Ask any SDSU coach, and they will tell you Brian Dutcher runs his program differently than most. Head coaches are notorious for delegating tasks to their assistants that have less impact on the outcome of games. Dutcher, in contrast, gives his staff real authority to game plan, run practices, and develop players. The Aztecs’ head coach’s self-confidence and strength shine through in a competitive industry filled with insecurity.
His approach pays numerous dividends for the program. The Mountain West is a poor place for coaching stability. The tenure of head coaches in the conference averages only 2.1 years. Across college basketball, 47% of assistant coaches stay at their schools for fewer than two years. In a case study conducted by Sports Illustrated in 2015, they found that during a typical four-year career, a player will have three new coaches who were not at the school when he committed. Due to the responsibility, Dutcher gives his assistants, SDSU’s coaches do not turn over as often.
With his staff taking care of tasks normally reserved for head coaches, it frees Dutcher to continue to do what he is elite at, evaluating and recruiting. When SDSU is looking at a transfer, Dutcher watches eight to ten games, plus other clips of the player. He intentionally watches good games and bad. The result is when transfers arrive on campus. The staff knows their games well. They are not forced to spend as much time getting acclimated.
In their pursuit of high school talent, the Aztecs utilize an advantage few programs have. Their head coach recruits players personally.
Last Saturday, SDSU gained a commitment from 2023 forward Miles Heide from Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Washington, a city about 30 miles east of Seattle. Dutcher was the Aztecs’ lead recruiter.
“In my nineteen years, this is the first time I’ve seen it,” Mount Si High School head coach Jason Griffith said when asked how rare it is for a head coach to be the lead recruiter. “I’ve been fortunate to coach maybe 15 to 20 division one kids. I’ve never seen a head coach this committed to a recruiting process for a kid.”
Tall, athletic, and fluid in his movement, Heide spent all of last season playing inside because his team had four players who shot above 44% from three surrounding him. Griffith plans to move his star forward all over this year and run the offense through him. How Heide acclimates to touching the ball 40 times, a game will be a storyline for Aztec nation to follow. Sometimes bigs move to the wing, fall in love with the three, and forget what makes them great. Heide will be navigating that balance this season, which will give him invaluable experience before he arrives on the Mesa.
According to Griffith, the staff frequently compared him to Yanni Wetzell, one of the key players for the 30-2 team. Wetzell had an uncanny feel for the game and became in real time whatever the Aztecs needed on a given night. Heide shares this versatility and high basketball IQ. Like Wetzell, he is an unselfish player and willing passer. Over the summer, with multiple point guards out, Griffith put the ball in Heide’s hands and let him run the show. A 6’9 point forward, Heide sounds like the perfect Aztec.
“What (SDSU) see(s) is probably a top 50 kid in the country that’s flying under the radar a little bit,” Griffith said. “He’s got great size, great mobility. He’s got diversity to his game, and he’s just beginning. I’ve been telling coaches for a while. Whoever gets him is really going to reap the rewards. We benefited from having him, certainly, but you’re not going to see this kid’s upside until three or four years from now. People will be talking about him at a different level.”
Off the court, Heide is as special as he is on it. A member of the ASB, he was student body vice president a year ago and is on the ‘Hoco, Dances, and Assembly’ committee this year. During the summer he worked construction to earn extra money. Griffith described his family as “kind of a throwback” with “a little bit of country in them.”
As a teammate, Heide’s hard work leads by example. He has stepped into more of a vocal role. Griffith explained that Heide is adept at motivating his teammates either through admonition or encouragement.
“(Aztec fans) are going to love him,” Griffith said. “He’s going to be a fan favorite. He’s going to be a kid that pins guys against the glass above the rim. He’s going to get offensive rebounds and put back dunks. He’s going to run the floor in transition hard. He’s going to go after every board. He’s going to be a very talented kid, but with a lunch pail mentality. That’s pretty easy for everybody to support and share in and root on.”
Juwan Howard Treatment
Utilizing Dutcher as a lead recruiter is brilliant. Few coaches in the country have his resume when it comes to landing top talent. He is the person directly responsible for igniting one of the best classes in college basketball history, Michigan’s Fab Five. By now, his exploits are legendary.
The 1990-1991 Illinois state basketball player of the year, Juwan Howard, was the number one rated center in the country. Dutcher did everything he could to bring Michigan’s future head coach to Ann Arbor in a pursuit that began Howard’s sophomore year. They spoke on the phone nearly every day during Howard’s junior year, and Dutcher would mail letters to him twice a week. In the summer of 1990, Dutcher saw Howard in person 28 days in a row during a period when the NCAA did not allow coaches to talk to players. Through waves, smiles, and nods, Dutcher made his presence known.
While no one works harder than Dutcher, what makes him special is the person he is. College basketball is filled with salespeople who literally do anything to win a recruiting battle. Dutcher just has to be himself. “I just saw the purity in his heart that he really cared about me,” Howard said the week before their two teams played last December.
“Well, from the moment coach Dutch saw him in Arizona, he’s been their number one target, and Dutch hasn’t wavered once the entire time,” Griffith explained. “He’s been ‘all in’ on Miles. He was the lead recruiter in (Heide’s) process, which you don’t see a lot with high school kids. He came to everything. Everything Miles did, he was there. That tells you right off the bat how much confidence they have and the desire to land him as a recruit.”
Griffith could not ever recall the number of visits Dutcher and SDSU’s staff made to see Heide. Dutcher flew to Washington and Chicago, watched Heide play, and flew out that same evening. Often when coaches make a trip to see one player they take the opportunity to watch other prospects. Dutcher’s trips were all about Heide even when Heide’s teammate was a five-star point guard, and the Aztecs were in the market for one.
What stood out to Griffith in the recruiting process is what stood out to Howard three decades earlier. Dutcher “kept true to his word the entire time.” SDSU’s head coach told Heide that he would not recruit him against other players. The Aztecs did not use the time-tested method of creating urgency by telling Heide that they only had one scholarship and offered two players at his position and would give that spot to whoever committed first.
Dutcher continues to gamble on Heide. If the Washington prep star ends up elsewhere, Dutcher will have to scramble to find a replacement. While nothing is official until a player arrives on campus, Heide’s commitment shows that the person, who created the iconic baggie shorts rocked by one of the most popular teams in American sports history, still recruits as well as anyone in the nation.
“It was all about Miles from the first time they saw him to when he committed a few days ago,” Griffith said. “To be honest with you, I think it’s something that they earned as a staff and a program.”
They earned it because Brian Dutcher gave Miles Heide the Juwan Howard treatment.