Aztecs are a finalist for Noah Gurley

Credit: Furman Athletics

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Credit: USA Today Sports

The San Diego State University Aztecs are finalists for forward Noah Gurley. 

Matt Mitchell’s career at San Diego State ended with a degree in the classroom and Mountain West Player of the Year recognition on the court. When the future Aztecs Hall of Famer decided to turn his attention to his professional career, it left a sizeable void for SDSU coaches to fill.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and two assists a game while shooting 43.6% from the field.

Beyond the stats, though, Mitchell’s versatility will be sorely missed. Capable of playing and guarding four of the five positions on the court, Mitchell embodied the positionless style of play that was, in many ways, created by Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher at Michigan, with players like Jalen Rose, and at SDSU with players like Kawhi Leonard. Replacing Mitchell is among the top priorities for the Aztecs’ coaching staff, and they took a huge step in that direction on Sunday.

Former Furman forward Noah Gurley announced his top eight transfer destinations this morning on Twitter, and SDSU made the cut.

He plans to make his decision in one week.

“I want to go to a winning school with a good culture and an opportunity to play,” Gurley told the East Village Times on Sunday. “I’m also looking to continue developing and growing my game. I like SDSU because they fit all those things.”

Gurley’s numbers are remarkably similar to Mitchell’s. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting 48.8% from the field. Furman plays the same positionless style of basketball, so Gurley “believe(s) I’ll fit right in (at SDSU).” His play on the court certainly suggests this is true.

Defensively, he might even be more versatile than Mitchell. Gurley can guard anyone on the court. At 6’8”, he has the quickness to guard smaller players and the length and athleticism to guard bigger players in the post.

Offensively, Gurley can make shots at all three levels. He can play either role in the pick and roll. As the screener, he can fade back into open threes or dive to the basket. Around the rim, he has good hands with the ability to finish lobs and bend to catch lower bounce passes. Gurley can attack his opponent off the dribble. He is a complete player, which is why he is one of the most sought-after players in the nation.

For any player, of course, transferring always brings risks. How will a player fit in with his new teammates? Does the coaching staff have the ability to take new players and mold them together into a cohesive group? SDSU’s recent success of bringing in transfers and forming unique teams might be their biggest advantage in this process. Every coach talks about creatively using new players, but if Gurley or any potential transfer wants to see it in action at SDSU, all they have to do is turn on the tape.

In 2019-2020, the Aztecs welcomed in three transfers. Coach Dutcher molded the team according to his players’ strengths. He formed an elite offensive club that played good defense. Built around transfer guard Malachi Flynn, who was a good shooting guard when he left Washington State but developed into a first-round point guard at SDSU, the team spread the floor and excelled in the pick and roll.

Last season, Dutcher replaced those three transfers with two and molded an elite defensive team that was good offensively. Built around two forwards, the team used the post and off-ball movement to create baskets on offense. The coaches took advantage of their versatile athletes by switching nearly every ball screen on defense.

The two teams were very different stylistically, but they had one common characteristic: they were champions. Each possessed a remarkably mature and refreshing, unselfish perspective that valued winning above all else. In this regard, they reflected their leader, coach Dutcher, who, despite his own brilliance, lifts and promotes everyone around him above himself. Unselfishness is a characteristic Gurley also possesses. In his final game at Furman, a quarterfinal loss to VMI in the Southern Conference Tournament, Gurley scored a career-high 30 points, but he also dished out seven assists.

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“(It) Definitely plays a big factor,” Gurley said about the success transfers have had at SDSU. “It’s comforting to know that.” Comfort is the keyword here. The Aztecs’ success with transfers coming into the program and succeeding means of all the programs in the country, SDSU offers the least amount of risk to players leaving their current team in search of another.

One final advantage the Aztecs have in their pursuit of Gurley: location. Of the final eight schools in the hunt for his service, SDSU is the only one in the Western part of the country. “It gives (SDSU) an advantage because they’re unique in that aspect,” Gurley said.

Will it be enough to convince Gurley to head west for the final two seasons of his college career? We will find out next week, but Gurley’s special skill set makes him the most likely player to fill the tremendous void left by Matt Mitchell. Every team in the nation could use his services, but only one fan base will get the honor of cheering him on. Gurley has Aztec Nation dreaming that they are the chosen ones.

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