Maybe Paul Weir’s move of more than 200 miles from the coaching seat in the Pan American Center to the one in Dreamstyle Arena is the most significant one to Lobo basketball fans.
But the 18-inch move being made in San Diego arguably trumps anything happening in New Mexico in terms of significance for the Mountain West Conference.
Gone is legendary San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher, who built the Aztecs from the ground up into the most successful program in league history. In steps Brian Dutcher, the longtime assistant who was with Fisher every step of the way, including when the pair were at Michigan prior to their move west.
“I’ve got the easiest transition of anybody who’s taking a new job because it’s a school I’ve been at for 18 years,” says Dutcher, whose Aztecs were picked to finish second in the Mountain West in last month’s preseason media poll.
“… The hard part for me is going to be coaching the games. As much prep as you do your whole life, when you step on the floor (as head coach) for the first time, that’s the thing that’s going to be different.”
The Aztecs again have a loaded roster, prompting fellow MWC coaches like Larry Eustachy, Leon Rice and Eric Musselman to sing the SDSU praises at October’s media conference.
Three returning starters who averaged double-digit scoring a season ago — guards Trey Kell (13.2 points per game) and Jeremy Hemsley (12.9) and forward Malik Pope (11.0) — are back.
Redshirt freshman Jalen McDaniels, an athletic 6-foot-9 forward, could end up being the next superstar on the Mesa, eventually.
In the immediate future, it’s the addition of San Francisco transfer guard Devin Watson, who averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists per game before sitting out last season as a transfer, that creates most of the optimism.
But can it be too much of a good thing? Can three guards in Kell, Hemsley and Watson, who all have proven to be at their best as lead guards with the ball in their hands, work together?
“It makes it easier on all of us where we don’t have to be that one that makes the play every time,” Kell said. “Sometimes we can just be the recipient to hit a wide open shot or wide open layup. … It just puts so much pressure on the defense, especially if the guards are ones that can shoot and drive like we have. It’s one of those where you have to pick your poison.”
San Diego State
2016-17: 19-14 (9-9 Mountain West, 6th)
2017-18 preseason poll: 2nd
Head coach: Brian Dutcher (0-0, first season overall and at SDSU)
Starters/letterwinners returning: 3/6
Vs. UNM: Jan. 20 the Pit (SDSU and UNM play only once)