When you think of the Utah Tech men’s basketball team over the past three seasons at the Division I level, roller coaster ride might be the best way to describe the Trailblazers.
Multiple wins over rival Utah Valley. A wild win over Southern Utah. There was the crazy ending at CBU two years ago where the Trailblazers scored the final 15 points of the game…all in about a 90 second span to beat the Lancers in Riverside.
Two years ago, GCU had its chance at a share of the WAC regular season title spoiled by the Trailblazers in St. George.
Do you see where we are going with this? The Traiblazers are close. Or at least, have been close in the past three seasons in the WAC. Did we mention the first round upset of SFA in the 2023 WAC Tournament?
Heading into 2023-24 and the final transition year to Division I, it may yet be another roller coast ride in St. George.
Jon Judkins loses four starters. Isaiah Pope, Cam Gooden, Frank Staine, and Jacob Nicolds all graduated or ran out of eligibility. Pope is now at Fresno State. Staine will play is final year at SFA. Cam Gooden is playing professionally. And Jacob Nicolds is moving on with life after basketball.
That is a TON of production to lose. Not to mention, Dancell Leter chose to go play professionally, as well, instead of coming back.
To put it mildly, 2023-24 might be the toughest coaching job of the all-time winningest collegiate coach in the state of Utah. But, the cupboard isn’t all bare.
Jon Judkins, 19th year
At Utah Tech:
14-19 overall, 5-13, WAC – Lost in 2nd Round of WAC Tourney
- Isaiah Pope – Graduate transfer to Fresno State
- Frank Staine – Graduate transfer to SFA
- Cam Gooden – Playing professionally
- Jacob Nicolds – Graduation
- Dancell Leter – Playing profesionally
- Trey Edmonds – transferred to UTSA
- Chol Deng – unknown
- Asjon Anderson – transferred to Ranger College
- Hagen Wright – unknown
- Beon Riley – 6’6, Junior, G – Hawaii
- Aric Demings – 6’0, Freshman, G
- Angelo Kambala – 6’0, Freshman, G
- Jaylen Searles – 6’8, Junior, F – JUCO
- David Elliott – 6’3, Junior, G – JUCO
- Larry Olayinka – 6’9, Sophomore, F – JUCO
- Tennessee Rainwater – 6’6, Freshman, G
- Trey Hall – 6’9, Sophomore, F – Evansville
- Unisa Turay – 5’10, Junior, G – JUCO
- Sammy Howlin – 6’11, Junior, C – Fullerton College
- Tanner Christensen – 6’10, Junior, F
- Noa Gonsalves – 6’1, Junior, G
In the final year of the transition phase to Division I, there are going to be growing pains. Even after talking with Jon Judkins and in constant contact with others around the program, there will be growing pains. The Trailblazers lost over 80 percent of its offensive production and game minutes from 2022-23. That leaves a lot of holes to be filled heading into 2023-24.
However, Judkins and his staff reeled in freshman guard Aric Demings out of DeSoto, Texas. Demings was the starting point guard on a top-5 high school basketball team and even led Duncanville to the 2022-23 USA Today national crown.
“What I like about him most is he’s a winner,” Jon Judkins said on a recent Straight Outta WAC podcast episode.
Indeed, Demings is. Demings led Duncanville to a 29-1 record in 2022-23. So, the Trailblazers have a good one. Could he be the point guard for a few years to come? We all know how things work out in college basketball these days. A good year or two and bigger suitors will come calling. For the same of Utah Tech fans, perhaps Judkins can keep this young core together especially being eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2024-25.
Tanner Christensen returns for year two in a Trailblazer uniform. The 6’10 junior is in better shape, shed a few pounds and moving better than he did when he first stepped on campus a year ago. Noa Gonsalves is the other returner who has played significant minutes for the Trailblazers over the past two seasons. A sharpshooter, Gonsalves can get hot in a hurry.
Here is why we said the cupboard isn’t all bare in St. George like many are led to believe. Yes, the Traiblazers have a pair of freshman guards in Demings and Angelo Kambala. And yes, per the roster, there are no Seniors on this squad. At least in normal terms. Judkins has a roster that could be at Utah Tech for two to three years and has added some key JUCO pieces as well as some Division I additions. So, there is experience playing college basketball.
Beon Riley played in 30 games at Hawaii last season. Jaylen Searles averaged over 11 points at the JUCO level. You have depth in the paint with Sammy Howlin’s ability to spell Christensen.
Let’s not get carried away. The Trailblazers chances of winning the WAC aren’t high by any stretch of the imagination. But, as in the past three years in the WAC, Utah Tech won’t be a pushover and could play spoiler plenty of times in 2023-24.
The Trailblazers will be road warriors in the month of November. In fact, the first home game isn’t until Dec. 2 when the Traiblazers host in-state rival Utah Valley in the WAC opener for both teams.
The good news is the Trailblazers have just one non-DI on the schedule. And technically, it was a forced game because of a team that fell through at the Lake Erie Classic. Road trips to Boulder and Pullman plus a return game against former Seattle U associate head coach Alex Pribble when Idaho comes to town are all in the mix.
It is a challenging schedule with winnable games.