LOGAN, Utah - Utah State men’s basketball held its first official practice of the 2017-18 season on Friday, although the team already feels ahead of the curve following a foreign tour to Italy in August. The tour allowed the team 10 days of practice leading up to the event, meaning day 1 on Friday, was more like day 11.
“It was a lot different today, a lot different feel out there,” third-year head coach Tim Duryea said. “The first few minutes were a little raggedy, they were sped up a bit, but as we go going it had a lot different feel than a normal first day of practice with all of those new guys. Today was really like practice 11, and felt a lot like that the last hour or so.
“We are way ahead of schedule,” he continued. “You can see that more with the new guys than with the returners. The new guys have a lot better feel with what you are trying to do and have a lot more confidence.”
Utah State is breaking in five newcomers in junior transfers DeAngelo Isby and Dwayne Brown, Jr., and freshmen Crew Ainge, Justin Bean and Brock Miller. Those five are joined by three redshirts in freshmen Klay Stall, Abel Porter and Daron Henson, making up the influx of eight new players to the Utah State roster.
Those eight are joined by a group of seven returners in making up the rest of the 2017-18 squad. Headlining the bunch are sophomore guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill, coming off strong freshmen campaigns, including a Mountain West Freshman of the Year award for McEwen. McEwen finished second on the team with 14.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season, the most by a freshman since Jaycee Carroll averaged 14.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a freshman during the 2004-05 season. Merrill led the Aggies with 98 assists last season and finishing seventh in the nation with a 3.27 assist to turnover ratio.
Utah State will be without junior center Norbert Janicek for the year, following season-ending knee surgery this week. Janicek appeared in all 31 games for the Aggies last season, starting in 27, and led the team in field goal percentage, shooting 58.0 percent (91-of-157) from the floor.
“We won’t be able to replace his size,” Duryea said. “We look a lot different when we have Alex (Dargenton) or Quinn (Taylor) at the five than when we have Norbie (Janicek) at the five. We will just have to adjust. We are going to be different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those two (Alex and Quinn) are not traditional five’s, but they will be very hard to guard for other teams’ fives.
“It will be up to us as coaches to figure out ways to put them in positions where they can use what they have as advantages,” he continued. “Obviously, we are going to be undersized a lot of nights, but we know that going in. We’ll need to be a little creative defensively to cover that up, but offensively, that can work in your favor because we’ll be a little unconventional at that spot.”
Both Taylor and Dargenton appeared in every game for the Aggies last season with Dargenton leading Utah State with 34 blocks. Taylor made his mark on the offensive glass, finishing second on the team with 46 offensive rebounds during the season.
Senior guard Julion Pearre, the only fourth-year senior for the Aggies this season, will be looked to for senior leadership and echoed Coach Duryea’s thoughts about the team being that much farther ahead because of the foreign tour.
“Having those 10 extra practices and having those four games, really gave us a month head start over everybody else,” he said. “We’ve already developed a strong team chemistry, have worked on offensive plays and have already gotten our defensive core set. It was a big advantage.”
Utah State will host Primetime Madness on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m., providing fans a sneak peek at the season, and then host its season opener on Nov. 3, facing the University of Providence, formerly Great Falls. USU will then travel to Weber State for the regular season opener in Ogden, on Friday, Nov. 10.
Utah State men’s basketball news and information is available on Facebook (facebook.com/usumen’sbasketball) and on Twitter (@usubasketball). Fans can also get USU men’s basketball highlights on YouTube (youtube.com/utahstateathletics). Aggie fans can follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter (@usuathletics), on Facebook (facebook.com/usuathletics) or on Instagram (@usuathletics).
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