Credit: Twitter @Trigonis30 (picture left), PJ Panebianco and Paul Garrison/EVT

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SDSU men’s basketball added a surprise member to the 2023-2024 team. Veritas Prep High School announced the commitment of Magoon Gwath to the Aztecs on June 25. Gwath’s process in moving from a little-known prospect to a scholarship with the national runner-up is compelling. 

A year ago, Gwath was a member of Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. They tried to mold him into a back-to-the-basket center. Patterning his game after Kevin Durant and Paul George, Gwath did not take to Trinity’s system. He transferred to Veritas in the Los Angeles area last September. After only a month there, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, and Villanova began showing interest.

Brian Dutcher walks onto the court before SDSU plays FAU. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Those programs’ recruitment was short-lived because Gwath suffered a serious ankle injury, limiting him last year. Healthy for only the past three months, SDSU saw Gwath play during the Section Seven last weekend, offered him, and Gwath plans to be on campus next week on July 5. 

“I can shoot,” Gwath told EVT a day after his commitment when asked to describe his game. “I have good touch inside. I can block shots, defend. I have a decent handle. I just need to gain some weight, develop a better on-ball skill set. Just get more reps on ball.”

Trying to ascertain Gwath’s ceiling is challenging because he has yet to fully grow into his body. He stood six feet tall as a 13-year-old and is now a quarter inch short of seven foot. Gwath said that his development has been challenging because each time he grew into his body, his body grew some more. 

Gwath, who said he weighs 190 pounds, sees himself as a hybrid player who can play inside and out. If he is going to be able to compete away from the basket, he will need to prove quick enough for the task.

No matter how adept he is at shooting, he must possess the speed to guard smaller opponents, move off screens, and drive to the rim to thrive on the perimeter. Not surprisingly, this is where Gwath is focusing his attention. 

“Definitely the weight room, and just doing everything I do, try to do it faster, shooting faster, just speed up my game,” Gwath said when asked what he plans to do over the summer to try and contribute this fall. 

Given that Gwath thought his injury and lack of recruiting interest were going to force him to put off college another year, a redshirt year is a likely possibility. If that happens, he said he looks forward to learning from the upperclassmen and developing his game. 

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Men’s Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach

Helping Gwath reach his goals will be Daniel Marshall. The school announced in a statement Thursday that Marshall is the team’s new strength and conditioning coach. He also will oversee the women’s golf program. 

“My family and I are extremely excited to be joining the Aztecs athletic department,” Marshall said in the statement. “We want to thank coaches (Brian) Dutcher and (Lauren) Dobashi, the staff, and everyone else that played a part in this decision. Lastly, we look forward to meeting each of these amazing student athletes, and I can’t wait to help them to continue to develop physically and mentally.”

A Phoenix native, Marshall comes to the SDSU after five years at Arizona State. Prior to his tenure with the Sun Devils, he headed the Strength and Conditioning program at the University of Rhode Island. 

Jaedon LeDee celebrates against Charleston. (Derrick Tuskan/SDSU)

Marshall also has NBA experience, working with the Chicago Bulls in 2014. Even though he was only an intern, he planned all aspects of Jimmy Butler’s regiments and designed parts of Derrick Rose’s rehabilitation program.

“We are fortunate to be able to add Daniel to our team,” Dutcher said in the release. “His track record of successfully working with and developing high-level athletes will be a great benefit to our program. He brings an understanding of the needs of the student-athlete, and we believe in what his message is and are excited to have him here to help us achieve the goals we have set for our team.”

MLB Draft

From July 9-11, Major League Baseball will hold its annual draft. Numerous Aztecs are expected to hear their names called, led by one of the most athletic players in the country, Cole Carrigg. Carrigg recently turned heads with his arm strength at the MLB scouting combine, recording multiple throws over 100 miles per hour from the field.  

“I don’t even think we saw him scratch the surface on how good (Carrigg) can be,” SDSU head coach Mark Martinez said on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Podcast. “…Talking with all the scouts, as far as athletic grade from the 30-some teams, he may be the highest-graded guy in the country. Where that lands him in the draft, I don’t know. There’s still some question marks where he might play … there going to draft him as an athlete and see where that plays out. It was a joy to coach him, fun to watch him play.”

Cole Carrigg celebrating with his teammates in 2022. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

In addition to Carrigg, Martinez said he expects OF/P TJ Fondtain and C/1B Pancho Ruiz to hear their names called in the draft. Closer Kelena Sauer will likely also get drafted. As much as anyone, Sauer has been working out for numerous professional teams. SS Xavier Gonzalez has a chance as a low-cost pick allowing professional teams to use their draft pool on other athletes. Pitcher Jadon Bercovich has also had auditions for major league teams.  

Whoever gets drafted will join the professional ranks flush with Aztecs, including six in the major leagues. Martinez’s summer itinerary includes watching all of his former players in The Show. 

“We just had Casey Schmitt called up to the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants,” Martinez said. “I went and watched him play on Sunday after we played New Mexico, which was about eight days in the big leagues. I got an opportunity to meet some of the other players. It was amazing to hear Brandon Crawford tell me that part of the reason why they wanted Casey in the big leagues is not because he’s a great baseball player but because he’s a great teammate.” 

Taking Care of TJ Fondtain

After finishing tied for the Mountain West regular season title, the Aztecs unceremoniously bowed out of the conference tournament, losing their first two games. Martinez made an off-script decision that ultimately did not work out, but he does not regret it.

Most coaches would have moved their ace up a day to pitch him the first game of a postseason tournament. Martinez elected to pitch Fondtain on his normal schedule, which meant throwing his best starter for game two. 

Coach Martinez said TJ Fondtain has the most power of anyone he has ever coached. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

“(Fondtain)’s last three or four outings (before the conference tournament), the least amount of pitches he throw was 111, but then, you have to factor in the fact that he’s hitting and playing, he’s running bases, he’s sliding,” Martinez explained. “I was the guy who said, ‘We’re not going to change his throwing schedule.’ I didn’t want to be the guy who hurt the kid. … people might second guess the decision, but I’m ok with it because I didn’t feel we should put TJ in harm’s way.” 

Shohei Ohtani is the best player in baseball because of his ability to dominate on the mound and at the plate. His skill has opened doors for people like Fondtain to attempt to do the same. As more players compete like Ohtani, it will reshape some of the established rules of the sport. Moving a pitcher up and losing one day’s rest is common in baseball, but most of those players are not hitting in the middle of the order on their off days. 

Coaching as an elite athlete

As a player, head softball coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz was among the best the sport has ever seen. She was a three-time Olympian, a four-time All-American, and the national player of the year. Her resume was only surpassed by her skill. 

Mac Barbara sets up in the box. Credit: PJ Panebianco/EVT

Like many elite players who became coaches, Nuveman Deniz learned that so much of what made her special as an athlete was God-given. Her journey in the profession was a lot like former Aztec baseball head coach Tony Gwynn’s.

“That growth process was very steep in terms of understanding how to communicate something that in a lot of ways is innate,” Nuveman Deniz said on Episode 76 of The SDSU Podcast. “That was coach Gwynn’s thing; you do certain things as a hitter; some of it you’ve been taught, but a lot of it is hardwired. Timing, vision, the ability to see the ball, you can’t really teach that stuff. You can improve it, but it’s hard. Sometimes people just have it more natural. I think he did. I think I did.”

Nuveman Deniz accepted the assistant coaching position at SDSU from her hotel room in Beijing as she was preparing to play in the 2008 Summer Olympics. She spent 13 years as the team’s hitting coach before stepping into the top job two years ago. When she made that change, she switched roles and now works with the pitchers and calling games. 

Even though she had played on the highest stage this past year, the game gave her an experience she had never had. 

“I learned some things about my own emotional response to (the super regional) moment,” Nuveman Deniz said. “I’ve played at the highest stage this game can offer. Been there, done that as a player, but that’s my first super regional coaching experience. So, I even felt myself “feeling the feels.” And, that’s the cool thing about building something is that every step gives us information, gives us perspective as you move to the next step.”

Softball Transfers

Winning brings many advantages. Returning players gain experience playing in the top environments. Competing on bigger stages brings attention, raising the profile of the program. It also makes a school more attractive to prospective players. SDSU softball has already seen immediate benefits to its postseason success. 

Alyssa Garcia announces her commitment to SDSU. (Credit: Twitter: @lyssg19)

In the past, transfers like Allie Light (Arkansas) and Cali Decker (Florida) were under-utilized at their previous schools before coming to the Mesa. This offseason, the Aztecs attracted transfers who were starters at their previous schools. 

“The portal has been very good to us,” Nuveman Deniz said. “The competition is immense. It’s much harder to get impact players in terms of the competition … Their services are highly coveted, so players with experience, statistics, (and) proven stuff, they’re hard to nab. We’re in it. We’re working hard. We’ve gotten three incomers. All of them were starters and impact players in their program. We’re really excited about all three. They’re going to give us some depth and give us some competition.”

While the transfers have yet to be announced formally by the school, UCLA transfer Alyssa Garcia announced her decision to come back home for her final year of college. Born in Chula Vista, Garcia starred for Mater Dei High School, where she led the Crusaders to a 2019 Open Division Section Championship. 

She played 142 games for UCLA the past four seasons, starting 114 of those mostly at catcher and first base. Garcia boasts a career .292 average. 

More NIL Musings 

When NIL first burst onto the scene, all conversations around it had a wait-and-see aspect to them because the shape the new rules would have on college athletics was not particularly clear. While more evolution is on the way, describing the landscape of college football as a present reality is now possible.

“Realistically, what college football is now, it’s like Major League Baseball,” SDSU offensive line coach Mike Goff said in an upcoming episode of The SDSU Podcast. “You have junior college, which is Class A. You have FCS, which is Class (AA). You have the Group of Five, which is AAA, and then, you have the Power Five, that’s Majors.” 

One of the worst-case scenarios for NIL was turning programs without potent NIL offerings into de facto minor league teams from those with them; according to Goff, that is the present reality.

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