James Madison guard Noah Freidel (1) tries to block a shot from Coastal Carolina guard Josh Uduje (14) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game in Harrisonburg, Va., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)
LOGAN — This is the final installment in a series of breakdowns of the many newcomers to the Utah State men’s basketball team. The Aggies added three more recruits in the last week, rounding out the rest of their roster (provided there aren’t any more players who enter the transfer portal) and its those three players — Josh Uduje, Javon Jackson and Jaxon Smith — that will be examined here.
In part one of this set of articles, we went over the five players who were known to be on Utah State’s 2023-24 roster as of April 21: Dallin Grant, Garrison Phelps, Kalifa Sakho, Karson Templin, and Nigel Burris. Part two took a deep dive into the next four recruits: Max Agbonkpolo, Darius Brown, Jackson Grant and Great Osobor.
To see a full list of who has joined Utah State this offseason, check out the transfer tracker which also includes an up-to-date roster for both men’s and women’s basketball.
Guard | 6-5 | 175 lbs | Coastal Caronlina | 2 years eligibility
13.3 points | 3.9 rebounds | 1.2 assists | 0.2 steals | 0.3 blocks | 42.1 FG% | 31.6 3P% | 90.5 FT%
Uduje is an athletic and lanky wing who brings a scoring punch than most of USU head coach Danny Sprinkle’s recruits. His likely role is to be one of if not the leading scorer on the team, and that’s going to put a lot of pressure and scrutiny on his play this season. His weaknesses will be put under a microscope more so than players in other roles. And with the team counting on him to be a shot-maker, he’ll need to pull through.
Players in Uduje’s position need to have a go-to set of moves that can reliably get them a bucket. Something that will be available to them even when the defense knows exactly what’s coming. As it turns out, Uduje has just such a skill-set.
He’s got a one-two punch of rim finishing and a silky-smooth mid-range game.
Among players with at least 45 attempts on mid-range jumpers, Uduje ranks 12th in points per possession on said attempts. He made 53.2 percent of those mid-range shots, a rate high enough to justify a fairly high volume.
That midrange game, alongside a 61.9 field goal percentage on attempts at the rim, Uduje has the ability to create a healthy diet of shots that he can make efficiently in most situations. If he gets by you he finishes well at the rim. Stay in front of him and stonewall his path to the rim and he’ll just pull up in the midrange and nail a jumper in your face. This will form the core of his scoring impact.
The mid-range and finishing combo is great and all, but there’s clearly improvement to be made. After all, though he makes 53 percent of his mid-range shots and 62 percent of his layups/dunks, his overall shooting percentage is a below-average 42.1 which is a bad sign for all the other types of shots Uduje takes.
The primary source of Uduje’s low overall field goal percentage is his below-average 3-point percentage (31.6) which he combines with an above-average volume (5.1 attempts per game). Uduje will either need to improve his 3-point shooting or cut back on that volume because it isn’t helpful to miss so many 3-pointers.
On the subject of Uduje’s 3-point shooting, whether he actually does increase his percentage is a question that will stick in the minds of Aggie fans. Uduje just finished his sophomore season so theoretically there’s time to improve, right? Well, yes, and there’s evidence he’s on the right track. Free throw percentage has traditionally been a tell-tale sign of 3-point shooting potential, and Uduje hit 90.5 percent of his free throws last year. There’s a pretty decent chance his deep shooting goes up this year, hopefully to at least average levels.
Guard | 6-3 | 190 lbs | Southern Nazarene | 3 years eligibility
15.8 points | 3.4 rebounds | 2.8 assists | 1.3 steals | 0.2 blocks | 45.5 FG% | 39.4 3P% | 76.1 FT%
Jackson will make the jump from Division II to Division I after a very successful freshman campaign. He racked up awards including Great American Conference Freshman of the Year and GAC First Team honors. In accomplishing all of that, Jackson displayed a solid foundation of production while also showing the potential to build further. If he develops no further than he already has, Jackson will be an elite catch-and-shoot guard, a capable ball-handler who can initiate offense, and an active and aggressive defender (yea, that’s just the floor and we’ve already checked three very nice boxes on the list of things you want in a point guard).
Assuming Jackson does develop throughout the three years of eligibility he has remaining, he can go from a rotation guard to a do-it-all, two-way player who has the entire offense flow through him. He’s an all conference, maybe even player of the year caliber prospect. Now, that ceiling is a long way off and probably isn’t going to happen, but it’s always great to bring in a player who has that level of potential.
Looking back at the things Jackson already does well, the first thing that really stands out is the 3-point shooting. Freshmen rarely manage to shoot 39.4 percent on 3-pointers, especially on 5.6 attempts per game. To put it in perspective, only two freshmen at the Division I level (Jackson played D2 so he’s not on this list) attempted at least 5.5 threes per game AND made at least 39 percent of those attempts.
Breaking down Jackson’s 3-point shooting allows you to see the divide between Jackson’s floor and his ceiling. Last year, per Synergy Sports, Jackson shot 48.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, an elite percentage. But on 3-pointers off the dribble he only made 32.3 percent. Now, that off-the-dribble percentage isn’t actually bad at all, in fact it’s pretty decent for the type of shot. But if he raises that he goes from teams being sort of worried of him shooting off a screen in the pick-and-roll to being downright terrified any time Jackson pulls up from distance. And that fear can break defenses which goes back to the “offense could run through Jackson” component of his potential.
Jackson’s ball-handling also shows his floor versus his potential, though the positive end of this only shows up on film while the negative can be seen in stats (and on film). Jackson has a tight handle on the ball and can dance around defenders with a bag full of dribble moves and a lightning first step. But he’s prone to turnovers right now. He committed nearly three per game last year and actually had more turnovers (90) than assists (88). For a volume scorer and lead guard, three turnovers per game isn’t a massive problem, but it’s something to work on. Becoming a more crisp passer will be part of the fix.
Defensively there’s a lot to like about Jackson. His quickness and size allows him to defend pretty much any guard he’s likely to face at Utah State and unlike a lot of players who have those tools, he uses them. He’s 110 percent focussed on every defensive possession and is always determined to never let his man get away from him. He’s not perfect yet, but that kind of commitment will never lead him astray and he should be a fine defender at the Division I level.
Guard | 6-1 | 190 lbs | Woods Cross High School | 4 years eligibility
15.6 points | 3.0 rebounds | 2.7 assists | 37.9 FG% | 35.1 3P%
Coming in as a walk-on there’s not going to be a lot of high-end expectations for Smith. But anyone who’s watched Utah State basketball in the last five years should know better than to dismiss a walk-on that plays for the Aggies. No fewer than three walk-ons in the last five seasons have not only become rotation players, but full-time starters. Abel Porter, Justin Bean and Trevin Dorius all developed into reliable members of great Aggie teams.
But enough about other players, let’s look at Smith as a player.
The number one ability that could carry Smith into the rotation and help him become a surprise player is his 3-point shooting. His 35.1 percentage on threes isn’t impressive on its face, but when you see all the different and difficult types of threes Smith takes, it’s impressive the number is that high for a pre-college athlete. Smith has very solid mechanics and, with time, could easily develop a lightning-quick release on his jumper which he could get off in any situation — catch-and-shoot, coming off screens, or even in isolation.
Smith’s shooting mechanics could also help him develop a great mid-range game. He already takes a decent amount of mid-range shots though there’s not a way to see just what the distribution of his 2-point shots are. It’d be helpful to know since it could provide context to his 41.5 percent rate on 2-pointers, a very low percentage for high school prospects. But if most of those twos were mid-range shots it would be a little easier to stomach.
One of the biggest things to emphasize about Smith is he’ll need to adjust and develop before he’s able to make an impact on the court. He needs to develop his jump shot to make it elite from both mid-range and 3-point range. He also needs to adjust to not taking 13 shots per game and being more of a playmaker. Smith has some playmaking in him seeing as he still managed nearly three assists per game despite taking 13 shots per game, but it’s not something that’s a primary skill for him.
Once Smith has adjusted to a smaller role and being a facilitator and lower volume shooter there’s a very real possibility he finds his way into Utah State’s rotation. Even a 6-foot-1 guard can find a role on a team provided he’s a fantastic shooter and capable playmaker. Smith can be both.