SDSU Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Small Forwards

SDSU Small Forwards. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

SDSU players share a laugh prior to their first practice. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Programs have reputations. SDSU is known as a defensive team filled with long, athletic players who grind out possessions on both ends of the floor.

From a national perspective, the typical Aztec is a matchup nightmare that defies traditional, positional definitions. Kawhi Leonard is the poster child for the type of versatile athletes that have thrived at SDSU.

This is the second of the East Village Times’ 2022-2023 Aztecs’ position previews. Our staff broke SDSU’s roster into three groups: backcourt, frontcourt, and in-between. Since the Aztecs do not employ traditional roles, this division of the players is arbitrary and done only for clarity and organization.

This installment looks at the present group of players that make Brian Dutcher’s positionless approach work. They are the descendants of Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, Dakarai Allen, Jalen McDaniels, Winston Shepard, JJ O’Brien, and a host of others who found a home in San Diego.

SDSU assistant coach JayDee Luster sat down with EVT for an exclusive interview. He provided the insight for this review of the roster. There is a quote from coach Luster about each Aztec on the team. 

3    Micah Parrish G/F 6-6 200 Jr.

Career Stats: 10.5 pts, 5.9 reb, 1.7 stl, 1.3 ast. 48.4 FG%, 35.2 3P%, 57 GS

UCLA Scrimmage Stats: 12:24 minutes, 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2-6 FG, 0-4 3P, +/- 1

Versatility is the key characteristic of the 2022 Aztecs. The lineups SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher could employ should allow him to play any way he chooses. On a roster filled with positionless players, Micah Parrish might be the most malleable. Parrish averaged 12 points last year at Oakland University. Double-digit DI scorers do not grow on trees. Darrion Trammell, Matt Bradley, and Parrish are the only three on SDSU’s roster to have done it.

Micah Parrish was the team’s best shooter this off-season. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Parrish’s primary offensive weapon is the ability to shoot from deep. Throughout the offseason, he was the best shooter on the team, statistically. Knocking down shots from range makes everyone on the court better by giving them space to operate. More than just a shooter, Parrish can score at all three levels. 

At 6’6, he has also shown to rebound effectively. His 5.9 career rebounding average is second on the team to Nathan Mensah’s 6.2. His prowess on the boards could allow Dutcher to play a smaller lineup like he used during Matt Mitchell’s time at SDSU.

What Parrish is still figuring out is what he needs to do on the defensive end. At his former school, he mostly played matchup zone, which is completely different from what SDSU does, especially off the ball. Parrish admitted that he likely will not learn all there is to know defensively before the start of the season. Establishing a comfort level with the Aztecs is key for Parrish as he looks to bring his established DI game to the Mesa.

JayDee Luster Quote:

“Micah is a guy that averaged 12 and six last year at Oakland, so he had a big role. Those numbers, scoring and rebounding, it’s hard to do at the Division I level. He was able to do that. With Micah, some of it is just him getting comfortable. Some of it is him learning a new system, learning new teammates, how to play with new guys that he’s never played with. Micah is a guy who can really shoot the ball. Throughout the summer, whenever we did shooting drills, he was the best shooter as far as the numbers in shooting drills. He has the ability to shoot the ball.”

“He’s a good defender, and one of the things that’s different about him as far as the defenders is his length than maybe a Lamont (Butler) or an Adam Seiko. When you play against those bigger wings, he’s a guy who can come in and affect those guys. The Kijab’s at Boise State and Akot, guys like that with length and size. He can match up with guys like that. As he’s here, his game will keep growing and evolving, but I think he’s gonna be a big-time player.”     

0    Keshad Johnson      F   6-7 225 Sr.  

Career Stats:  4.8 pts, 3.5 reb, 50.0 FG%, 23.6 3P%, 32 GS

UCLA Closed Door Scrimmage Stats: 7 pts, 2 reb, 3-3 FG, 1-1 3P, 18:03 min, +/- 9

With all due respect to Matt Bradley, Darrion Trammell, or any other player on SDSU’s roster, the ceiling for the 2022-2023 Aztecs depends on the growth of Keshad Johnson. After starting all 32 games a season ago, Johnson has realized some of the potential people raved about when he was an underclassman. Still, few players who have ever walked the halls of Montezuma Mesa have had the physical tools Johnson possesses.

Keshad Johnson in 2021, Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

He started at power forward against UCLA and will continue to see time there this season, but all offseason has been working to move out on the wing. Luster said the staff has seen tremendous strides in Johnson’s shooting and dribbling ability. Dutcher said at his weekly press conference that one of the goals of the scrimmage was to see Johnson at small forward. While it usually takes a few seasons for a change this large in someone’s game, if Johnson is able to make it this year, it would allow the staff to play their five best players, regardless of position, together.     

JayDee Luster Quote:

“In the transition to the wing, sometimes less is more, simplifying the game. Knowing when to pick your spots as far as when to attack, when to give yourself up and move the ball, when to take jumpers. But the thing about extending that role to three is: being out on the perimeter for a guy like Keshad or a guy like AG, for a guy like Jaedon, is not forgetting where your bread is buttered. And that’s physical ability, the ability to play around the rim, to finish through contact, all those things. Some guys, they move out to three, and then they fall in love with shooting threes and doing those kinds of things. And there’s a role, an opportunity for that, but don’t forget what makes you great.”

20  Matt Bradley G    6-4 220 Sr. 

Career Stats: 15.6 pts, 4.7 reb, 2.0 ast, 43.6 FG%, 40.2 3P%, 100 GS

UCLA Scrimmage Stats: 18 pts, 5 reb (3 OR), 2 ast, 5-16 FG, 3-10 3P, +/- 4

On the offensive end of the floor last season, Matt Bradley attracted more attention from the opposition than any Aztec in recent memory. Only one consistent scoring opportunity presented itself most of the year. It required Bradley to isolate on the wing or in the post and score over the double team or before the second defender arrived. When Bradley played off the ball, opposing defenses were content to allow Bradley’s teammates plenty of room to work and never came off the Aztecs’ high-scoring guard.

Matt Bradley is one of the top scorers in the nation. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

At Mountain West media day, Bradley acknowledged the crowd he drew last season but said he has noticed more space to work because of the new players around him and the improvement of his returning teammates. While scrimmages rarely reveal much about the upcoming season, there was a curious statistic that suggests an element of Bradley’s game at his former school, Cal, will be a bigger aspect this season with the Aztecs.

With the Golden Bears, Bradley had more catch-and-shoot opportunities than he did last year. Against UCLA, Bradley shot ten threes. His high as an Aztec a season ago was nine, which he accomplished twice, both in February conference games. On Sunday, he attempted more shots from three than from inside the arc. Only once did Bradley do that last year.

Another reason to expect Bradley’s game to be even better than his sensational 2021-2022 is his comfort level on the defensive end. Bradley said the hardest part to understand about the defense is not what is scripted but how to fill in gaps on the fly to support the collective defensive effort. It takes most a couple of seasons to fully grasp the expectations, and as Bradley’s comfort grows on that end, he should play even freer on the offensive side.

 JayDee Luster Quote

“I do (think Bradley will play more efficiently). Some of that is the scoring power that we’ve added. Last year, we relied on Matt to score a lot, and he came through. He came through a lot. When that’s your role, and you’re the main guy, it’s kind of do it by any means necessary. Sometimes, you may have to take six dribbles. Sometimes you may have to post. We needed him to score the ball. However, that may look. We needed him to score however he could. We needed him to do it. And he did it, and he came through for us. He’s a huge reason why we made the NCAA tournament. Games like Wyoming, where he has 28 in the first half. He’s one of the best scorers I’ve been around.”

“With the insertion of Jaedon LeDee, Darrion Trammell, those guys and their ability to score – I think Lamont will make a jump scoring the ball a little bit this year – those guys being able to score should take some pressure off him to have to go get 20 every night. Because of that, I think you will see a more efficient Matt.” 

21  Miles Byrd G    6-7 175 Fr. 

Career Stats:  N/A 

UCLA Scrimmage Stats: 0 pts, 0-1 3P, 3:56 minutes +/- -1

Miles Byrd is 6’7 with a 7’0 wingspan that can dribble, shoot, and pass well enough that he could play point guard right now offensively. What will determine if he ultimately ends up there is if he can guard smaller, quicker players that usually man the position.

Miles Byrd is lethal from range. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Positionless basketball is great for stars like Luka Doncic or Kawhi Leonard, but it can be a challenge for supporting players who need to fill a specific role for their teams to be effective. As Byrd looks to impact the team this year, he is navigating how to fit his high skill level into a defined role that complements SDSU’s stars. His challenge is daunting.

Byrd is looking to take minutes from players with DI track records, like Adam Seiko and Micah Parrish. To do so, he will have to prove an adept shooter on offense while utilizing his wingspan and high basketball IQ to play great defense.

JayDee Luster Quote:

Miles is going to be a tremendous player. Miles just has great size. He can shoot the ball, and he can really pass it. He’s a really underrated passer. As he gets stronger as he gets adjusted to college, he’s going to be one of the fan favorites here at Viejas. I really believe that.”

“A lot of the things he’s struggling with right now are just because of strength. It’s not anything else. Miles has a high IQ. Miles is the son of a coach who coached at the division one level for 15-plus years. Miles has been around the game his whole life. Miles understands the game. He knows the game. Some of it with Miles just getting stronger is Miles is young. He just turned 18 less than a month ago. He should be a senior in high school.” 

33  Aguek Arop     6-7     225 Sr.

Career Stats:  3.4 pts, 2.7 reb, 47 FG%, 18.6 3p%, 7 GS

UCLA Scrimmage Stats: 0 pts, 1 reb, 0-0 FG, 3:53 minutes

On every great team, there is a player who thrives in the gaps created by the attention given to stars around them. Arop profiles as someone who can fill this critical role for the Aztecs in 2022-2023. If teams hedge too aggressively on a pick-and-roll, Arop could take advantage for an easy basket. Given the attention teams will pay to keep Mensah and LeDee off the glass, Arop could thrive on putbacks. With Mensah and Butler forcing teams into less comfortable sets, Arop could fill passing lanes.

Aguek Arop is a unicorn on the court. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Arop’s impact on the Aztecs over his career has only been limited by a string of injuries and issues with vertigo. He continues to work through these. As he has done throughout his career, when he is on the court, he plays with next-level energy, intelligence, and a truly one-of-a-kind style.

JayDee Luster Quote:

I’ll tell you this, there’s not enough words to express what he means to our staff, what he means to his teammates, what he means to this program. He’s an unbelievable person, first and foremost. Forget basketball. AG’s an unbelievable person. He’s a selfless guy. He’s all about the team. He’s everything that the culture of San Diego State stands for.”

“He represents (SDSU’s culture) as a guy that’s for the team. He represents (SDSU’s culture) as a guy that’s selfless. He always puts ‘we’ before ‘me.’ He’s a star in his role. Whatever role coach Dutcher gives him, he accepts, and he excels in it. On the defensive end, he’s tough; he’s gritty.  But, more importantly, he always represents San Diego State, the basketball program, and himself in a first-class manner.”

“AG is just a winner. He’s just a guy who – it’s really amazing – but whatever you need, whenever you need a winning play, whether it’s a three, whether it’s a blocked shot against Wyoming, whether it’s tracking down an offensive rebound, whatever you need in that moment when the game is on the line AG, usually, has the ability to provide it. And that, to me, is a unique ability to have because a lot of it is his will and competitiveness. He just finds a way to win and make timely plays.”

24  Tyler Broughton     G    6-4     190 Jr.

Career Stats: 0 pts, 9 G, 1.2 min

UCLA Scrimmage Stats: Did not play

The arbitrary nature of this preview is probably seen best in the choice to separate Tyler Broughton and his identical twin, Triston, into different positions. This decision was made to highlight what is different about their games. Triston is the better shooter and, during practice, hangs out on the perimeter. Tyler is more athletic and uses his good leaping ability to crash the glass and give the scholarship players fits with his hustle.

Tyler Broughton is a leaper. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

In an interview he gave in the offseason, Tyler credited his jumping ability to taking up skateboarding as a kid, noting that it was the only difference between him and his brother. He was very open about what motivates him as a player. He wants to contribute. While the odds of that seem unlikely, he has done everything asked of by the staff and is ready for an opportunity.

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JayDee Luster Quote: 

“(Triston and Tyler) are both everyday guys. They bring incredible energy, incredible passion. They’re selfless. Whatever the team needs, they provide. These dudes are good players, really good players. The product that you see on the floor they’re a huge part of that. When we scrimmage and do certain things at practice, these dudes give our guys everything they can handle.”

“Their role cannot be undervalued because what they bring every day is critical to our success and what we do. As a staff, we appreciate the twins.”

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