Practices begin for USU basketball teams with much to prove – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State student section, the HURD, during a USU men’s basketball game vs San Diego State on Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Robert K. Scott

LOGAN — On Monday both the men’s and women’s basketball teams ran their first official practices, preparing for seasons that will both begin on Nov. 6. Both teams have a significant amount to prove and little to back up expectations with.

Between the men’s and women’s programs there were 22 departures and 18 incoming transfers, with 25 newcomers overall. Altogether it’s a turnover rate of 75 percent. The men’s team also adds a new coach, Danny Sprinkle, to the mix, creating an even greater amount of uncertainty.

While shorter practices and workout sessions have been going on for weeks, Monday marked the first official practices which are also allowed to go longer than the summer sessions. Sprinkle said the opening practice was “good” and noted the extended time of the practice helped the team.

“The guys are competing and they’re finally in a little bit of shape. It’s nice to be able to go longer than an hour and ten minutes and you feel like you’re getting stuff done. You can slow down a little bit, you don’t have to rush through that hour and ten minutes.”

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The summer practice sessions are a newer phenomenon allowed by the NCAA. It’s a particularly helpful addition to the preseason slate since the men’s team is replacing literally its entire rotation from last year’s Mountain West Tournament finalist and NCAA Tournament team.

There’s a lot to be worked on and Sprinkle will be pushing a team full of transfers from power five teams like Max Agbonkpolo, Ian Martinez, Jackson Grant and Isaac Johnson, along with players transferring up from lower level mid-major teams like Nigel Burris, Josh Uduje, Great Osobor and Darius Brown.

“We’ve got to push them because we’ve got to be ready,” Sprinkle said. “Nobody cares that we have 13 new guys. Nobody cares that a lot of them are new and just playing with each other. We’ve got to find a way to get them to blend. And they’ve been doing a good job, like, they’re each starting to sacrifice a little bit more because a lot of the transfers that we brought in, they were used to scoring on their team and you only get one shot. One guy can shoot. All five guys can’t shoot on the possession. They’re starting to play more together which I’m proud of.”

One of the biggest anticipated changes for the team, aside from the entirely new rotation, is a change in emphasis from the great offenses under previous coach Ryan Odom, and a more defense-oriented style under Sprinkle. It’s a change expected not only because it’s what Sprinkle has done previously, but also because of the roster he put together and the weaknesses it has.

“We have to defend to have a chance to win this year,” Sprinkle said. “We don’t have the Ashworth and Shulga and Bairstow and those guys running around and scoring in a tremendous offensive team. So in order for us to win, that’s going to have to be our staple this year.”

The Utah State women’s team began its practices with a similar level of need to make up for offseason attrition. The top 10 scorers from last season are gone and the motley group of transfers and recruits will hope to do much more than simply replace those players who ultimately went 4-26 and finished last in the Mountain West with a conference record of just 1-17. Head coach Kayla Ard described this year’s group of players as “fun.”

“Their energy and their chemistry has been really good,” Ard said. “They spend a lot of time together off the court. They play pickup together, they come in and shoot together, and we do a ton of team bonding things. There’s a lot of competition and they compete really hard out here on the court.”

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Ard enters her fourth season as coach of the Aggies and her seat will be rather hot this year considering her overall record of 19-65 in Logan including two last-place finishes in the Mountain West.

“We’re excited about some of the talent we have out there,” Ard said, “and to see the girls finish practice with that much energy and that much excitement. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can do this year.”

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