LOGAN— The USU men’s basketball season might be over, but longtime USU head coach Stew Morrill took some time Wednesday morning to speak to the media via teleconference.
Morrill touched on many topics such as the injury plagued season and (the lack of) postseason play, but the biggest topic of conversation involved the Mountain West Conference the Aggies are heading into and the challenges they will face there.
“We’re optimistic and excited about the Mountain West. We’re well aware that it is a big step, and we’ll find out if we’ve got the talent level and the coaching level and all that to compete in that league,” Morrill said. “That’s something that our guys are excited about.”
The bespectacled coach said that his concern in transitioning from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West is probably twice as much as it was when the Aggies transitioned from the Big West Conference to the WAC.
“I know the nature of this business, and like they did when we joined the WAC, everybody will expect us to immediately step in and compete. Hopefully we can do that,” Morrill said. “We’ve got to get a lot stronger, (and) we’ve got to improve our skill level. We’ve got comparisons from around the Mountain West in the weight room for our guys to see when they each sit down with me to see where they stack up with the upper echelon of the Mountain West.”
Along with the major increase in conference competition, the Aggies should also see an increase in their nonconference schedule next season as well. Currently, Utah State is scheduled to open up its season at home against USC, with a game against Mississippi State scheduled in the Spectrum as well.
“We’ve got a home-and-home scheduled against USC. They come here first and we’re supposed to open against them. Hopefully a new coach will not change that at all, there’s a big buyout, I don’t think it will but you never know,” Morrill said. “When the schedule does come out and you throw in the Mountain West games, it will look like ‘Holy smokes, that’s a challenge,’ … It will be as big of challenge of a schedule as we’ve had.”
As USU enters the offseason and prepares for the future, Morrill said many of the Aggies’ injured players continue to recover. Forward Danny Berger continues to be able to do more and more as he recovers from a heart attack and having a defibrillator placed in his chest. He is expected to get a medical redshirt, though that decision won’t be made by the NCAA until after the season officially ends.
Senior-to-be Preston Medlin continues to recover from a broken wrist, while another senior-to-be, Spencer Butterfield, prepares to have surgery to remove a cist from his sciatic nerve. Butterfield has played in pain throughout the season, and especially over the final couple of weeks as the injury was aggravated. The recovery time from that surgery is anywhere from three to six months.
After rumors of surgery, Morrill said that junior-to-be Marcel Davis just needs to rest his ankles and they expect him to return to full strength. Meanwhile, the status of forward Sean Harris who suffered an ACL tear in preseason training continues to be a mystery.
“I felt that considering everything that went on after the injuries, our guys did a really good job. They could have cashed it in and didn’t. We stayed extremely competitive, finished 21-10 and 11-7 in league. If you look at it, it’s two separate seasons. I’m proud of our guys on both counts,” Morrill said. “I feel like the guys tried hard, competed hard, and had to fight through a lot of adversity. It’s one of those years that I won’t forget for a while. I’ve never been through anything quite like it.”