New men’s basketball season stars new transfers

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New men’s basketball season stars new transfers

Then-sophomore forward Matt Mitchell looks to drive to the hoop in the Aztecs’ 64-57 loss to Utah State last season in the Mountain West tournament championship game on March 16 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Then-sophomore forward Matt Mitchell looks to drive to the hoop in the Aztecs’ 64-57 loss to Utah State last season in the Mountain West tournament championship game on March 16 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

File photo

Then-sophomore forward Matt Mitchell looks to drive to the hoop in the Aztecs’ 64-57 loss to Utah State last season in the Mountain West tournament championship game on March 16 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

File photo

File photo

Then-sophomore forward Matt Mitchell looks to drive to the hoop in the Aztecs’ 64-57 loss to Utah State last season in the Mountain West tournament championship game on March 16 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

by Kyle Betz, Assistant Sports Editor

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San Diego State men’s basketball finished its 2018-19 campaign in heartbreak, following a loss in the Mountain West tournament championship against Utah State.

The 2019-20 campaign marks the start of a clean slate.

Head coach Brian Dutcher said the team’s expectation is to make the NCAA Tournament.

“That has to be the thought every time you step out on the floor at San Diego State,” Dutcher said. “That’s why these kids came here. They came here because of the winning tradition; the fact that we’ve been in the NCAA Tournament seven out of the last 10 years.”

The Aztecs return 10 players, including two-year starter and junior forward Matt Mitchell.

Mitchell was the team’s third-leading scorer last season with 10.3 points per game.

According to Dutcher, Mitchell weighed around 235 pounds as a freshman but gained around 20 pounds his sophomore year. This offseason, he improved his diet and spent extra time in the gym to drop those pounds.

Despite recently undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus, Mitchell currently weighs around 240.

“Matt has been magnificent in his approach to his own body and the team,” Dutcher said. “He had to miss six or seven weeks of practice. He’s just getting himself back into game shape. The weight has stayed off, but he’s got to get his game legs back underneath him.”

Another returning starter is sophomore forward Nathan Mensah.

Mensah burst through the scene last year, starting in the Aztecs’ final 20 games and leading the team in blocks per game (1.1) while collecting the team’s second-most rebounds per contest (5.5).

He had surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb in August but is expected to be ready for the regular season.

SDSU welcomes three new transfers: junior guard Trey Pulliam (Navarro College), fifth-year senior forward Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt) and fifth-year senior guard KJ Feagin (Santa Clara).

Wetzell, Feagin and forward Nolan Narain are the team’s only seniors.

Although Wetzell and Feagin are graduate transfers, Narain said their leadership has already been beneficial to the Aztecs’ roster.

“They were both pretty big guys at their previous schools, so coming in here, they already have a leadership role they’ve already adjusted to,” Narain said. “I think, with them coming in, they’ll just help the overall team with experience.”

The most anticipated freshman to debut on The Mesa is forward Keshad Johnson, who was given a four-star rating and scout grade of 80 by ESPN his senior season at San Leandro High near Oakland.

As one of the few underclassmen on the team, Johnson said adjusting to collegiate basketball has given him the opportunity to learn from the experienced players.

“My whole life (I’ve been) used to being the best player on the team, just the go-to guy,” Johnson said. “But now, I’m starting to learn that it’s more things to basketball than always being the best. I’ve still got to learn. Being here, we’ve got a veteran team this year, which I’m glad I was able to come into it this year because I’m really learning from all the vets.”

In addition to Johnson, the Aztecs have two new freshman guards to add depth to the squad: Mike Pope and Jared Barnett.

Let’s also not forget junior guard Malachi Flynn, who redshirted last season due to NCAA transfer rules, is active this year.

The Washington State transfer is expected to make an immediate impact for the Scarlet and Black after leading the Cougars with 77 made 3-pointers in 2017-18.

Dutcher said he expects Flynn to be one of the team’s primary scoring threats and was pleased with his performance in the team’s closed scrimmage against Point Loma Nazarene University on Oct. 26.

“I know he’s going to score a lot of points,” Dutcher said. “In our closed scrimmage against Point Loma, he did a great job of moving the ball. He was really initiating… His playmaking is way better in a game situation than I’ve seen in practice, and that was really encouraging to me.”

Another shooter, junior guard Jordan Schakel, hopes to compliment Flynn’s deep threat. Schakel was second on the team in 3-point accuracy last year, shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc.

Flynn said his ability to shoot alongside Schakel is dangerous for the opposition.

“We both can shoot the ball at a high clip, so I think it’s definitely going to be a problem when we’re both out there,” Flynn said.

The loss of guards Jeremy Hemsley and Devin Watson and second-round NBA draft pick forward Jalen McDaniels still lingers, but the addition of players like Feagin and Flynn are encouraging replacements for the Aztecs.

The Aztecs face several notable opponents throughout the next few months, including Brigham Young on Nov. 9, Creighton on Nov. 28, Utah on Dec. 21 and Utah State on Jan. 4 and Feb. 1.

SDSU begins its season on Oct. 30 in an exhibition against UC San Diego followed by a regular season opener against Texas Southern on Nov. 5 at Viejas Arena.

Aaron Tolentino and Luis Lopez contributed reporting to this story.

Kyle Betz is a junior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBBetz.

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