College basketball • Expectations high as Aggies search to replace Pane.
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Logan • Preston Medlin hasn't always liked lifting. Skinny since high school, he tended to stay out of the weight room.
But since arriving at Utah State, he's learned to enjoy it. And feeling a bit overpowered at times on the court last year provided all the motivation the returning junior guard needed.
"We were kind of small and undersized last year, and there were games we got out-muscled," said Medlin, a first team all-WAC selection last season. "Everybody's stronger this season. It helps a ton out there."
With the Aggies' basketball practice beginning Friday, the team strikes out on its final WAC campaign ready to prove they're the biggest, strongest team on the block. With Medlin, the team's leading scorer who returns to the backcourt, Utah State seeks the right mix to earn another conference championship.
Much is expected of the big men, particularly the four who played meaningful minutes last year Kyisean Reed, Ben Clifford, Jordan Stone and Danny Berger. The Aggies were in the bottom half of most rebounding categories last season uncharacteristic for a Stew Morrill-coached team.
Clifford, a sophomore, recognizes that the frontcourt needs to take a bigger lead for Utah State to improve on last year's fourth-place finish.
"In the past, we've been big-guy oriented," Clifford said. "We've had to work on our shooting range, our defense, our rebounding. Everything. But I think all of us have gotten better. I think we'll surprise some people this season."
The biggest question is at the point guard spot. Who takes over for departed senior Brockeith Pane, a former all-WAC player?
There are at least three candidates: junior college transfer TeNale Roland, and freshmen Marcel Davis and Riley Bradshaw. Roland has the experience and shooting touch, but it's possible either of the rookies could break into the starting spot.
Impact transfers could play a huge role up front as well: Jarred Shaw is eligible after coming from Oklahoma State, and Matt Lopez is a LaSalle transfer both are 6-foot-10. The Aggies have a home-heavy preseason schedule, which should help whoever takes over at point adjust to the offense.
"It can be difficult to learn," Clifford said. "We're not just running and gunning all the time. We take good shots. And for new guys, it always takes a while to adjust."
USU must also adjust to a changing conference. Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State are no longer in the WAC, replaced by Denver, Texas State, University of Texas at San Antonio and University of Texas at Arlington.
Utah State, itself a year away from moving to the Mountain West, seeks to continue a 13-year streak of 21 wins or more per season.
"There's a good deal of pressure to keep winning," Medlin said. "We have a lot of fans who have gotten used to it, and we don't want to let them down."
Utah State's top returners
Junior guard Preston Medlin • 17.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 49.6 shooting percentage
Senior forward Kyisean Reed • 10.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 61.4 shooting percentage
Sophomore forward Ben Clifford • 4.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 50.9 shooting percentage
Junior forward Danny Berger • 6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Sophomore center Jordan Stone • 2.1 ppg, 60.5 shooting percentage