Fresh off an appearance in the Final Four, San Diego State is looking to reload for the 2023-2024 season. Next year’s team will be different than the squads who have played for Brian Dutcher the past three seasons.
Beginning in 2020, Dutcher and his staff built their defense to take advantage of Nathan Mensah’s skill set. Offensively, they did the same, choosing to highlight Matt Mitchell and then Matt Bradley’s scoring ability in isolation. Those players are gone, and with the expected returners, the Aztecs will be the class of the Mountain West again, but stylistically, they will win with a different formula.
Defense will continue to be the calling card of the Aztecs. Dutcher demands more of his player on that end than most coaches. In exchange, he gives his players freedom on the offensive end. Freedom played out means differences in the way a team competes each season.
“If we have back what we think we’re going to have back, … I think next year’s team will be better,” Dutcher said on Sunday in Houston. “(We’ll see) if we make it to the Final Four or have the kind of success we’ve had (this season). We have a program now. I don’t think we’re a one-hit-wonder. We’re going to be good every year.”
For SDSU to build another super team that can make waves in March, they will need to add impact transfers. Among the 1,300 plus players to have entered the portal, one stands out as the perfect Aztec, McNeese State transfer forward, Christian Shumate.
“I see him fitting great in (SDSU’s culture),” Shumate’s high school coach Dante Maddox told the East Village Times. “His high school culture was similar. We had gym rats. That’s why you were able to have so many guys go to college on the same team and be successful. We came in early, stayed late.”
“Christian, in high school, he averaged, like, seven blocks a game. That’s an underestimated facet that he has. He’s very athletic, and he’s versatile. Christian is somebody who has a heart that will guard a five and the athleticism to guard a one. So he’s able to be switched in the pick and roll. He’s able to play any position, and he’ll do whatever it takes for the team to win. I see them having a very versatile piece in Christian if they were able to get him.”
Shumate starred for McNeese State the past two seasons. Last year, He started 32 of the team’s 34 games and nearly averaged a double-double. He put up 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. As the season went on, his game improved. In the 2023 calendar year, he averaged 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds.
More than numbers, he plays like an Aztec. He is six-foot-seven with a seven-foot wingspan. He has a motor and a want to that will have the Madhouse on the Mesa in a frenzy should he choose to come to SDSU. Shumate also has the personality and work ethic to fit in.
“Christian, his greatest asset, his superpower is his energy and intensity,” Maddox explained. “It’s Dennis Rodman-like. He’s a quick jumper. He has great instinct, and a lot of times, he just wants it more than you do, and he’s willing to go get it.”
Shumate arrived at McNeese State after playing a season at Tulsa. Second-time transfers are not immediately eligible without a waiver from the NCAA. Maddox said Shumate plans to apply for the exception and the opportunity to play next season. While the NCAA awards wavers on a case-by-case basis, according to Maddox, many of the teams recruiting Shumate believe he has a compelling appeal.
Should the NCAA not grant the waiver, Shumate could be another Malachi Flynn or Jaedon LeDee who took advantage of their year off and emerged as better basketball players because of the elite facilities SDSU possesses. If college basketball’s governing body grants him immediate eligibility, he would complement SDSU’s projected returners very well.
The most obvious role he would fill is the one Aguek Arop is vacating. Like Arop, Shumate is a Swiss army knife, who can do a little of everything. Shumate also does not need to have plays called for him to make an impact. He averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per game and scored on putbacks frequently.
Teamed with LeDee, he could give Dutcher two elite rebounders on the court at the same time. While he has not been a three-point threat yet in his career, his versatility should allow him to highlight Keshad Johnson and Elijah Saunders’ strengths. The three could be nearly interchangeable.
Unsurprisingly, given SDSU and Shumate’s mutual interest, Maddox’ former star thrives on the defense side of the court.
“He took pride in his defense,” Maddox’ explained. “He has a seven-foot wingspan. He’s going to make you work for everything you get, but at the same time, if you did beat him off the dribble, he will come get you at the rim.”
With the players returning from last year’s Final Four team, the Aztecs profile as a team that could press and trap more than this year’s team. Adding Shumate to that mix could strengthen SDSU’s overall athleticism and give Dutcher the opportunity to play multiple styles on defense.
SDSU’s profile in the world of college basketball has never been higher. Their NCAA tournament run gave them visibility all over the world.
“As a high school coach and a coach who has sent people to college, I think (the Final Four run) raises (their profile) tremendously that they are able to play with basically anybody in the country, no matter what level, and be successful,” Maddox explained. “On top of that, you take into consideration the environment, the beauty of San Diego from the weather to the campus. It’s a place that players will want to go. And I think parents will want to send their child to a program like San Diego State.”
Maddox has spoken to Shumate about his transfer destination and said the McNeese State transfer “thinks very highly” of the Aztecs and was excited about the program’s success in the NCAA Tournament. Given the way Shumate plays, it is not surprising SDSU reciprocates the interest.
Even before the 2022-2023 season ended, Dutcher was looking ahead and trying to build the next great Aztec team. Shumate’s character, work ethic, ability to thrive in positionless basketball, and his competitiveness will make whatever team he chooses better, including San Diego State, who should have him near the top of their recruiting board.
“I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him because he didn’t get very much of an opportunity his freshman year. … Coming off that adversity, just like he does in the game, he rebounded and made better of his situation. That speaks to his character. It speaks to his heart.”
“If San Diego was able to get him, they will get somebody who fits their staff. From what I’ve seen on them in the tournament, being hard-nosed, being tough, giving effort, having the desire to win, and then is able to work within the system with others to be successful.”
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.