 9 seed Missouri (20-12) in the other game.
For the Aggies, of the Big West Conference, another win would be the biggest moment of their careers.
The team has five seniors - all junior college transfers. One of them is center Dimitri Jorssen, a native of Belgium led to Logan, Utah, by a former teammate on his European team.
Morrill first sent "Meat" to junior college in Texas, so Jorssen could learn both the language and the American game. That was Jorssen's first trial at fitting in.
"It took me three months to really start understanding people," he said. "There were different American accents on my team, so everything sounded like one big mumble.
"And the European game is not as physical or organized, and I got frustrated because I wasn't always sure what they wanted from me. It was a mess."
But it was good practice for when he got to Logan and was thrown into the mix.
There was guard Bernard Rock, a New York City native with nine tattoos, a pierced tongue and pierced navel, who was adjusting to life out West.
"In New York, there's always a lot of stuff going on and the West is kind of quiet," he said. "At first it was hard for me to sleep not hearing sirens and gun shots - I was hearing crickets instead."
There was also Shawn Daniels, a bruising 260-pound forward from Bakersfield, Calif., who enjoys philosophy and playing video games.
The three of them were expected to mesh with guard Tony Brown, a local kid from Hyrum and one of the few Aggies who will play four years there. With his crewcut haircut and throwback style, Brown has been nicknamed "Jerry West" by his teammates.
Morrill said the differences have never been a problem.
"One of my guards is from Hyrum, Utah, the other is from New York City and they get along just great," Morrill said. "Teams don't have to get along - it helps when they do, but they don't have to. If you get good kids, they will."
It's a recruiting strategy Morrill has perfected in his 15 years of coaching. In his early years, as an assistant at Montana, he went after freshmen. When he got a head coaching job at Colorado State, he learned a team needed some older talent to groom the younger players.
That strategy worked for seven seasons at Colorado State, where he compiled a 121-86 record. But it was a hard job and he soon grew as tired of Colorado State as the school did of him.
So he left, choosing to go to Utah State, where he figured he could turn the Aggies into one of the top teams in the conference on a consistent basis.
In three years, he has. This is their second straight NCAA appearance.
"It's been a great job for me," he said. "I think this is one of the premium basketball jobs in the league. The attendance is good, the community support is good.
"I've always said there's a five- to seven-year window for a coaching job.
I plan to stay 10 at Utah State."