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Utah State basketball: Aggies happy relying on Tai Wesley

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LOGAN — During the countless driveway and neighborhood basketball games Tai Wesley played in as a youngster, he got posted up, beaten down and abused by his older and larger brothers.

He also got educated.

"There were many, many, many battles in the Wesley house," Tai said, recalling the hoop wars waged against Mikeli, Tika, and Russell among others. "They usually got the best of me. I had to work my way up to being able to play with them."

All those backyard brawls — and rest assured, the Wesley boys aren't afraid of a little physical contact — have paid off handsomely for Wesley and Utah State.

And they've helped lead the Aggies to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Friday afternoon, Wesley and the Ags take on Texas A&M in Spokane.

One thing's for sure, USU coach Stew Morrill is thrilled to have Wesley playing at the 4 spot.

"He was obviously well-coached in high school by (Provo High) coach (Craig) Drury," Morrill said of his leading scorer. "His fundamentals were outstanding when we got him. He was way ahead of the game coming out of high school."

Wesley, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior, is not the tallest, the quickest or the highest leaper on the USU roster. But even on a team filled with cerebral players such as Jared Quayle, Tyler Newbold, Nate Bendall and Pooh Williams, Wesley stands out with his on-court intelligence.

"I really think he is one of the smartest players I've ever coached," Morrill said. "He's just got a great feel for the game. He understands everything you need to do to get ready for a game."

Wesley is the latest in a long line of stars playing at the 4 position for USU. Much like Shawn Daniels, Desmond Penigar, Spencer Nelson and Nate Harris before him, Wesley is often the point of attack for Utah State's offense.

Though Jared Quayle is the point guard and triggers each play, Wesley is often the focus of that play.

"We run just about everything through the 4," Morrill said. "With Tai, he has such an amazing awareness and his hands are so good. He catches just about everything thrown at him and he is such a great passer. He makes our offense so much better."

Averaging 13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, Wesley was honored by WAC coaches last week when he was named a first-team all-conference player.

He's been a starter at USU since he was a freshman and is climbing up several USU record lists. The Utah State sports information office calls Wesley the "most complete player in Utah State history."

Wesley has 1,233 career points, 596 career rebounds, 280 career assists and 106 career blocks and is the only player in school history to have at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocks in a career. The only Aggie player other than Wesley who can come close to his numbers is Nate Harris (2003-06), who had 1,475 points, 722 rebounds, 220 assists and 90 blocks.

Though a pretty good athlete, Wesley credits his success to coaching and approaching each game thoughtfully.

"I'm not the most athletic guy," Wesley said. "I have to rely on my footwork and that stuff to get around people."

Wesley is a career 59.6 percent shooter, and there's a good reason for that. He may not be the best jumper in the gym, but he's got moves that make defenders look silly at times.

"There are times when you just feel it," Wesley said. "You've got a guy on your back and you can give him a baseline spin. You definitely feel you can do whatever you want."

Sometimes it's the baseline spin. Other times it's a pump-fake, up-and-under move. Sometimes it's a jump hook.

Most of the time, it's a basket — but not necessarily his own.

"Tai demands a double team a lot of the time because he is so strong and so good with his feet and with his moves," Morrill said. "But he's really a good passer. He is very good at recognizing a double team and knowing where the open man is. He makes everyone on the team better."

That was painfully evident Saturday night in Utah State's WAC championship game loss to New Mexico State. Hit in the nose early with what he said was an inadvertent forearm, Wesley was in and out of the game several times trying to get the broken and bleeding nose under control.

Without him on the court, the Aggies couldn't establish their normal game flow. And, though quick to credit NMSU for being the better team on the court that night, Morrill said the first 20 minutes of play had a clear impact on the game because of Wesley's inability to stay on the floor and control the offensive sets.

On Friday, against Texas A&M, Wesley said he'll be ready to go.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com

NCAA first round

No. 12 Utah St. (27-7) vs. No. 5 Texas A&M (23-9)

Friday, 2:45 p.m. (approximate)

Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.

TV: CBS Radio: 610 AM, 1230 AM, 95.9 FM

More online

Get updates about Tai Wesley's broken nose at deseretnews.com/blogs