With the loss of seniors Justin Bean and Brandon Horvath, the Utah State men’s basketball team is in need of some big men.
That was the focus shortly after the 2021-22 season wrapped up and several have been signed. A third potential Aggie may join the team soon. USU head coach Ryan Odom is hopeful it will work out, but can’t comment yet on the athlete.
“When you lose two guys like Bean and Brandon, who were so impactful for us, we had to make sure we replaced them with potential difference makers,” Odom said in an interview with The Herald Journal. “... I think we have recruited well and got some guys that will come in and be able to shoulder that load. Not only guys that we have recruited, but guys that are returning. We need to help those guys improve over the summer and get ready for next season so they can elevate their games.”
Odom is excited about the addition of Taylor Funk and Isaac Johnson. Funk is a 6-foot-9 graduate transfer with one year of eligibility left, while Johnson is a Utah native with three years to play. Funk comes to Logan from Saint Joseph’s, while Johnson, a 7-footer, played last season at Oregon.
“Taylor has played a ton of college basketball,” Odom said of Funk. “He scored 1,439 points at Saint Joe’s. That’s a lot of points. He is different than Bean and Brandon, but he has some qualities of both. When you see him shoot a basketball, you will say he can shoot. It’s pretty. That doesn’t mean he is going to make it every time. Anybody can shoot, but we need to make it. He is a maker. He has shoot a good percentage over the course of his career.”
Funk has played 120 games for the Hawks, starting 100. He has career averages of 12.0 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, while shooting 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range. He has made 277 3-pointers during his time at Saint Joseph’s.
“He is not going to fly around and be athletic as Bean, but he can put the ball on the floor and plays under control,” Odom said of Funk. “He is not afraid to get into a physical battle. He has a feel for the game. When he has a mismatch situation in the post, he could certainly score. He is not going to back you down, it’s more skill. That’s something we needed last year.
“He could be a weapon with the way he shoots the ball. Clearly coming off last year where the numbers would say we are the worst 3-point shooting team in the conference, we needed to improve our shooting. Part of that is the guys here on the roster now that played last year, each of them getting a little bit better at shooting and through recruiting. Taylor is a big part of that. He can really stretch the floor for us in a big way. We had a nice passing team last year, and I think he is going to fit right in with that.”
Johnson saw action in 13 games last season with the Ducks, scoring 33 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The American Fork High School graduate was a four-star recruit before serving an LDS Church mission before heading to Oregon.
“Coming out of high school highly recruited, I’m sure Isaac felt going to college he was going to continue on the way it was going for him in high school,” Odom said. “He goes on a mission for two years, comes back and was in a logjam in Oregon. We saw them in person (NIT game), some big guys on that front line.
“Isaac fits our team well. He is not going to be the stretch that Brandon was. He is more of what Brandon was two or three years ago from behind the arc. We’ve got to work with him on that. He is pretty efficient inside of the arc. He can make short, mid-range J’s, post up. I think he has a really bright future. Most importantly, he’s got basketball talent and is really happy to be here and feels good in the environment here and his new teammates and coaches. That will allow him, if he works really hard and is committed to being the best he can be, he has upward trajectory and potential. We need to tap into that so he can reach his potential. He could be player that helps us this year.”
Another addition to the team is local star Mason Falslev. He signed with Utah out of high school, but upon returning from an LDS Church mission to Brazil, has decided to be an Aggie. The 6-4 guard is working on getting his legs back and competing against a deep group of guards.
“He has been really impressive, always in the gym working on his game,” Odom said of Falslev. “In high school, he was a really good athlete. He will get everything back. ... He has really good guys at his position, good mentors for him. I’m excited about his potential.”
Two other Aggies redshirted last year and will be added to the mix this upcoming season. Guard Landon Brenchley and forward Cade Potter are both freshmen.
Brenchley is from the valley and played at Ridgeline High School. He injured a shoulder and missed most of last season, so he has some catching up to do.
“Landon is a great kid and had a great high school career,” Odom said. “He is going to be a really good teammate for our guys, and we will see how it shakes out.”
Potter is 6-8 and could help with the loss of Bean and Horvath as well. The head coach said the forward has “major potential.”
“He is a good shooter, is a competitor and an achiever that wants to do well,” Odom said. “Those types of guys are really important to your team. They drive a higher level of competitiveness within the roster. He’s going to compete for playing time for sure. ... He is going to be a helpful player for us.”
Six Aggies return that saw at least one start last year. Guards RJ Eytle-Rock and Rylan Jones were in the starting lineup 29 and 21 times, respectively. Eytle-Rock was honored on senior night, but elected to return as he had one more year of eligibility.
“He has the game, he is a seasoned veteran,” Odom said of Eytle-Rock. “His physical fitness and health and staying healthy is really important. When you miss time to injury, that can set you back. He is focused on having really good last go at it.”
Jones also missed games with an injury and played off the bench for a stretch. The senior led the team with 4.5 assists a game.
“He (Jones) is an amazing teammate.” Odom said. “He is a wizard with the ball when he passes.”
Guards Sean Bairstow, Steven Ashworth and Max Shulga also saw multiple starts with 17, 15 and two, respectively. Center Trevin Dorius started one contest. Forward Zee Hamoda and center Szymon Zapala didn’t start a game, but saw action in 27 and 20 games, respectively.
“We do feel good about that core group of guys,” Odom said. “Now, the key is each one of them elevating their games a little bit. Maybe one takes off. We will see how things play out. I have been really impressed with how the guys have been working so far this summer.”
Bairstow and Ashworth are the leading scorers returning. Bairstow averaged 9.4 points a game, while Ashworth scored 8.3 an outing. Ashworth saw action in 33 of USU’s 34 games. Bairstow played in 25 games.
“Steven took a huge step during the season, really stepped up in a big way,” Odom said. “I was really impressed with his confidence, his wiliness to step up in big moments and his defensive presence was something we counted on as the year went on. His efficiency on offense was right up there with Bean. We are looking for a great year from him.
“... Sean is a really good player. I think him taking that next step will be really important for us. He knows he needs to improve his jump shot this summer. He doesn’t need to all the sudden shoot 47 percent like Bean, but he needs to make a jump. Part of its is taking the right ones, then be confident and repping it out all summer. He is a good ball handler, but can he become a really efficient ball handler and provides some mismatches at times.”