When it comes to well-rounded basketball players, no one is better than Utah State's Tai Wesley.
His numbers speak volumes. The senior forward's name is all over the career lists at USU. He is touted by the school as the most complete player in Aggie history and in the nation.
And here is the proof. So far during his career at USU, Wesley has 1,687 points, 838 rebounds, 351 assists, 138 blocks and 106 steals, ranking among the top nine in each of those statistical categories. The 6-foot-7, 240-pounder from Provo is the only player in Aggie history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocks in a career.
The only USU player to come close was Nate Harris with 1,475 points, 722 rebounds, 220 assists and 90 blocks. In the 49-year history of the Western Athletic Conference, only New Mexico's Luc Longley and Kenny Thomas, and Utah's Josh Grant have produced similar numbers. There are three other active players in Division I this year with at least 1,200 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocked shots. They are Jeff Allen of Virginia Tech, Keith Benson of Oakland and Kenneth Faried of Morehead State.
"He does so many good things for us," USU head coach Stew Morrill said. "It will be a shock to everybody not having him out there next year. What happens so often when we get out of sorts, when we're not sure what we are doing offensively, we throw the ball to Tai. That's our solution, and it's a good solution because something good is probably going to happen."
Wesley can put the ball on the floor and drive, which he does to help break the full court press teams try and use on the Aggies. USU associate coach Tim Duryea points out what may be his biggest strength.
"He was really well advanced beyond his years as far as basketball IQ and basketball skills when he came here," Duryea said. "... He is the guy you want on the floor down the stretch because of his overall game. His biggest asset as a player and what coaches I've talked to fear the most is his passing. He's such a gifted passer."
And opponents have stopped doubling him with another big man this year, because of his ability to find his open teammate. Guarding him man-on-man is not always a good idea either, just ask Saint Mary's.
A determined Wesley had a monster second half against the Gaels, scoring 17 of his 22 points.
"Tai was phenomenal in the second half at Saint Mary's," Duryea said. "I've had coaching friends from around the country that saw the game text me, ‘Wesley wow, what a beast.' He really was phenomenal."
Morrill called Wesley a "basketball player."
"He understands everything you're doing," the head coach said. "He is one of the smartest players I've ever had."
Listing Wesley among players like Harris, Spencer Nelson, Desmond Penigar and Shawn Daniels makes No. 42 squirm a bit. Morrill doesn't hesitate, however, to include him among those former Aggie greats who played his position.
"He's cut from the same cloth as Nate, Spencer, Desmond and Shawn Daniels," Morrill said. "He's a high character, hard nosed, great leader. ... He also has a big heart with people and his teammates. He's a special guy for sure."
Wesley has been a part of the USU program for seven years. He redshirted the 2004-05 season, then served an LDS Church mission in Mexico. Upon returning for the 2007-08 campaign, Wesley became a starter eight games into that season. His name has been announced at the start of every game since, with the exception of one. His 124 career starts ranks third in school history, and he is tied with teammate Tyler Newbold for most games played in with 135.
"He's had an amazing seven-year span," Morrill said. "... Tai has started for four years and four championships and all the wins later, he can feel extremely ... proud of what he has accomplished individually and collectively with his teammates."
Wesley and Newbold are the only Aggies to start every game this season, as well as be a part of the winningest senior class ever at USU. Pooh Williams and Matt Formisano are a part of that four-year span, where the Aggies have gone 107-27.
"I really don't think about that, but I'm sure I will down the road," Wesley said. "That's something special, especially with some of the guys that have come through Utah State, because we have a great tradition here."
As his senior season winds down, Wesley has used similar phrases about not thinking about special moments or milestones. For example, having played his last game in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum last Saturday, Wesley didn't want to acknowledge that fact.
"I haven't thought about it at all," Wesley said of his playing days in the Spectrum being over. "I don't really want to come to that realization that it's done, but I'm sure it will hit me hard once this whole ride is over."
Yes, the ride.
Wesley likes winning as much as anyone, but he also enjoys having fun. Like body surfing in the crowd following the Senior Night win last Saturday. The rest of the seniors were supposed to join him, but didn't.
"The seniors really abandoned me on that one," Wesley quipped. "They all chickened out. That's OK. I did it and had fun."
Wesley enjoys interacting with people. Perhaps that is why he has become such a well-rounded team player.
Many fans see a serious side on the court.
"On the court, I'm pretty tense and emotional," Wesley said. "Off the court, I'm just happy and not a lot gets under my skin."
He definitely has a different side away from the court.
"Oh, I'm a goofy guy," Wesley said. "I'm trying to have fun. At times I'm called a little immature. I'm just a guy that has fun, care free and jokes around all the time. ... You put me in a room, and I will talk to anybody."
He enjoys playing with his nephews and nieces, as well as visiting with Aggie fans. Longtime USU booster Del Niederhauser is well aware of Wesley's joking and caring side. Wesley likes to scare Niederhauser, who travels with the team, but can also be seen pushing him through airports in a wheelchair when it is a long distance to walk.
Whether he likes it or not, Wesley has gained plenty of national attention this year as the leader of the Aggies. He didn't feel comfortable saying he is the face of the program right now, even though a picture of him was on the front page of Friday's edition of USA Today.
"It's been a great ride for myself and the other seniors," Wesley said.
He was the WAC Preseason Player of the Year and will most likely be named the league's MVP, which will be announced Sunday. Morrill believes his senior forward is deserving, while Wesley wants to share the attention with his teammates.
Wesley currently is second in the WAC in field goal percentage (.597), fourth in rebounding (7.9), sixth in blocked shots (1.0) and seventh in scoring (14.7). He also leads the Aggies in charges taken with 12.
And he is the only current Aggie to have shattered a backboard. That happened just before the start of the second half against Montana Western. He always dunks twice before the officials come out for the second half and on the second one it happened.
"I think that has pretty much died down," Wesley said of the attention for breaking a backboard. "That was something I've never done before, something I can tell my kids. I shattered a backboard and have pictures to prove it."
That tough-guy persona - he has had two broken noses over the last two seasons - has been good and bad for Wesley. Early in his USU career, it seemed officials kept an eye on him after being ejected from a game at San Jose State as a sophomore. Did he get a bad rap?
"I feel like I have had a bad rap the last few years," Wesley said. "This year has been different. I feel I've been able to stay out of foul trouble. I don't think I've got a technical this year yet, so it's changed. I feel the refs have acknowledged that, and I've been able to change that bad rap that I did have. I'm not a guy that's going to cheap shot you first, but I will get you if you get me."
Foul trouble is the one thing that has given Morrill and Duryea fits over the years. Wesley is such a valuable weapon, they hated seeing him on the bench next to them in crucial situations.
After fouling out of 20 games his first three years, Wesley has fouled out just four times this season. Morrill has made sure to stick up for his power forward when talking to officials.
"Tai is a high quality kid and I've told some (officials) that," Morrill said. "I would protect him all the way to you know where if I had to."
Wesley graduated last spring with a degree in exercise science and has been working on a master's in corporate wellness. He said he "has no clue" about what he wants to do, then quickly added: "Gain 50 pounds ... be a family man, have a white-picket fence and a dog and kids."
He would like to play more basketball before that, though. Duryea believes Wesley could easily take his game to Europe where other Aggies have made a good living.
As his career winds down, Wesley said there are a "ton" of memories. He listed the Saint Mary's game, a tip-in at home to beat Utah, beating BYU and cutting down the nets over the last four seasons.
How would he like to be remembered by Aggie fans?
"A guy that's always smiling, wears his emotions on his sleeves and just having fun," Wesley said. "A guy that comes out and plays good basketball."
Before he hangs up his USU jersey for good, Wesley would like nothing more than to enjoy some postseason success.
"When we're on it and we're playing together, we can hang with anybody in the country," Wesley said. "We really feel like that. We're looking to make some noise here in a couple of weeks.
"... This is my last year so I'm trying to enjoy every part of it."
So far, he has had a lot to enjoy.
Tai Wesley career rankings at Utah State
Points — 8th, 1,687
Rebounds — 7th, 838
Assists — 8th, 351
Blocks — 3rd, 138
Steals — 9th, 106
FG’s made — 6th, 635
FG percentage — 4th, .596
10-point games — 3rd, 97
FT’s made — 6th, 412
FT’s attempted — 6th, 583
Games played — T1st, 135
Games started — 3rd, 124
Minutes played — 7th, 3,645