Youngstown State head coach Jerrod Calhoun gives directions against the Michigan in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

LOGAN — Roughly 48 hours after Jerrod Calhoun was officially announced as head coach of men’s basketball at Utah State, the program received some welcome news. Isaac Johnson, the team’s starting center last year who showed several flashes of brilliance, indicated his intention to stick with the Aggies for his junior season on his Instagram account.

“We ain’t done yet,” the 7-foot center said to conclude his post.

That re-commit, or “run it back” post — since such things are almost necessary in the transfer portal age of college sports — is one of what Calhoun and Aggie fans everywhere will be hoping to see more of in the coming days.

It also represents the most important task the new head coach now faces: Keep this roster together at all costs.

Funnily enough, “all costs” can be literal, given NIL, but figuratively it’s very true as well. Of the 16 players on last year’s roster, the only one obligated to leave is Darius Brown who has no eligibility remaining. It’s a massive loss, to be sure, but the rest of the roster still contains the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year (Great Osobor), the co-Sixth Man of the Year (Josh Uduje), and an honorable mention All-MW player (Ian Martinez). That’s before you even get to talented up-and-comers like Johnson, or even Mason Falslev if he chooses to stay in Logan despite entering the transfer portal himself.

Beyond just keeping Osobor, Martinez, Uduje, Falselv and others in Logan, there’s also the tough task Calhoun could face with the Aggies’ talented but crumbling class of 2024. Kase Wynott, Terrence Hill Jr. and Christopher Cox were all once committed to Utah State but have all de-committed now that Danny Sprinkle is gone. Only Jordan Barnes remains as a commit (though even he has gone through the process of de-committing from USU once before when Odom left USU).

Setting aside potential scholarship count issues (in the preseason the Aggies were projected to lose just two players from a 16-man roster to graduation but bring on four prep recruits), Utah State had an excellent incoming group of players. Wynott, a 6-foot-6 wing, was perhaps the most known with his eye-popping stat-line of 36.0 points, 13.9 rebounds and 9.1 assists as a senior at Lapwai High School (and becoming Idaho’s all-time leading scorer in prep hoops), but no one should discount Hill (6-foot-3 point guard) or Cox (6-foot-8 forward) either.

Both led their respective high schools to the championship game —  Hill leading Roosevelt to Oregon’s 6A title game and Cox to Utah’s 4A championship bout, although both finished runner-up to the eventual championship teams. Hill averaged north of 20 points and set a school record with 47 this year. Cox eclipsed the 20-point average as a junior and averaged just shy of 17 points as a senior.

Whether or not getting these players to re-commit is in the cards remains to be seen, but it’d be a very worthwhile effort. There’s star potential all over that recruiting class.

As a whole, even with Brown departing and even without the talents of Wynott, Hill and Cox, this is a very good roster. One capable of being a power in the Mountain West again next year. Especially as many other top teams will be replacing star players (San Diego State with Jaedon LeDee, Colorado State and Isaiah Stevens, New Mexico and Jaelen House, Nevada and Jarod Lucas).

That’s why, despite the fact that Utah State’s 2024-25 basketball season won’t start for seven months, the next few weeks are the most important for that season. We’ve seen how much of an impact inheriting or bringing in talented players has for incoming Aggie coaches.

Craig Smith came to Logan and already had Sam Merrill and paired him with Neemias Queta. Both emerged as stars under Smith and the duo went on to win multiple conference titles.

When Ryan Odom flew into town he inherited Justin Bean along with up-and-comers Steven Ashworth, Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga. With their aid and a couple timely transfers like Taylor Funk and Dan Akin the Aggies continued their run of appearances in the postseason with an NIT and then NCAA Tournament berth in Odom’s two seasons.

Even though Sprinkle didn’t benefit from any returning production from the roster prior to his one and only season at USU, the principle still kind of shows up with his brief tenure. Two of his starters, Falslev and Johnson, were holdovers from the former staff and he added two transfers from his own previous stop with Brown and Osobor. If you squint hard enough, you could consider those four players “inherited” in one form or another and then combine it all with the many other transfers Sprinkle brought in and it’s a similar story to Smith and Odom, just with a more radical flavor.

Long story short, talent matters. And this roster has it. If Calhoun wants to compete with this Utah State team in the Mountain West, his best option is to keep the talent this team already has. No one will call it an easy task, but if he pulls it off the Calhoun will pass his first test as head coach.









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