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‘The skill level here is off the charts’: Marco Anthony shares why he left USU to join Runnin’ Utes

Anthony played on NCAA Tournament teams at Virginia and Utah State and will be following former Aggies coach Craig Smith to Utah

Utah State guard Marco Anthony is transferring to Utah, where he will join his former USU coach, Craig Smith, in Salt Lake City.
Utah State Aggies guard Marco Anthony backs down San Diego State Aztecs guard Trey Pulliam as Utah State and San Diego State play in the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 13, 2021. Anthony is among a handful of newcomers who transferred to Utah after Craig Smith was named the Runnin’ Utes’ new coach.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Marco Anthony doesn’t want to hear it.

Is the former Utah State defensive ace who began his collegiate basketball career at Virginia and is joining the University of Utah’s team this upcoming season as a graduate-transfer reticent to talk about his various stops since leaving his hometown of San Antonio, Texas?

Hardly.

Rather, Anthony is tired of people saying “Polo,” playing off the form of tag played in a swimming pool, whenever his first name is called.

“Hearing it for 22 years gets kinda old,” the 6-foot-5 guard told the Deseret News, chuckling.

Anthony says he is so tired of people saying it when he is in a restaurant he no longer gives his first name when the order-taker asks for it.

“I get it all the time, so now I just say my name is Anthony,” he said. “Because every time they say my first name, Marco, somebody has to scream out ‘Polo.’”

Anthony is one of two former Aggies that new Utes coach Craig Smith lured to Salt Lake City, joining point guard Rollie Worster at the U. Anthony and Worster were roommates in Logan, and will live together on The Hill in an off-campus apartment.

“Having Rollie here, too, has made the transition a bit easier,” Anthony said after a recent workout at the Huntsman Basketball Facility. Minnesota’s Both Gach, Cincinnati’s Gabe Madsen, UNLV’s David Jenkins Jr., Illinois State’s Dusan Mahorcic and Bostyn Holt of Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College have also transferred in as Smith rebuilds the roster and were also recently allowed by the U. to talk publicly about their transfers.

Anthony’s move was probably one of the most expected, seeing as how the main reason he came West in 2019 and joined the Aggies was Smith and assistant coach Eric Peterson, who also followed Smith to the U.

“When I came to Utah State, what brought me there was coach Smith and the relationship I had built with him and coach Peterson,” Anthony said. “It was kind of a no-brainer. After he left, I just felt it would be better if I left, too.”

Shortly after Smith left Logan on March 27, Anthony entered the transfer portal as an immediately eligible graduate transfer.

“After I announced that I was leaving, coach Smith just reached out to me,” Anthony said. “He said, ‘Marco, I still think the world of you, and if you want to come to the U., I have a spot ready for you.’ So that was enough for me.”

Anthony averaged 10.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists for Utah State last year, while starting all 28 games. He earned All-Mountain West defensive team honors.

“We are pumped to have Marco join the Runnin’ Utes family,” Smith said in a school news release when the move became official. “Marco has great character and loves to be in the gym. … He has great skill and can guard anyone on the floor. Marco understands how to win at a high level and brings a wealth of experience in the NCAA Tournament to our program.”

Indeed, Anthony was a sophomore on Virginia’s 2019 national championship team, playing in 22 games. But after March Madness, he entered the portal and reconnected with Smith and Peterson, who had recruited him out of Holmes High in San Antonio two years before that.

Virginia guard Marco Anthony stands on the court during game against Maryland Nov. 28, 2018, in College Park, Md. Anthony was a sophomore on Virginia’s 2019 national championship team a year later and now is a member of the Utah Utes’ squad in Salt Lake City.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Some of Anthony’s high school friends had played for the two coaches at the University of South Dakota and could vouch for their integrity.

“Whatever (Smith and Peterson) tell you, you know they are not lying, and whatever they tell you, they are not just telling you what they think you want to hear. They have tremendous energy and will do whatever it takes to get you better,” Anthony said. “That was enough for me.”

Twice.

So Anthony turned in Aggie blue for the crimson of Utah, but says he will never forget his two years in Logan. He sat out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He realizes some Utah State fans are bitter that he and Worster left, but hopes they can understand he believes following Smith to SLC is best for his dream of some day playing in the NBA.

“I loved it at Utah State, just the whole culture there and how much they love basketball,” he said. “We had a family environment over there. We all hung out with each other and loved each other and that really led to our success.”

He’s only been working out with his new teammates for a couple of weeks, but senses the same kind of camaraderie at the U.

“We have only known each other for about three weeks, but the bond that we are developing is strong. It is just crazy how close we are getting,” he said.

Clearly, Smith is building a roster full of defensive standouts, and Anthony will be a cornerstone of those efforts. He has a 41-inch vertical leap and is wiry strong and exceptionally versatile, Smith said.

He’s also a college graduate, having earned his degree from Utah State.

“I hope to bring the same work ethic and (academic) focus to this team,” Anthony said, when asked what his role will be for the Utes. “I am just a basketball player. Whatever coach expects of me, I will do. … That’s what I feel like I can bring to this team, because that’s what I have been doing for most of my basketball career anyway.”

Anthony usually goes back to Texas for a couple of weeks every summer, but plans to stay in Utah this year and “grind it out in workouts and stuff like that.”

He’s a gym rat, which is how he became friends and roommates with Worster, who also loves to spend a lot of time in the weight room.

The former Aggies plan to get Utah to the NCAA Tournament, after helping USU get a No. 11 seed in last March’s Big Dance. Anthony says the talent is there to make a good run and be a contender in the Pac-12.

“The skill level here is off the charts,” he said, offering an early scouting report. “Whatever we want to do, we can just lock in and do. That’s how I feel about this team. All of us are not looking for any individual awards or anything like that.

“We all have one common goal, and that is winning,” he continued. “You get a group of really talented guys to buy in and do that, and the sky is not even the limit for that. So I think you can say we are really, really good.”

And nobody is saying anything about that other Marco. Not yet, anyway.