One of the most anticipated years in San Diego State basketball history has officially begun. According to the NCAA, the Aztecs moved from “out of season” to “in season” this week, making Monday’s practice the first of the 2022-2023 season.
Since the start of the second summer session, SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher and his staff worked “out of season” eight hours per week with their team. The staff chose to split that evenly between the weight room and practice. “In season,” the coaches are able to train their players for 20 hours each week.
“A big difference with us is we’re not a program that practices for three hours,” Dutcher explained as his players warmed up on Monday. “Even though we get more time, we are about 90 minutes on the floor. The thing we take advantage of now is we do more individual workouts. We get them one-on-one in the gym. We do shooting. We do skill development. That’s what we do with the extra time.”
Between Monday and the start of the year on November 7, the work accomplished in these individual and team workouts will determine who gets the first crack at making Dutcher’s rotation. Competition for what typically ends as seven to eight players getting consistent playing time has already been fierce. Dutcher said he warned his players about injuring each other because of how hard they are playing in drills.
Finding a starting five and the first player off the bench figures to be the chief task the staff undertakes. Five of the six players who averaged at least 20 minutes a game last year are back. Add in two highly regarded transfers, two redshirt players, and a pair of freshmen who have already impressed, and the challenge Dutcher faces comes into focus.
“If we get any coaching and a little officiating, we should win a lot of games,” Dutcher said. “We have a lot of talent. Now, we have to put it together. I say with our roster, ‘it’s a player’s dilemma and coach’s delight.’ We have a lot of players. I’m going to have a hard time finding minutes for everybody, but these guys are wired the right way. They are wired to win. They may not like all the things that happen over the course of a year, but they’re all really good kids that want to win more than anything else.”
Among the two most interesting decisions will be how to use Adam Seiko and Aguek Arop. Seiko has averaged at least 12 minutes the last four years. Dutcher gave him over twenty minutes a game the past two seasons.
Arop presents a different challenge. His health continues to be a question. Although Dutcher has given him the green light to skip workouts, Arop was out with his teammates on Monday. Dutcher said they are a better team when he plays, and there is a clear role for someone who does not need the ball in his hands to be successful.
“There is no starting five yet,” Dutcher explained. “That’s all earned. When we start scrimmaging, the numbers will become apparent when we go 20-minute scrimmage and 40-minute scrimmage, then their numbers will be important. What are they shooting from the field? Who’s scoring? Who’s rebounding? Who’s getting deflections at the defensive end? Sometimes, they take care of all those decisions for a coach.”
“When it’s close, then it becomes a challenge. When they’re within touching distance of each other, then it’s a feel that I have to have based on talking to my coaching staff, and at the end of the day, I’ll decide who’s going to be in the starting lineup, and that’s always a challenge as a coach.”
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Micah Parrish, Miles Byrd, Elijah Saunders, and Demarshay Johnson all might have higher ceilings, but they will have to be very good to take time away from players as trusted as Seiko and Arop. If they do not fully distinguish themselves from these SDSU stalwarts over the next month, expect Dutcher’s gut to tell him to go with his veterans.
More than just which players earn the most minutes, the next few weeks will also determine the mix of which Aztecs play best together. Can Nathan Mensah and Jaedon LeDee excel on the offensive end at the same time? Can Keshad Johnson provide enough outside shooting to excel on the wing? Will Lamont Bulter play point or shooting guard? Most critically, can Darrion Trammell and Matt Bradly coexist?
Last season, Trammell and Bradley both had the ball in their hands a lot on the offensive end using multiple dribbles to hunt their shot. They cannot have the same usage and also allow the rest of the roster to contribute this year.
“Darrion and Matt are both gifted offensive players so that’s what we do now,” Dutcher explained when asked about Trammell and Bradley’s fit together. “We see who’s best in what situation on the floor. Where do they want the ball? Where are we most dangerous? That’s something I’ll be watching as we practice. Where are we most effective?”
“Everybody plays the first 35 minutes of the game. It’s what you do the last five minutes, and where do I want to put the ball with five minutes left in the game, and in whose hands. That can be based on game by game decisions, how they guard a certain player, but both are very capable offensively of carrying the load.”
Expectations for the season have rarely been higher on the Mesa. Only three times in school history have the Aztecs been ranked in the preseason polls. The 2022-2023 squad should be the fourth.
“All the individual talent in the world doesn’t matter unless you can put it into a team,” Dutcher said. “Today starts the process of building a team. We’re excited for the year and excited for the talent we have here and ready to get started.”
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.