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The Scholarly Spotlight: SDSU Aztecs.

The state of California has always been a hub of basketball talent throughout the sport's history. Some of the NBA’s biggest names like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard are all from Los Angeles. Damian Lillard is from Oakland and Demar Derozan is from Compton. California's Division-1 collegiate basketball programs have attracted talent from all over the world ,and San Diego State University has one of the biggest programs of them all.

Led by head coach, Brian Dutcher, he has been a part of the program for the last 24 years. He began as an assistant coach from 1999 to 2017 before being promoted to head coach in 2018. He has an overall record of 152-47 with a win percentage of .764. Since taking over, SDSU has made a tournament appearance every season and recently led the Aztecs to their first national championship appearance.

SDSU has produced notable NBA talent like Toronto Raptors Malachi Flynn and Jalen Mcdaniels. Future Hall Of Famer Kawhi Leonard also played for the University from 2009-2011. The University has instilled a culture of hard work, and the recruiting classes are a big part.  The new members of the Aztecs have reminded the collegiate basketball world what they are capable of. 

 The first recruit of their 2022 recruiting class was Myles Byrd from Stockton, California. According to 247 Sports, he was a four-star recruit, and his scouting report states he is a great ball handler with the ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. He has a deep bag that helps him slash to the rim against defenders, and he is listed at 6’6 with a long wingspan for his size. He made a name for himself at Lincoln High School, and during his junior year, his stats were 16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.5 STL, and 2.2 BPG. The season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he returned his senior year to showcase improvement regardless of worldwide adversity.

Byrd averaged 17.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.3 APG 2.8 STL, and 1.2 BPG. He is also a versatile defender due to his experiences playing the center in High School, and having to guard multiple positions switching on screens. The performances on the court earned him a McDonald’s All-American nomination and critical acclaim from scouts. MaxPreps named him All-Northern California, CalHiSports named him First-Team All-State solidifying him as the best shooting guard in his region, and SacHiSports selected him as the Winter Player Of The Year.  He was also named the TCAL co-Most Valuable Player and was an honor roll student inside the classroom. 

He rejected offers from Villanova, Washington, Minnesota, Saint Mary’s, and Colorado State. He’s a great addition to the Aztecs' roster and will improve throughout his college tenure under Coach Dutcher.

Their second recruit from 2022 was Elijah Saunders from Phoenix, Arizona. Saunders was considered a 3 to 4-star recruit, and scouts praised him for his physical presence. Scouts compare him to a football linebacker on the basketball court due to his build. He is 6’8 and weighs 240 pounds with prevalent muscle mass. He attended Sunnyslope High School and received offers from multiple D1 schools. His junior stats were 15.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 STLS and 0.5 RPG. 

During his senior year, Elijah showed he was ready for the next level by increasing his stats to 22.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 0.8 STLS, and 0.3. BPG. His defensive stats took a hit, but his offensive game improved substantially.  He received letters from BYU, Cal Poly, Depaul, and Duquesne. He would officially announce his commitment to SDSU on September 21st, 2021 

The Aztecs have obtained a player who can score in the post with size and strength. He crashes the glass constantly hunting for putback opportunities. While in high school, scouts suggested he would need to improve his mobility on the defensive end, and he has shown improvement during his tenure at SDSU. During his Freshman year, he only got 5 mins off the bench and had no stats except for 1.1 rebounds per game. Now in his sophomore season, he is averaging 8.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 STLS, and 1.0 APG as of November 18th

The Aztecs also received new talent from the Transfer Portal during the 2021-2022 NCAA off-season. Former Golden Grizzly Small Forward, Micah Parrish, transferred to SDSU on May 5th, 2022. Parrish was a major part of Oakland’s core during his short tenure. He averaged 12.1PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, and 1.7 STLS during his last season for the Grizzlies. The next chapter of his career would be under the guidance of Coach Dutcher.  Now in his Senior year, he is shooting an incredible 54% from 3-point range in the beginning of the season. As of November 18th, he is averaging 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 2.3 STLS.

Their other transfer was former Seattle University Redhawks Guard, Darrion Trammel, who announced he was entering the transfer portal on March 23rd, 2022. On April 5th he announced that SDSU would be his destination. During his first two years of college ball, he averaged 20 PPG, 5.3 APG,2.0 STLS, and 3.8 RPG in his first season for the Redhawks. The following season, he put up 17.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.5 STLS, and 3.8 RPG. When he transferred to SDSU he adapted to being a role player for Coach Dutcher’s system.  In his first year for the Aztecs, he averaged 9.8 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.3 STLS, and 2.4 RPG. Trammel is a senior now, and after a few games he is averaging 5.5 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 STLS, and 1.5 RPG. 

During the 2022-2023 season, they had a 23-9 record with the #3 rank in the Mountain West conference. When Parrish, Byrd, Trammel, and Saunders arrived at the university, they made an immediate impact. Their final record at the end of the season was 32-7, and the #1 rank in the Mountain West. They had an incredible 15-1 home record and  8-2 on the road. While competing against teams in the Mountain West, they had a 15-3 record. The Aztecs had the three best categorical records among the entire conference. 

 The Aztecs made the 2023 March Madness Tournament for the 15th time in the school’s history. It was the most successful run they have ever had in the tournament. The Aztecs came in as the 5th ranked school and faced a gauntlet of amazing talent. In their first two matchups, they defeated Charleston and Furman. Meanwhile, #1 ranked Alabama defeated Texas A&M-CC and Maryland in 20-point blowouts. 

San Diego State matched up with Alabama, and the Crimson Tide were big favorites.  After blowing out their two previous opponents they were confident in their pursuit of the NCAA Championship. They were being led by Brandon Miller who was projected to be a top-3 pick in the 2023 NBA draft. Darrion Trammel led the Aztecs in scoring with 21 points while shooting 9-16 on the night. Miller only scored 9 points shooting 1-10 from 3-point range and 3-19 overall during the game. 

SDSU defeated the Crimson Tide 71-64 in an upset to advance to the Elite 8. From there on The Aztecs experienced war on the basketball as the level of competition increased. They defeated Creighton in a nail-biter with a final score of 57-56, and their next opponent was the FAU Owls. The Owls were confident after eliminating #4 ranked Tennesse 62-55 and #3 ranked Kansas State.

The Aztecs and the Owls met in the Final Four to decide who would advance to the NCCA championship. The game was a back-and-forth affair with highlight plays on both teams. FAU’s  Alijah Martin had a great performance leading the game in scoring with 26 points while shooting 7-13 and 3-7 from behind the 3-point line. Matt Bradley stepped up for the Aztecs in a big game where their usual scorers were not producing. Bradley scored 21 points and shot  50% from three while shooting 5-12 overall. FAU won the first half of the game 40-33, but Coach Dutcher made the proper adjustments for the Aztecs to win the second half 39-31. SDSU won 72-71 in another wild game to advance to the NCAA Championship.

Their opponents were the Uconn Huskies led by Head Coach Dan Hurley.  Their regular season record was 31-8 in the Big East conference. Throughout the entire March Madness tournament the Huskies only had two close games versus TCU and UCLA where they won both games by 3 points. They decimated Iowa, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, and Arkansas with double-digit blowouts on the way to the NCAA Championship. 

The Huskies defeated the Aztecs 76-59 in an uneventful championship game. UConn led the entire game, and SDSU could not get the stops they needed to. The Huskies were shooting 43% as a team and the Aztecs shot 32%. The Huskies also collected more rebounds and got to the free-throw line where they made 24 out of 27 as a team. The Aztecs committed five more team fouls and it hurt them down the stretch. 

Coach Dutcher was proud of his team despite the loss and addressed the media during the post-game press conference. “I'm proud of these guys they have given me everything that they had. 6 years, 5 years, 5 years, 5 years these guys are what it’s about.” He said  “ It’s about college athletics.  these guys are good students and they’re outstanding players so we can feel good about the things we did.” 

After losing the National Championship, it was time to build for the future. Some of the Upperclassmen who were essential to their championship run declared for the draft or graduated. Nathan Mensah, Mat Bradley,  and Adam Seiko all graduated. Mensah wasn’t selected by a team during the NBA draft but made the Charlotte Hornets G-League team the Greensboro Swarm. Bradley plays for the Rostock Seawolves of the Basketball Bundesliga overseas. Seiko played for the Golden State Warrior’s summer league team but did not make the 2023-2024 roster. 

This meant it was time for the scouts to go back to work. Mensah, Bradley, and Seiko were a part of the Aztec’s core for years. They were great mentors for the incoming freshman from the 2022 recruiting class, and the scouts were strategic in their pursuit of new talent. 

With Nathan Mensah leaving, the Aztecs needed to add size to their bench. The School had its eyes on 6’11 center Magoo Gwath out of Veritas Prep. He attended multiple training camps the summer he graduated High school, and SDSU scouts discovered him at the Pangos All-American preview camp in April of 2023. SDSU scouts were in attendance During the Section 7 recruiting event, and he stole the show with his performance.  He was a big man shooting 4 of 4 from beyond the 3-point line and finished the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Gwath turned down offers from Villanova, USC, and Saint Mary’s. He is a big man who can dribble and shoot. He is a great passer as well with good vision for his position. In an era of basketball where Victor Wembenyama exists coaches are going to love having players of this caliber on their rosters. It’ll be interesting to see how Gwath develops his game under coach Dutcher. Their offense was phenomenal last season, and his shooting prowess provides the possibility for a five-out offense. On June 26th, 2023 Magoo announced his commitment to SDSU and on June 30th he enrolled.

After recruiting Gwath, the scouts wanted to add a frontcourt partner for the future. The scouts ventured to Snoqualmie, Washington to recruit 6’10 Big Man Miles Heide. Miles is a Center that can play the Power Forward positions adding versatility to the line-ups Dutcher can use.

During his time at Mount Si High School, he made history. He was a 4-year letter winner and a 4-time KingCo league champion. The Kingco Athletic Conference is a high school athletics conference in King County, Washington, part of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. This title put a massive spotlight on him in his area and was part of the reason SDSU discovered him. He is a very athletic rebounder and shot-blocker. He has a strong frame, and Heide is very fast for his position.

 He averaged doubles-doubles his last two years 15 PPG and 10.1 RPG in his junior year, and his senior year he averaged 17.7 PPG and 13.3 RPG. He received multiple offers from Iowa, BYU, and Fresno State. He took a trip to San Diego on September 9th to see what they had to offer. On October 1st, 2022 he committed to the Aztecs and he enrolled on June 30th, 2023.

With Matt Bradley leaving the team, an opening at the guard position needed to be filled. The scouts had their eyes on 6’2 point guard BJ Davis. Davis is from Modesto, CA, and made a name for himself at Modesto Christrian High School. During his last two years in high school, he averaged 17.7 PPG,6.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 2.2 SPG. He has very tight handles for his age and has a great shooting stroke. It’s a quick release that pares well with the pick and roll because defenders can not get over the screen quickly enough.  He will need to add some muscle to his frame to help him at the collegiate level, but this will happen naturally as he gets older throughout the years. 

After gathering their commits, the scouts looked into the transfer portal to add more depth to their roster. Darrion Trammel and Micah Parrish were great additions to the roster from the transfer portal showing there's always talent to be discovered.  They recruited small forward Jay Pal from Jacksonville State University, and shooting guard Reese Dixon-Waters from the University of Southern California. 

Jay Pal spent two years of his collegiate career at Jacksonville State University under head coach Ray Harper after leaving Clarendon College. He spent most of the time coming off the bench, but got a few starts, depending on who they were facing that night. During his time under Harper, his highest averages were 5.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 1.7 APG playing 28 minutes every night. He decided to transfer to Campbell University the next season

He finally got his moment to shine during the Big South tournament under Head Coach Kevin McGeehan. McGeehan’s system allowed more opportunities for Pal, and he included him in more of the plays. He started in all 32 games that season and averaged 12.3 PPG and 7 RPG. After showcasing his true ability he wanted to transfer one more time, and San Diego would be his destination. 

Reese Waters was the third leading scorer for the USC Trojans last year averaging 9.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 1.1 APG in 25 minutes per game. Even though he was not a starter, he always made his presence felt when on the court. During his time for the Trojans, he shot 44% from the field, and 30% from beyond the arc. He is a 6’5, 210-pound guard who will add good depth among their guards on the bench. In his previous season, he set a career-best 93 rebounds, 21 steals, and 12 blocks throughout the season. 

The Aztecs made history for their university last season. Coach Dutcher guided them during the deepest run they’ve ever had in the tournament, and they have built relationships together that will last a lifetime. This year, their goal is to make it back to the national championship and get the job done. 


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