In a week the Aggie men’s basketball team will be preparing for an exhibition game.
While Utah State has made strides with nine newcomers, there have been a few hiccups over the past week. In a closed scrimmage against Northern Colorado last weekend, several Aggies did not even suit up.
“We’re banged up right now with some things,” USU head coach Craig Smith said Tuesday after practice. “That’s the hard part is we are trying to gain momentum into the season, but we are about as banged up as we have been.”
Starting center Neemias Queta continues to rehab a knee he injured in the summer. An exact date of his return is still not known.
“We have a game plan with Neemie, but we are going to sit down with the trainer this week and come together on some things,” Smith said. “His rehab is going great. He has done a really, really good job.”
Freshman forward Liam McChesney has been sick. Not only has he missed time, but lost weight, which is not good for the 6-foot-10, 185-pounder.
“He has been sick with the flu and now he has another deal,” Smith said of McChesney. “He just can’t get out of that rut right now.”
Sophomore forward Justin Bean broke his nose and has not participated in contact drills or scrimmages. He will be wearing a mask soon.
On the same day Bean broke his nose, 7-2 center Kuba Karwowski injured a foot. He was dressed Tuesday, but did not play during live five-on-five action. He also missed the scrimmage with Northern Colorado.
“We are two weeks away (from starting the regular season) and the NBA season begins, so it’s a great day,” Smith said. “We had a closed scrimmage on Saturday and I think I’m not allowed to talk about it, but it went well.”
Guard Marco Anthony also didn’t see action over the weekend, but he is not eligible this season after transferring from Virginia. The junior does practice with the team.
Then on Tuesday returning starting point guard Abel Porter got banged up and sat the rest of practice. Smith is confident the junior will be fine and be back out at practice.
“We expect all of those guys to be back in the next week or so, except for Neemie,” Smith said. “... I love our team and love how we are working. As you can see, we are just big. We have really, really good size. We take up a lot of space on the floor.”
At the end of practice Tuesday, there was plenty of enthusiasm. Guards Sam Merrill and Brock Miller hit some big shots, while junior forward Alphonso Anderson and center Trevin Dorius have taken advantage of playing time.
“All of our new guys have played well,” Smith said. “They go through the ups and downs. ... Alphonso has made really good progress the last seven days and the game is starting to slow down. The same can be said for (Sean) Bairstow, who is so versatile and can do some different things.
“Kuba (Karwowski) was really coming around, but then he got hurt. But that opens the door for a guy like Trevin (Dorius). Trevin has been playing really well right now. He has made strides over the last week. ... We have a next man up mentality.”
Center Klay Stall and walk-on guard Carson Bischoff also drew praise from the head coach.
“Our returners have gotten better and our new guys are really starting to make some progress,” Smith said. “It’s been fun to see guys over the past week to 10 days start to make some serious progress. I like where we are at. We have two weeks to get better, then we have five games in 14 days, so we don’t have a lot of practice time at that point.”
The closed scrimmage with Northern Colorado gave the coaches film to go over with the athletes against an opponent versus playing themselves. Smith said the team spent a good amount of time on Monday going over that film.
“The guys have clearly gotten better because of that scrimmage and looking at film,” Smith said.
“We are where we want to be as of right now, but we are not where we want to be in the future,” senior guard Diogo Brito said. “We are working towards that for sure.”
The Aggies also got ranked on Monday. The Associated Press Top 25 Preseason Poll came out with USU checking in at No. 17. It’s only the third time in school history USU is ranked before a season begins.
“It’s a great accomplishment that the guys have earned,” Smith said. “My old cliché is polls don’t mean anything except the respect you have earned. Our guys have earned it. It’s not something we take lightly, but we don’t talk about it. ... We want to go out and earn it. It matters, but at the same time, it doesn’t matter.”
For Brito, he wants to make sure the Aggies “show up” and “play like the ranked them we are.”
“If we do our job and play hard, we will prove we belong in the ranking,” Brito said. “That is not a team goal, because the team goal is to win the Mountain West championship.”
USU hosts the College of Idaho, a good NAIA school on Oct. 30, in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for an exhibition game. The season begins Nov. 5, when the Aggies host Montana State.
“It’s an exciting time of year,” Smith said.
“It’s exciting that it’s so close,” Brito said. “Things have been going great. The new guys have been learning quick. It’s been a learning process, but at the same time everybody is getting better.”