The Utah State basketball team that opens its season Tuesday hosting Brigham Young will be, let's see: bigger, faster, stronger. There'll be more athleticism, more rebounding, more movement, more show. Maybe more scoring.

But, at least for the early part of the season, it'll also be The Guardline and The Kindergarten.Most of the experience - Kendall Youngblood and Jay Goodman - and most of the obvious new talent - Malloy Nesmith and Todd Gentry - are on the perimeter. Nesmith is the creative point guard coach Kohn Smith's been looking for. "He's an entertainer," says Smith. And Gentry is the defensive guard who can free the scorers, Youngblood and Goodman, from some of that drudgery.

Though he has some lightly experienced substitutes at forward in Gary Patterson and Roger Daly and at center in Charlie Sager (they total one start between them), Smith will go with newcomers who carry the "project" label up front while moving Youngblood to small forward.

"We don't have to be great - just adequate - inside," Smith says.

Smith is banking on a "kindergarten klass" of 6-foot-8 junior-college transfer Carlito DaSilva of Brazil, 7-0 returned-missionary/freshman Nathan Wickizer and 6-8 sophomore Roderick Hay, an academic casualty last year, to be his starters up front.

He needs to replace a small-forward line from last year that provided leadership and hustle in the form of seniors Randy Funk and Rich Jardine and rugged freshmen Bryon Ruffner and Eric Franson, who left for LDS Church missions. Ruffner was Big West Freshman of the Year.

Wickizer has a good shooting touch and good hands but needs strength. "By the time he's a senior, he may be the best post man ever at Utah State," Smith says.

DaSilva is the powerful wide-body type but possesses "lots of athletic skill, really good for a big man," says Smith. He shoots, jumps and rebounds and comes from a running tradition at College of Southern Idaho, which went 35-2 and 32-3 in the DaSilva years. It will take time for him to learn the NCAA game. "He's always catching up," says Smith, "but he has natural athletic skill."

Hay, at 205, is quick with long arms and is a defender/rebounder who'll rotate with DaSilva and Wickizer, depending upon the competition.

"They have a long way to go, but they're talented physically," Smith says. "Now they need to learn to play defensively and handle the pressure.

"We'll rebound a lot better than last year; we were at a deficit every game," says Smith. "That will change our game, and we'll be better defenders, not having to help so much with the post player." (Funk, at 6-7, was the starting 1990-91 center.)

The one who'll change the Aggie game the most is Nesmith, a 5-11 fastbreaker with good JC (Jacksonville, Texas) credentials and playground pizzazz from his home in the South Bronx.

He takes ballhandling pressure off Goodman, who's now free to be a true shooting guard with rebounders underneath, and he'll deliver to Goodman and Youngblood. "They really like playing with him," Smith says.

"He helps us with the teams that are right there that we have to beat," adds Smith, talking about contenders Long Beach and New Mexico State that clamp on presses. "With their pressure, they've been able to create turnovers; Nesmith helps us there," says Smith. USU lost six games in the last minute last year.

Gentry, who transferred last year from BYU, will rotate at the off-guard with Goodman, depending upon whether it's defense or offense that's needed, and Goodman can still play point.

View Comments

Youngblood is the centerpiece, an 85-game starter and two-time team MVP who should become the highest-scoring USU guard ever by midseason. He's improved in shooting and ballhandling, says Smith, who expects an outstanding season from Youngblood, especially now that he'll be at his natural small-forward position.

He gained confidence from last year's success, says Smith. "He was able to score really well on (UNLV's) Stacey Augmon (top NCAA defender)," says Smith.

"He'll be even better with Nesmith getting him the ball."

Youngblood provides more than 18.8 points, 77 percent free throwing and 6.5 rebounds; he's the leader a coach craves. "A model kid, on the court and off," says Smith.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.