season a triumph -- validation for Morrill and staff
By G. Christopher Terry
March 24, 2006 | Summing up the recently ended Aggie
men's basketball season is one of those tasks that makes
the English language seem woefully inadequate.
There were brilliant performances. There were nights
everyone in the Spectrum will remember as long as they
live. And there were setbacks; indeed, the Aggies' season
ended on a down note as it does for all but one NCAA
Tournament team every year.
The '06 season marked the debut of Morrill-ball in
the Western Athletic Conference to rave reviews. Finishing
second in the conference with a roster of Big West players
everyone said weren't athletic enough to match up is
the kind of achievement the team deserves to brag about.
The cherry on top of this banana split of a season was
receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA's.
In the excitement over making the tournament and the
speculation on how the Ags would match up against Washington,
many people didn't seem to realize the significance
of being selected in the first place. For the 10-person
NCAA Tournament selection committee (the same body that
stiffed the Ags two years ago, when they spent a good
part of the season ranked in the top 25 and were frankly
more deserving of the bid than they were this year)
to give USU an at-large bid isn't just a nice surprise;
it's an event of great magnitude. It means that Morrill's
program has begun to garner respect nationally, from
people who have no idea where Logan is.
The success should be enjoyed like a fine wine, but
the Aggie Nation can't afford to get cocky and think
that second bid is always going to be there for the
WAC. Last Thursday I watched Montana show Nick Fazekas
zero respect, going aggressively into the paint from
the first possession as they pulled off a resounding
upset. Perhaps the Pack was down a notch after winning
a Super Bowl of a WAC championship game against the
Aggies. Watching at the time, I thought to myself, 'This
makes tonight's game a must-win for the WAC.' Hours
later, another Utah State basketball season was over
and our conference was 0-2 in the tournament.
Many observers, CBS's Jim Nantz for one, felt the
selection committee was tilted in favor of the smaller
conferences this year. The Missouri Valley Conference
placed four squads, as many as the powerful ACC. The
Missouri Valley, unlike the WAC, shut its doubters up
by getting Bradley and Wichita State into the round
of 16. I have little doubt but that next year's selection
committee will sway back toward favoring the power leagues,
as those commissioners redouble their efforts to deprive
deserving mid-majors of berths in favor of bigger programs
Will the WAC's poor showing this year become a factor?
It shouldn't, as the WAC's regular season credentials
were strong this year, but I suspect it will.
The best option for the Aggies is to get behind their
skipper and just win the damn conferene tournament next
year. To this end, I am crossing my fingers that Fazekas
turns pro. This year's Wolf Pack had only one senior,
sixth-man Mo Charlo, and the boys from Reno will be
loaded next year with or without their mega-talented
pivot. If Fazekas returns, the Pack will be prohibitive
favorites to repeat as champs and possibly deny us a
tournament spot. The Aggies still have Jaycee Carroll
and Morrill, plus a few returnees who only got limited
chances to demonstrate their abilities this year. Plus
you know Morrill will bring in a bumper crop of new
JC's including, hopefully, an instant impact player
at point guard. So my confidence in the Aggies ability
to contend is high no matter what, but if the NBA claims
Fazekas or Louisiana Tech's Paul Millsap, all the better
One player who will be gone for sure next year is
Nate Harris, the Smithfield native who stands as an
example of everything right about collegiate sport.
Harris is soft-spoken and polite and keeps his emotions
in check on the floor, because his game yells at the
top of it's lungs. I could list off his brilliant performances
for pages. Whether it was a crucial rebound or a layup
USU had to have, Harris has meant everything to the
Aggies and deserves an honorable mention to the All-Century
team. No one single play serves as a defining moment
of his career, but rather, for me, it's a pastiche of
every time Harris pump-faked as many as five times to
get his defenders off their feet, laid it in and drew
the foul. His signature craftiness in the low post will
be missed, but not as much as his humble, unassuming
Harris has gotten plenty of acclaim, but Chris Huber,
Cass Matheus and Dave Pak will be missed by the diehards
in the Aggie Student Section as well. Matheus ended
his career as one of the best shot-blockers in USU's
history and his fine play kept the Brazilian flags flying
in the Spectrum stands this year. Huber and Pak split
time at point guard this year without a whisper of ill
will or griping about playing time. Both got their teammates
involved and knocked down open shots, the definition
of a point guard, and if Huber was a hair better on
defense, Pak had a slight edge with his flashy ball-handling.
Pak's arrival at USU threatened to be shrouded in controversy,
but he shut his doubters up. I never heard so much as
a whisper about his conduct or manners. I was privileged
to study for some sociology quizzes with the Aggies'
oldest player last year and found him to be an engaging
personality blessed with quick wit. His popularity among
the student body is a testament to the quality of his
character and the quiet pride he carries himself with.
To the people out there Pak hasn't convinced of his
integrity, I have only this to say: imagine if the details
of the worst mistake you'd ever made in your life were
public knowledge and open to speculation and discussion
by your peers. Stop throwing stones and, if it bothers
you that much, pray for him.
On an ending note, I feel that coach Morrill's achievements
in leading USU to a new era of WAC basketball are deserving
of more than the mere devotion of the fans and the plaudits
of the pundits; Morrill should be recognized with something
permanent. The man has set the bar to incredible heights
and oversees a program in the midst of a historic run
of success. Randy Spetman and the other decision-makers
in the athletics department should consider an homage
many schools pay to their most successful coaches. How
does Stew Morrill court at the Dee Smith Spectrum sound?
Morrill's signature is already on the court in twenty
foot high figurative letters, we should show our appreciation
for a rare gem of a coach who shocked Rick Majerus when
he bought a house in Logan seven years ago.