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For the first time in a long time, coaches are using words such as "balance" and "competitive" in reference to the upcoming Western Athletic Conference men's basketball season.

Four-time defending league champion Nevada is without three-time Player of the Year Nick Fazekas, appearing to make for parity at the top of the conference.

"We've had a dominant team in Nevada, but they don't have a dominate guy returning like they've had the last couple of years," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "It speaks to this league and how competitive it is."

Added Boise State's Greg Graham: "This is the most balanced the league has been in my five years. Several teams have a chance to win the conference."

Morrill's Aggies have the preseason player of the year in Jaycee Carroll, and are included in the group of teams that could end the Wolf Pack's reign atop the conference standings.

"We've got four guys who've never checked into a game at Utah State," Morrill said. "There's a lot of expectations, but we've got a lot of new guys. Obviously, Jaycee Carroll's the reason we've been picked so high, and he's a great player, but just one piece to the puzzle. We've got to have a lot of new guys step up if we're going to have a good year."

Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland lauded the conference's depth of talent, which includes three returning all-conference players Carroll, Marcelus Kemp of Nevada and New Mexico State's Justin Hawkins.

"One thing the league does have is a lot of high quality returning players," he said.

Carroll, a three-year starter who has a great chance to leave USU as it's career scoring leader, feels positive about the Aggie chemistry this season, choosing to downplay his preseason honor.

"It's flattering and exciting to hear things like that," he said. "You know it is something that has been earned without doing anything in the season. I'm more interested right in how they have our team ranked."

Boise State senior forward Reggie Larry and New Mexico State junior forward Fred Peete also were first-team selections.

Larry and Peete were named to the 2006 all-Newcomer team.

No. School Pts

1. New Mexico State (13) 255

2. Utah State (10) 250

3. Nevada (7) 239

4. Fresno State 208

5. Boise State 175

6. Hawaii 151

7. Louisiana Tech 104

8. San Jose State 91

9. Idaho 57

NOTE: First-place votes in parenthesis; Utah State was No. 1 and NMSU No. 2 in the WAC media poll.

Preseason Player of the Year: Jaycee Carroll, Sr., G, Utah State

Coaches' poll

No. School Pts

1. Utah State (4) 58

2. New Mex. St. (3) 57

3. Nevada (1) 53

4. Fresno State (1) 46

5. Boise State 34

6. Hawaii 29

T7. Louisiana Tech 17

T7. San Jose State 17

9. Idaho 13

Note: First-place votes in

parentheses; NMSU was No. 1 and Utah State was No. 2 in the WAC media poll.

Preseason Player of the Year: Jaycee Carroll, Sr., G, Utah State