LOGAN — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact collegiate athletics, there’s a strong possibility that it might be even longer than anticipated before Utah State head basketball coach Craig Smith is able to enjoy Marco Anthony’s highly anticipated debut in an Aggies uniform.

But then, what’s a couple more months for Smith, considering the extreme amount of patience he’s already exercised when it comes to the 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior transfer from the University of Virginia.

Thanks to the keen eye of his assistant coach Eric Peterson, Smith originally recruited Anthony during the spring of 2016 when he and Peterson were at South Dakota and Anthony was coming off his junior season at Holmes High School in San Antonio. Although he had averaged 20 points and seven rebounds per game, the Coyotes were the only Division I team to pay much attention to Anthony at the time.

Utah State’s Marco Anthony goes up for a dunk during a preseason slam dunk contest in 2019. | Utah State Athletics

“The first time I saw Marco play, he was like a bowling ball,” Smith recalls. “The guy is 6-5, and even in high school he had to be about 215, 220. You just don’t forget him. He’s so unique in the way that he plays; the way that he does things. I called Pete right away and told him, ‘If we can get guy, we won’t be able to keep him off the floor at South Dakota.’”

But after a slow start playing on a team on the Nike EYBL circuit during the summer, Anthony suddenly elevated his game, and soon it wasn’t just the Coyotes who were interested in adding him to their program. On July 18, Tony Bennett and ACC powerhouse Virginia offered him a scholarship, and unsurprisingly, he verbally committed to the Cavaliers a day later.

Looking back four years, Anthony says he might have been a little hasty making that decision.

“I committed to Virginia fairly early. Earlier than I probably should have because I didn’t really let other schools recruit me after I started playing well on the circuit,” he says. “Virginia is a big-name school, and I just committed right on the spot instead of letting my name blow up a little bit. My recruitment was still good, but it never really reached the max I think it would if I had just kept playing and allow other coaches to keep reaching out to me.”

Either way, Smith and South Dakota were obviously out of the running for Anthony, who went on to average 25.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a senior in 2016-17. But while Anthony went on to have a very quiet freshman season at Virginia (he averaged two points and less than eight minutes per game), Smith and the Coyotes won 26 games in 2017-18, leading to him being hired as Utah State’s head coach on March 26, 2018 — 10 days after the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament when they lost to UMBC, 74-54.

Anthony didn’t get on the court during that shocking upset, and that trend continued the following season when he averaged just 1.2 points and 5.4 minutes per game in 2018-19. But while the Cavaliers rebounded to win the national championship, Anthony logged just one minute of playing time during Virginia’s entire NCAA tournament run.

Virginia guard Marco Anthony stands on the court in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in College Park, Md. | Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Smith says while he would occasionally check out a box score to see what Anthony was doing at Virginia, he didn’t pay a lot of attention until he was at the Final Four in 2019. One of his former players at South Dakota, Matt Mooney, had transferred to Texas Tech, and helped propel the Red Raiders into the championship game against the Cavaliers.

“I wasn’t totally shocked that Marco didn’t play in that game because he was only a sophomore and was playing behind three NBA guards,” Smith says. “I’m sure there were also some other factors that came into play when his name suddenly popped up in the transfer portal.”

Anthony says while he learned a lot while at Virginia, his decision to leave came about because he “my biggest goal at the end of the day is to reach the NBA.” And he says that after watching players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and CJ McCollum find success as pros, he realized that you don’t necessarily have to play at a “big-time school” in order to make the leap from college basketball to the NBA.

“That was the biggest reason I left Virginia ... so I could go somewhere I could play and prove myself. I still value the experiences I had there, but I think making the leap here to Utah State will help myself and the team.” — Marco Anthony

“That was the biggest reason I left Virginia ... so I could go somewhere I could play and prove myself,” Anthony explains. “I still value the experiences I had there, but I think making the leap here to Utah State will help myself and the team.”

Anthony’s “leap” from Charlottesville to Logan was made easier by the relationship he had originally developed with Smith and Peterson back in 2016. In addition, he had a couple of friends who ended up playing at South Dakota, and they told him: “’Whatever coach Smith is telling you, he’s not lying,’ and as soon as I made a visit to Utah State, I knew they were right and that this was the place for me.”

Interestingly enough, the Aggies almost didn’t pull the trigger on Anthony’s transfer. Knowing he would have to sit out the 2019-20 season, Smith says there was a lot of discussion on his staff about bringing in a graduate transfer that would be able to contribute immediately.

“But we had a good relationship with Marco, and we knew what a good person he is, how talented he is and that he’s a basketball junkie,” Smith says. “As we got into it, it just became a no-brainer and we brought Marco and his family here on a visit. They loved it, and he committed on the visit.”

And now Charles and Monica Gantt’s son might just be the only Division I basketball player to end the last two seasons with a tournament championship, thanks to the Aggies winning the 2020 Mountain West Tournament title in Las Vegas just days before the coronavirus epidemic starting shutting athletics down around the country. But while he practiced with the team throughout the 2019-20 season, Anthony had to make his own way down to Las Vegas on a bus full of fellow students, and he watched USU’s first two games in the stands with the HURD.

Utah State’s Marco Anthony poses for a picture on the Utah State campus. | Jeff Hunter

However, Anthony was able to sit on the Aggie bench for the championship game and share the excitement of USU’s upset of No. 5 San Diego State — the final Utah State game for Aggies guards Sam Merrill, Diogo Brito and Abel Porter. Heading into the 2020-21 season, Anthony will be counted on to help offset the significant contributions of that talented trio.

“Marco had a fantastic redshirt year,” Smith says. “We feel like he’s really improved. He really understands how we do things here — our terminology and our culture — and we need to get a lot of him this season.”

Smith says Anthony is “a bit of a Swiss army knife” because of his ability to play multiple positions, and Anthony clearly takes pride in that idea. Although there’s a good chance he’ll see the bulk of his playing time at point guard, he says “I’m just a basketball player” and he’s prepared to play anything from the 1 to the 4 spot.

“Marco has the physical strength to play anywhere; he’s just so strong and can guard anyone on the floor. But he’ll be a playmaker for us, the kind of guy that makes the right reads for himself and his teammates.” — Utah State coach Craig Smith

“Marco has the physical strength to play anywhere; he’s just so strong and can guard anyone on the floor,” Smith says. “But he’ll be a playmaker for us, the kind of guy that makes the right reads for himself and his teammates.”

After the Aggies’ season ended abruptly last March, Anthony went back home to San Antonio, finished up school online and worked out with a trainer until he was able to return to Logan on June 16. After being in quarantine for two weeks, he was able to get back in the weight room for a few weeks before the Aggies were able to begin limited practices in late July.

As USU awaits further information about what the 2020-21 college basketball season may look like, Anthony says he’s trying to stay focused on the things he can control and help the team in whatever way he can.

“I don’t care where I play, as long as I’m on the floor, I’m fine with it,” he declares. “But I think I can bring a lot of leadership to the team this season and be a playmaker, not just on offense, but on defense, as well. “