Memories of the Five Aztec Graduating Seniors

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Senior night is special. For some, the occasion serves as the last home game in their basketball career. For others, it is a goodbye and a stepping stone to their next basketball adventure.

At SDSU, the players walk into the spotlight on center court with their family and friends. They are greeted by the coaches and are given a framed jersey to hold up in front of the thousands of screaming Aztec fans.

As the athlete’s career highlights grace the video board, thousands of their thankful supporters remember the four seasons of the player’s career. It is just one moment, but it means the world to everyone gathered in Viejas Arena.

A career at SDSU goes by fast, but the athletes are etched into San Diego State history forever. In many ways, the move from current Aztec to an Aztec for life begins here. 

As easy as it can be to get caught up into the emotions of senior night, SDSU has made it an emphasis to give the Aztec Nation one final victory to take into the offseason.. In the last 17 seasons, the Aztecs are 16-1 on senior night, including last season’s 62-58 win over Boise State. The lone loss was to Fresno State in the 2018-2019 season.

The Aztecs have eight seniors on the roster, but only five will partake in the senior day festivities tomorrow against Fresno State. Jaedon LeDee, a transfer from TCU, redshirted this season and will be a senior next year. Matt Bradley and Adam Seiko are the other two seniors who could be playing their final games in Viejas Arena. Instead, the duo announced they will use their extra year of eligibility and return for the 2022-2023 season.

Seiko had hinted weeks ago that he wanted to stay for another year to finish up his education, but Bradley gave no indication. It was a pleasant surprise for Aztec fans who opened twitter to see a post from the SDSU basketball account with a photo of Seiko and Bradley, captioned, “One. More. Year.”

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

Seiko and Bradley’s decision caught Coach Brian Dutcher off guard. “We asked them. We have senior night. Who do you want to bring? They both said we don’t want to go through senior night.”

Dutcher was focused on this season and was not pre-planning next year’s roster. But he is delighted for the fifth-year seniors to return. He understands the importance of the two veteran guards’ presence on next season’s  roster.

The seniors who will certainly be doing their final walk across Viejas Arena will be Trey Pulliam and Joshua Tomaic. Due to COVID-19, all college athletes who played last season were given an opportunity to play another year. Pulliam and Tomaic both used their extra year of eligibility.

Nathan Mensah, Tahirou Diabate, and Aguek Arop are given the opportunity for another year of eligibility. But they have not made any sign of staying another year, so Aztec fans will be left to wonder if they will see them for another ride.

“If they want another year, they’re welcome to come back to San Diego State for a fifth year if they would like to,” Coach Brian Dutcher said in Wednesday’s press conference.

These five seniors will leave a legacy at San Diego State. The fans will forever remember the entertainment they brought and the memories they made. They will be cherished in the red and black forever. Below is a write-up on the five seniors and moments that should never be forgotten.

 

Trey Pulliam

A leader of this Aztec team. The floor general.

Pulliam started in junior college, where he played two seasons at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.

In his three seasons with the Aztecs, he started 53 games and scored 6.1 points per game with 2.9 assists. His career-high is 18 points which happened two separate times in the 2020-2021 season against Boise State and Fresno State.

Winning percentage-wise, he may be one of the winningest Aztecs in three seasons. Over the last three years, the Aztecs have gone 72-14 (.837). During his time on the Mesa, Pulliam has helped them win two regular-season championships and one conference championship.

When asked at the beginning of the season why he decided to return, Pulliam said, “Towards the end of last year, I found my stride and found my game. I felt like it was meant to be.”

To begin the 2021-2022 season, Pulliam picked up where he left off. In the first ten games of the year, he averaged 11.2 points and 3.6 assists. He had four games over 15 points and was a big factor in defeating Saint Mary’s.

Credit: Cali Camera

Unfortunately for Pulliam, this season had a hiccup in the middle. Against UCSD, he was almost a late scratch to the lineup due to catching strep throat. Then, he got COVID-19 and had to miss the first conference game of the season. He returned for Colorado State, then the entire SDSU program shut down for COVID-19. Pulliam played one game in a month, and this disrupted his rhythm.

But Dutcher has preached in the last two months that he trusts Pulliam to regain his stride. He remembers the impact that he made at the end of last season.

Pulliam was thankful in the press conference before senior night towards Dutcher, “Even though my struggles, he never gave up on me. I thank him and appreciate him for bringing me on board and believing and trusting in me.”

It once again appears that Pulliam is turning the corner right when games matter the most. Two weeks ago, against Fresno State, he recorded nine points and eight assists. He struggled against Boise State because of foul trouble. Then he bounced back with a 13 point performance against San Jose State.

On February 28th, the dawn before March, Pulliam looked like his old confident self. He cashed in a pair of threes and hit multiple clutch baskets to defeat Wyoming on the road and capture one of the biggest wins of the season. His most notable shot, with thirty seconds left, was on a designed isolation where Pulliam took his signature floater from near the free-throw line to ice the game.

Pulliam has proved that he is a team player. Before the season, he said, “I play my game, let the game come to me. If I’m in a position where I need to take over, then I will if the team needs me to.”

As his Aztec career ends in the next couple weeks, he will have opportunities to take the important shot or pass to the open teammate. Whatever decision he makes will be for the betterment of the team.

He fits right into Aztec culture. Whatever the team needs, he will give on a nightly basis.

Memories: He hit an off-the-glass runner at the buzzer to defeat Nevada last season. This was the first buzzer-beater in Aztec history at Viejas Arena.

Pulliam averaged almost 12 points and four assists a game over the final eight-game stretch of the season last year. His contribution was a big reason why the Aztecs won the Mountain West regular season and conference championship.

 

Joshua Tomaic:

Core bench piece. Needed contributor.

Tomaic is a fifth-year senior from Maryland. He spent three seasons with the Terrapins. Before college, he grew up in the Canary Islands in Spain, where he graduated high school.

In his two seasons with the Aztecs, he played 53 games and started once. He scored a career-high 12 points last season against San Jose State.

Tomaic has served as the backup center for the Aztecs behind Mensah. It has been a frustrating season as his minutes dropped after returning for another season.

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

His ability to stay committed to the team and always ready cannot be overlooked.

“Every time I call his number, he steps in and is ready to play at a high level,” Dutcher said.

Against Colorado State, he only played six minutes and did not score. He trusted the process. The next game, he played 21 minutes against Nevada and had one of his best games of the season with eight points and five rebounds.

Coach Brian Dutcher said after the game, “For him to step up, not playing a lot, to fight through whatever frustration he might have, to produce like he did, shows what kind of character he has.”

“I just try to stay the course, stay locked in, and keep working,” Tomaic said.

Since playing Nevada, he has provided a needed spark off the bench. He scored in the next six games. One of his most impactful games was against Boise State. He hit a big three-pointer and had a huge offensive rebound put-back to keep the Aztecs in the game against the Broncos.

Tomaic has been a needed defensive presence off the bench. He is a stretch big, so he’s made opponents adjust to his outside shooting. In the last two seasons, he’s made 13 threes. He’s shooting 36.4% from the three-point line this season.

Memories: He was a big contributor off the bench against Utah State in the championship game last season. When Mensah got into foul trouble, he provided needed defensive minutes against Neeimas Queta. He also scored six points and four rebounds.

 

Nathan Mensah:

One of if not the best defenders in Aztec history.

Mensah was born in Accra, Ghana. He attended Findlay Prep in Nevada for high school.

In his four seasons with the Aztecs, he played 101 games and started 86 of them. He has averaged seven points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks a game in his career. He has been a part of two regular-season championships and one conference championship.

“Nathan started every game where he’s been healthy enough to start,” Dutcher said. “Nathan has been a tremendous credit to this university and to himself and his family.”

In an interview at the beginning of the year, Mensah said, “I came to San Diego State to win basketball games. “Having a team goal of winning no matter what it costs, diving on a loose ball, taking a charge, getting a hustle play out of the stands, those one or two hustle plays is what will make us victorious.”

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

Mensah practices what he preaches. He matches up with any opposing scorer and does the intangibles to create winning basketball.

In the last fifteen years, the Aztecs have had historic big men in red and black. From 2007-2011, they had Billy White and Malcom Thomas. Then from 2012-2016, Skylar Spencer soared over the Aztec record for career blocks with 303. Spencer raised the bar so high that it did not seem possible that SDSU could have a similar defensive force inside.

But since 2018, Mensah has been a Monster on the Mesa, and he will be remembered forever in the pantheon of Aztec bigs.

He may not have the same block numbers as Spencer as he is currently third all-time with 155, but he is without question the most versatile defender in SDSU history. Mensah has shown an ability to guard every position on the floor. This was evident in his most recent game as he blocked 6’7 point guard Hunter Maldonado, twice on the same possession.

Of course, Mensah is humble about his game, “to be a great defensive player. It comes from your teammates. All credit goes to my four other teammates when I’m on the court.”

He has stifled tremendous big men such as Luka Garza, David Roddy, Queta, and Orlando Robinson.

An unfortunate memory of Mensah is from the 2019-2020 season. He missed the final 19 games of the season due to being diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. He would have added to the historic 30-2 Aztec team. There was a chance he may have returned for an NCAA tournament run if COVID-19 did not cancel the tournament.

Mensah will be missed. “I hope Nathan will consider coming back another year,” Dutcher said.

Memories: Last season in the Mountain West tournament, he opened the first two games with a combined one point and nine fouls. He bounced back with an elite performance against Queta and Utah State when it mattered most. He blocked shots, deflected passes, and like usual, gave up nothing easy. He finished the game with 10 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks and was a huge reason for winning the championship.

His best stat lines both occurred last season. The Aztecs built up key resume wins on the road to Arizona State and on a neutral site to Saint Mary’s. In those games, Mensah had 17 points and 15 rebounds against the Sun Devils and 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Gaels.


Aguek Arop:

Glue guy. Spark plug off the bench. Embodiment of Aztec culture.

It is difficult to put into words what Arop has meant to the Aztec program.

One thing that will be remembered is his dedication to basketball and his determination to fight through health issues. In his four years with the Aztecs, he played a total of 93 games and has started 7. He missed 27 games. His freshman year, he played through a painful hip injury which has lingered for the rest of his career.

The injuries accumulated on his body, and he considered retiring this season. The man who always has a smile on his face was clearly hurting. But the considerate SDSU coaching staff allowed Arop to play and practice when he felt he was available.

Coach Dutcher said in Wednesday’s press conference, “I told him before the season started that I wanted him to be in the program. I told him he didn’t have to practice to play. As a veteran old coach, I knew that if I could get him back into the gym, he would miss it eventually. I told him you can be a coach on the sideline. Then he started feeling better, and he wanted to give it a try.”

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

When brought up to Arop, he said, “I was hard set on not playing, but a month before the season, JayDee Luster brought up the idea of not playing in games. I brushed it off. It’s not my mentality. I was worried about what my teammates would think. I was able to come to peace with just going out there and giving what I can.”

Arop got emotional in Wednesday’s press conference talking about the coaching staff and the impact they have had on his life.

“I can’t express into words how supportive and understanding they have been. They truly cared about who I was as a person, not necessarily about basketball. Like Coach Dutcher always said, I don’t care about how you are on the court. I want to know how you are as a person off the court.”

To this point in his career, Arop averages 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. But his impact on the team goes far beyond the stat sheets.

Against Utah State earlier this season, Adam Seiko recognized this. He said, “One of the hardest workers I know. He’s battled through a lot this year. Testament to him, he knows his role. He knows what he has to do out there to help us win.

In the home game against the Aggies, he was electrifying off the bench. He had eight points and five rebounds. But the moment to be remembered was early in the second half, Utah State had grabbed four offensive rebounds early on. Arop came in and changed the momentum as he grabbed two offensive rebounds, which was enough to get a standing ovation from the fans in Viejas Arena.

Pulliam said at Wednesday’s press conference, “He knows how to fix stuff. He steps up and makes big-time plays. He’s a good guy to have, a glue guy, it might not show up in the stat sheet, but those are the plays you need to be successful.”

“We never really know when he’s going to play,” Seiko said. “But we do know that when he does play, he’s going to give everything he’s got, no matter what.

When asked what he will remember most during his career at SDSU, he was impassioned by his teammates.

“The moments we had in hotels away from the court,” Arop said. “Growing as friends and brothers. These guys became my brothers. I really love them.”

Arop represents Aztec culture. He gives it his all, even if his body may not want him to. He plays winning basketball, and everything he does is for the betterment of the team.

“Every time he steps into the JAM center or Viejas, he has a smile on his face,” Dutcher said. “He’s all about everybody else.”

Memories: The 2019-2020 Mountain West championship game probably wants to be removed from a lot of Aztec fans’ memories because of the fashion in which their historic season ended. But Arop’s performance in the game cannot be forgotten. Without Mensah playing in the game, the Aztecs needed a defensive anchor to guard Queta. Arop filled the void tremendously. He played an incredible game off the bench, where he finished with eight points, four rebounds, and two blocks.

He played 26 minutes against Colorado State, the most this season. Normally, Dutcher normally does not allow him to play extended minutes. But he was playing so well that Arop remained in the game for the second half. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.

He was a force against UCLA last season. The same UCLA team that made the Final Four. His contribution helped the Aztecs defeat the Bruins in the first game of the season. He scored 10 points and had four rebounds.

 

Tahirou Diabate:

Core defensive bench piece. Defensive anchor.

Diabate has had quite the journey. He grew up in Mali, spent time in France and Spain, then went to high school in Japan. He went to college at Portland for three seasons. Then he sat out a year and was given eligibility to transfer to San Diego State.

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

A year removed from basketball and competing with Tomaic for backup center, Diabate has struggled to get consistent minutes. However, when he is on the floor, he has made an impact defensively, crashed the glass, and has created offense when available to him.

“He comes to work every day to be an incredible teammate,” Dutcher said. “Tahirou has been a blessing, and we wouldn’t have won the way we have without him this year.”

Diabate was brought in to be backup for Mensah. He is also a lefty, so the offense did not have to change much when he was on the floor. Diabate filled Mensah’s defensive role very well. He is a defensive presence in the paint, and he showed ability to guard smaller scorers as well. He played important bench minutes in games against Wyoming, Fresno State, and Colorado State to be the defensive anchor against Graham Ike, Orlando Robinson, and David Roddy.

He played in 20 games for the Aztecs this season. He has dealt with health and family issues which has kept him missing from six games this season. His best performance of the season was abusing his size advantage against Air Force. He finished with nine points and five rebounds and did not miss a shot.

Memories: In his fourth game with the Aztecs against Georgetown, it was as if he was invisible to defenders. He opened the first half with three wide-open dunks. He finished the game with eight points and was a real force in the paint.

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Austin Tarke
Senior at San Diego State University, class of 2022. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.
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Mike
Mike
2 months ago

Must read article for any San Diego State basketball fan

James Clark
Admin
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike

thank you for reading it

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