Utah State student section in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Spectrum Magic night. Photo by Lorene Hale
This is the second part of a three-part series previewing the three main position groups for Utah State men’s basketball — Guards, Wings and Bigs.
Last time we went over the five players categorized as guards (by the working definition of those 6-foot-3 and shorter). This time we’re going over the wings on Utah State’s 2023-24 roster.
Wings are more and more the lifeblood of any basketball team. These players are often the most versatile, bridging the gap between skilled but shorter guards and taller, but slower bigs. And with the right combination of height, skill and athleticism these can often be the most unstoppable players.
One of the key wings this season will be Coastal Carolina transfer Josh Uduje. He was mentioned in the guards preview largely because, on the spectrum of wings, he trends more toward a shooting guard/small forward. And with some questions about who will be able or ready to play at shooting guard, Uduje could wind up playing there. Ideally, he lines up at small forward, providing his slashing and mid-range shooting from an off-ball position, but he’s versatile enough to play the two.
What makes Uduje one of the most important newcomers is that among all players on this roster, he has the best scoring resume, averaging 13.3 points per game last year as a sophomore with the Chanticleers. He’s a player with enough athleticism, self-creation and shooting touch to lead a team offensively and be the guy at the end of the shot clock taking, and making, difficult shots.
As mentioned in the guards position preview, Uduje is probably more suited to play small forward, being less of a passing playmaker and much more a wing scorer. But with the roster construction being as it is (including Ian Martinez likely being ineligible to play this season), Uduje is quite likely to end up playing guard more often than either forward spot.
Behind Uduje there’s a lot of uncertainty and room for players to earn playing time, the two most likely being Mason Falslev, a feature in the aforementioned guards preview, and his fellow freshman Garrison Phelps. Like Falslev, Phelps is an older freshman, having played a season of post-high school ball at Link Academy and he has a lot of potential to make a year one impact with the Aggies. He possesses great athleticism and great size with a 6-foot-6, 192-pound frame and has shown a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Phelps was named Defensive Player of the Year in high school, speaking to his defensive hustle and ability, while also showing three-level scoring with a 37 percent 3-point rate while also filling up highlight reels with impressive dunks.
Shifting toward those likely to see more time at small forward and power forward, the two other biggest minute-getters on the wing are transfers Max Agbonkpolo and Nigel Burris. These two will either be starters together or wind up playing a lot of minutes despite one taking a starting job and the other coming off the bench. Agbonkpolo and Burris will wind up forming the core of USU’s wing rotation and provide a balance of skills that should allow the Aggies to have a varied approach on offense and defense.
What Agbonkpolo will likely bring is more size, athleticism and defensive capabilities. At 6-foot-9 and only a little under 200 pounds, he is a perplexing mix of size and ability to move around a basketball court. His defensive capabilities are greatly boosted by that combination. When he played USU last year as a member of Wyoming’s team, he defended guards, forwards and even centers as a highly switchable wing defender. And that’s what he’ll bring to Utah State. On one night he’ll be helping to slow down one of the better guards in the league, the next he’s blocking the shot of an interior big. Of all the players on the Aggies, Agbonkpolo brings the greatest defensive potential.
As an offensive player, though, Agbonkpolo has not been able to develop much throughout his career, largely relying on his length and athleticism to be a solid slashing wing. He won’t bring much on-ball creation but can make for a solid complimentary piece, especially if he can continue to raise his 3-point percentage (Agbonkpolo shot 30.0 percent from three last year, a steady rise from the 23.8 percent he shot as a sophomore and 28.6 percent as a junior). The biggest contribution Agbonkpolo will bring is putting pressure on the interior defense to protect the rim. It’s something that he did very well at USC, though that finishing ability did fade away while at Wyoming. It’s something Sprinkle will need to draw out of the transfer wing.
Burris doesn’t possess quite the same length and athletic capabilities of Agbonkpolo — standing a slightly shorter 6-foot-7 (although a bulkier 224 pounds) — but certainly makes up for that with his high-level shooting. Last year, as a freshman, Burris had one of the most efficient shooting seasons for any first-year player in the last 30 years. His 63.2 effective field goal percentage was one of just 14 times since 1992 that a freshman has posted an eFG% that high while attempting at least 185 field goals (with at least 85 being 3-point attempts).
Everywhere he’s on the court, Burris has found a way to score effectively. From beyond the arc he made 44.8 percent of his attempts. At the rim he made 68.8 percent of attempts (good for the 88th percentile among all players last year). He’s even solid on off-the-bounce shots. Much like Agbonkpolo, though, Burris hasn’t shown an ability to create these shots from scratch. He’s more at his best capitalizing on holes created in the defense than creating those gaps himself.
It’s easy to see how these two can create a very workably dynamic, especially on offense. Agbonkpolo can create pressure on the rim (along with several of USU’s bigs) and Burris will force teams to cover more of the floor with his shooting. If teams focus on one thing over the other they’ll either see Agbonkpolo finishing at the rim all the time or find themselves conceding open threes to an elite spot-up shooter.
Again, these two probably don’t start together on a fully healthy Aggie team, one will likely start at small forward with the other coming on later, but they should see a lot of floor time together, especially after the first round of substitutions and potentially in closing lineups (they could also feature in small-ball lineups). Once the first subs come in around the first media timeouts they’ll have to shift from the Aggies’ main lineup and its weapons to this duo of wings and its two-way, versatile dynamic.
The depth behind Burris and Agbonkpolo at the forward spots consists of a pair of true freshmen, Dallin Grant and Karson Templin. These are a pair of high school recruits with some similarities, but different strengths as players.
Grant, who comes by way of Cedar High School in southern Utah, projects as a potential volume shooter wing and stretch four, standing at 6-foot-8. In high school he displayed a lightning-quick release on his jump shot and a high-arching long-ball that hit its mark plenty. Grant shot nearly 40 percent from three throughout his high school career on a solid volume of attempts (about three per game his junior and senior seasons).
Aside from shooting, what Grant can bring right now is a question that can’t be answered yet. He flashed good athleticism and a good first step capable of beating high school forwards, but how he stacks up with collegiate-level players isn’t clear right now. There’s a foundation for an all-around offensive wing, and a capable-enough defensive player, but displaying that his first season in college isn’t likely for Grant. The fact he seems to have grown after leaving high school (was listed at 6-foot-6 by most places his senior season at high school) really helps Grant as he’ll be able to cleanly fit into the stretch four archetype instead of potentially being too short to play power forward and a little too slow to be a true small forward.
Templin possesses more athletic prowess than Grant and plays a more physical style. He racked up stats at Lovejoy High School, scoring inside and out, grabbing all the rebounds in sight, blocking shots and overall being a dominant force in the 5A circuit of Texas high school basketball. Templin flashed some perimeter skill at Lovejoy, being a decent enough 3-point shooter and a solid ball-handler for his size and position. With those skills and his athleticism as a foundation, there’s solid potential for his career. Him being more physically ready for college basketball could be a boon for him trying to crack the rotation assuming he’s able to apply himself and adjust to not being the biggest player on the court every night.
Depending on how healthy the team is overall and how much talent these two freshman show early on, there can be room for at least one to be a consistent rotation player. It may not feature too many minutes, and there could be a handful of games sat on the bench where there’s just not a good time to put them in, but one of Grant or Templin should see a fair amount of playing time — both if some preseason injuries hitting the Aggies linger and Sprinkle needs to dip deeper into his bench to retain a big enough rotation.
The final player in this wings category is walk-on Landon Brenchley. He is the only player on this roster to appear in an Aggie uniform in any game. Brenchley appeared in six games last year, played eight minutes and collected a handful of rebounds with a couple of assists. This year he’ll probably see a similar level of play, largely coming in blowout games.