New USU coach Wesley Brooks talks about taking job, building roster, expectations for first season | Sports

LOGAN — In an exclusive interview on the Full Court Press (on 106.9 FM/1390 AM The FAN), new Utah State women’s basketball head coach Wesley Brooks opened up about the process of him getting the job, what it’s been like the first few weeks, and breaks down recruiting his roster and how it’ll stack up with the rest of the Mountain West among other things.

There’s still nearly five months until the Aggies will take to the court once again, but it’s always time to find out more about what the team may look like when it does so.

Here’s what Brooks revealed in his interview.

How Brooks learned of and landed the job at USU

Utah State’s season ended before quite a few teams and among those was Ohio State where Brooks was an assistant last season. Brooks felt the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes had a team capable of making a deep run and was obviously focused on making that happen. But the coaching carousel waits for nothing and so Brooks was made aware of the Aggies’ coaching vacancy by his agent and prior to Ohio State’s second round game against Duke, USU athletic director Diana Sabau herself was reaching out to Brooks.

Brooks’ roots are in the eastern United States as a native of Virginia and with much of his coaching experience coming from teams many miles east of Utah. And yet he has connections to the Beehive State, the most recognizable being his two years as an assistant at the University of Utah from 2015-17. He’d even been to Logan, not just during a Utes trip to play the Aggies in 2015, but also on recent recruiting trips which likely included watching Ridgeline five-star recruit Emilee Skinner.

So when his agent, and later USU athletic director Diana Sabau, asked if he’d be interested in the job the answer both times was “yes,” and the conversation went from there, accelerated by the fact Ohio State wound up losing in the second round of the tournament.

“Unfortunately, we lost early, but it gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into this job,” Brooks said. “It’s been a whirlwind of a two months, but very glad to be settled in Logan and glad to be the new coach here of the women’s basketball team.”

Recruiting a new roster

Much like in previous seasons, Utah State’s roster got decimated by offseason departures via either graduation or the transfer portal. A total of nine players have left, eight of those by transferring. It’s becoming an increasingly common task for coaches to have to build a roster. With nine spots to fill, Brooks went to his staff with one key attribute to find and bring to Logan: 3-point shooting.

“I think shooting is the most important thing,” Brooks said. “One of my favorite coaches, and he won a game in the NCAA Tournament this year, is Greg Kampe and he says if you can shoot you can play this game. And I’ve always believed that.”

The roster, which is nearly full with 14 rostered players, reflects that commitment to shooting as nearly every player on the roster is or has the potential to be at least a viable, if not elite, shooter at the collegiate level.

One of the challenges Brooks faced was a struggle to reel in transfers. Of the incoming players, most are freshman with only three transfers and only one of those three being a Division I transfer. 

“In this day and age with the portal, you better have a large amount of money to go get kids out of the portal. We’re just not in that place yet,” brooks said. “We have a great collective, we have great resources. But our program is not in that place yet to be able to go and land a kid out of the portal and meet those demands.”

“My Fab Five” – A talented freshman class

On the note of freshman recruits, Utah State’s five incoming high school graduates — Carlie Latta, Denae Skelton, Karlie Banks, Ava Smith and Elise Livingston —are all potentially dominant forces, and in multiple ways. The group includes high-volume scorers like Latta or potential lockdown defenders such as Livingston. All are great 3-point shooters, a crucial trait for a Brooks-coached team (see later section). Brooks has high hopes for these freshman, referring to them as his “Fab Five.”

Senior Year Stats of USU’s incoming freshmen

Name School Pts/Gm Reb/Gm Ast/Gm
Carlie Latta Minico (ID) 28.2 6.7 4.9
Denae Skelton Kelowna (Canada) 20.0 4.0 5.0
Karlie Banks Sandpoint (ID) 18.5 6.6 1.3
Ava Smith Union (WA) 17.3 5.9 3.4
Elise Livingston Ridgeline (UT) 14.7 1.8 2.6

“I call them my Fab Five because I think they’re all talented and I think they all have unique abilities and they’ll fit perfectly in a system,” Brooks said. “And I joke with a lot of people and I joke with our staff that at some point you’re gonna see all five of them on the floor together.”

With freshman making up more than a third of scholarship players, it’s quite possible that Brooks joking about playing five freshman at the same time is only partially a joke. A successful season from the Aggies would have to include two or more of these five freshmen making an immediate and high-level impact.

Scheduling Philosophy

Last year’s non-conference schedule is not one that could be called rigorous or tough. Four of the 11 opponents ranked 274th or lower in the final NET with another two being non-Division I opponents. Three of the remaining five didn’t crack the NET’s top 175.

While the full schedule won’t be revealed for some time, there is at least one team Brooks said will be on there: the University of Utah. The Utes are currently a high-level program with three straight 20-win season accompanied by trips to the NCAA Tournament. In 2022-23, they also made a trip to the Sweet 16 and in this most recent WNBA Draft, the Utes had one of their stars, Alissa Pili, drafted eighth overall.

“Lynne Roberts has done a hell of a job with the University of Utah program. For what they’ve accomplished and what they do, that’s going to be a great measuring stick for us. So I’m very excited to get down to Salt Lake and play them.”

Clearly, Brooks is willing to pit his young squad against one of the best in the region and use those programs as the measuring stick for trying to turn his own around.

Fast-paced, 3-point heavy style

Former head coach Kayla Ard sought to play a fast-paced style. It was her identity as an offensive coach and the Aggies lived up to that for most of her tenure, ranking in the top 60 in pace for three of Ard’s four seasons per Basketball Reference, including being ninth in 2020-21 and 24th in 2021-22.

That pace steadily decreased relative to the rest of the league over time, with Utah State being average in pace of play this past season. Brooks is determined to push the pace and go all-out on both ends of the court, smothering all 94 feet on defense and be willing to shoot from virtually anywhere in their half of the court on offense.

You can probably guess, based on the earlier note of Brooks heavily emphasizing shooting in the recruits he’d go after, but the stunning revelation from Brooks stemming from that is he plans on having his team shoot 40 3-pointers per game. An absolutely absurd average. To put that number into perspective, the Aggies have never had a single game in which they attempted 40 threes. Not even once in its entire history. And the NCAA leader in 3-point attempts per game last year, Marshall, averaged just over 31. Had the Aggies met Brooks’ benchmark last season, threes would have accounted for just under 75 percent of their total field goal attempts.

“We have a couple kids where they’re going to pull it from half court,” Brooks said. “So we’re gonna see some Caitlin Clark-type stuff here. Not that they’re Caitlin Clark, but we’re gonna play (like) that.”

The 40 attempts per game number is almost certainly an exaggeration, with the half-court shooting only slightly less. But the message is quite clear. The Aggies are going to play with reckless abandon this upcoming season on offense and defense. High-risk, high-reward stuff. It’s likely going to results in some new team records set, potentially both good (3-pointers made, turnovers forced) along with some less-good (turnovers on offense, missed 3-pointers).

Goals both lofty and realistic

The elephant in the room with the program is its recent history. Over the last five years the Aggies rank 349th out of 362 teams in win/loss percentage, sitting at .221 (32-113). Isolated to the last two seasons it gets even uglier as not only does USU rank in the bottom 10 in overall record (9-51), but the Aggies own the fourth-worst point differential, having been outscored by 1,089 points in the last 60 games since the start of the 2022-23 season.

Brooks understands that reality and has set goals for the team to reach in year one. First and foremost is to be capable of hitting back against teams. Brooks himself admitted the team is going to take its lumps, especially with a big freshman class, but he wants to deliver some of the pain back to the opposing side.

“As I tell everybody, we’re gonna take some lumps but we’re also going to give out some lumps,” Brooks said. “It’ll be a work in progress, but it’s gonna be really fun and the community will get to see these kids grow up.”

A more specific goal Brooks laid out is simple: finish in the top five of the Mountain West standings. Not the most high-reaching goal on its face but it’s also something the Aggies have never done since joining the conference (USU’s best end-of-season standings finish is sixth, done in 2016-17 and 2018-19).

Another specific goal highlights another thing the Aggies haven’t done as a member of the Mountain West — get past the second round of the conference tournament.

While these realistic goals are nice, most of them are means to an end, that end being a conference title. Brooks’ program is surrounded by others in the athletic department that have won conference championships either this year or in recent seasons — some of whom had to make dramatic turnarounds in the programs’ fortunes to do so. Getting to that same level is the ultimate goal.

“I wanna win the Mountain West year one. How does that look? I don’t know. But we’re gonna be working every day towards that and we’re gonna get one percent better every day towards that,” Brooks said. “The goal will always be, in any season, to win the conference championship.”

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