Having a group of Division I veterans on a squad has to make a head coach extremely confident in his team. This is especially true after losing arguably the best player in college basketball over the past two seasons.
Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen has to find someone to replace Fardaws Aimaq. And that’s no easy task. Aimaq averaged over 18 points and 13 rebounds per game in 2021-22. The two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year, two-time First Team All-WAC selection and the 2020-21 WAC Player of the year. Yes, that same Fardaws Aimaq.
But, Utah Valley returns a majority of its roster for the 2022-23 season. A roster loaded with Division I veterans who simply added to the depth in the offseason. Madsen brought in an inter-conference transfer from Tarleton. And one of his veterans started 29 of 31 games last season and is a physical presence in the paint.
Tahj Small 6-5, Sr., G Transfer – Tarleton
Let’s be real clear here. What is written next is in no way disrespecting what Blaze Nield or Jaden McClanahan are doing at Utah Valley. But, considering most squads in the WAC have bigger point guards who can score, Utah Valley needed to add a bigger guard in the offseason.
And with Tarleton transfer Tahj Small, Mark Madsen did just that.
At 6-5 with length, athleticism, and a knack for hitting big shots, Small is a perfect fit for the Wolverines. Small averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Texans in 2021-22. Along with that, Small hit double figures in 23 of 29 games last season. Overall in two seasons at Tarleton, Small averaged 12.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game.
So, not only are you getting a scorer, you are getting a really good defender, as well. Small shoots around 45 percent from the field. And it will be interesting to see the lineups for the Wolverines. With Nield, McClanahan, Le’Tre Darthard, Trey Woodbury, Justin Harmon, and now Small, Utah Valley is deep at the guard line.
Tim Fuller 6-9, Jr., F Gilbert, Arizona
There are a lot of Division I veterans on the Utah Valley roster. But, with the departure of Fardaws Aimaq, Tim Fuller might be the most important. The stats aren’t staggering. 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. 58.1 percent from the field. Only scored in double figures in nine games.
It’s the other stuff Fuller does. Drawing charges, rebounding, adding a level of physicality. Fuller’s playing style is similar to his head coach. Gritty, tough, consistent. And humble. When you look at Fuller, you may not believe he is a Division I college basketball player. Always smiling, you may underestimate his ability. Because Fuller gets after it on the floor.
Fuller is one of a handful of veterans on the Utah Valley roster. And he will be a vocal leader for the Wolverines in 2022-23.
Utah Valley is one of the deepest teams in the WAC. They don’t get the hoopla and people will doubt them in 2022-23 after the departure of Fardaws Aimaq. it’s understandable. But Mark Madsen has four of five starters back. Trey Woodbury is healthy. Justin Harmon is healthy. They are deep in the front court and back court. Madsen brought in a 7-footer who has some crazy athleticism.
Do not count out the Wolverines. They may not win a ton in the non-conference slate. Four Quad I opportunities – all on the road – and a trip to Eugene to take on the Ducks. But, considering Utah Valley knocked off then-No. 12 BYU and dominated Washington in Seattle, Mark Madsen can coach.
And these two veterans will play key roles for the Wolverines in 2022-23.