SDSU men’s hoops quietly begins 2015-16 season against Cal State San Marcos

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SDSU men’s hoops quietly begins 2015-16 season against Cal State San Marcos

by Patrick Carr, Sports Editor

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Quietly, up on a hill near the eastern city limits of San Diego, basketball has returned.

One might have forgotten Aztec basketball has existed over the past several months with the Chargers toying with the city and threatening to leave and the Padres firing and hiring a new manager.

Only this year it’s very different for SDSU. The fanfare and hype aren’t as prevalent as in the past, like when Jimmer and Kawhi dueled each other in 2011.

The notoriously rowdy student section, The Show, has been less active than it was in the heyday of Aztec hoops.

While the initial firestorm of a reported NCAA investigation, which struck fear into the SDSU community, has temporarily subsided, it hangs over San Diego State men’s basketball like a dark cloud.

The kind of dark cloud never seen in Southern California.

Meanwhile on the court, the talk isn’t about the amount of experienced and well-traveled transfers that head coach Steve Fisher has brought in. No, this is possibly the first year where a loaded high school recruiting class will show off its talents at SDSU.

Sophomores Malik Pope and Trey Kell, redshirt-freshman Zylan Cheatham and freshman Jeremy Hemsley were all highly rated in high school and bring unique skill-sets  to the Aztecs.

While the team may be athletic, there’s a lot of room on the bench. Fisher has just nine healthy scholarship players this season, with redshirt-junior guard Matt Shrigley to miss extended time after tearing his ACL in July. Walk-on freshman guard Ben Perez is expected to see playing time in Shrigley’s absence.

That’s where the ever-reliable, hard-working senior forward Winston Shepard will have to come in. Shepard will be expected to lower his team-high 88 turnovers last year in order to facilitate an extremely athletic Aztecs team.

But like always, they will be a very tough team to play against defensively, especially with the shot clock going down from 35 to 30 seconds.

“We’re not going to sacrifice what we do defensively,” assistant coach Brian Dutcher said at a press conference in mid-October. “Maybe we’ll get more aggressive and try to create more turnovers and give ourselves more opportunities to score off our defense more this year.”

With two of the most athletic players on the team being at full strength, that very well may be a possibility. Pope is expected to play his first full season of basketball since his sophomore year of high school after breaking his leg twice.

Cheatham, anther immensely talented forward, will take the court as an Aztec for the first time Monday against Cal State San Marcos after redshirting last year due to foot surgery.

Sophomore guard Trey Kell doesn’t want that talent to go to waste.

“The worst thing for any team to do is not reach your full potential or look back and be like ‘I wish we could’ve done this better,” he said.

The players SDSU picked up for the 2015-16 campaign might have received less fanfare than the historic recruiting class that came in 2014. Freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley is expected to start at point guard, exactly where Kell started last year.

The only problem with was Kell was a two guard in high school, not a point guard. Hemsley, the LA Times Player of the Year last season, is a point guard. He averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and, the key stat for a point guard, seven assists per game.

Non-conference schedule breakdown

Key non-conference games litter the schedule for SDSU this year, including a tough early road trip to play University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16. The Utes don’t have Delon Wright anymore after he was drafted by the  Toronto Raptors in the 2015 NBA Draft.

But they still have sophomore forward Jakob Poetl, senior forward Jordan Loveridge and senior guard Brandon Taylor.

Then the Aztecs travel to Las Vegas for the Continental Tires Invitational and a Thanksgiving weekend clash with breakout-poised UC Berkeley, who bagged two top 10 recruits in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb.

After that, a possible matchup with West Virginia University looms. The Mountaineers were a Sweet 16 team last year before losing to University of Kentucky, a Final Four team.

Later in the season, the Aztecs head up the road to play Long Beach State, a team they had to come back to beat last year by a point at Viejas Arena.

Then there’s the one date everyone has circled on their calendars: Dec. 22, 2015. That’s when the University of Kansas comes to town.

The Jayhawks’ blood will be boiling red-hot. The last time SDSU and KU met was on a cold January afternoon in Lawrence, Kansas. The Aztecs shocked the Jayhawks 61-56 en route to a 31-win season in 2013-14.

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