A new season of WAC Hoops is upon us. With WAC media days this week, it felt fitting to put out the men’s preview. Contributing author Derryl Trujillo has already put out the women’s preview with defending WAC champ CBU as the preseason favorite once again.
With the 2021-22 season, comes some new teams to the WAC. Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin all join the WAC. In fact, the additions to the conference moved the conference up on the conference rankings according to KenPom. At the end of the 2020-21 season, the WAC was 23rd. Prior to tip-off of the 2021-22 season, the WAC sits 18th.
Along with the new additions, there are a lot of familiar faces but also a lot of new ones who will showcase their talents. WAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq returns. WAC Tournament MVP Jovan Blacksher Jr. returns. Seven All-WAC honorees return. The two leading scorers in the WAC from the 2020-21 season return in Darrion Trammell and Riley Grigsby. UTRGV has a new head coach in Matt Figger. Chicago State also has a new head coach in Gerald Gillion. New faces include Teddy Allen, Nate Pryor, Savion Flagg, Holland Woods, Taeshon Cherry, and many others. There is a lot of excitement leading up to a new season in the WAC. And there should be.
1 – New Mexico State
2 – Stephen F. Austin
3- Grand Canyon
4 – California Baptist
5 – Seattle U
6 – Utah Valley
7 – Abilene Christian
8 – Sam Houston
9 – Dixie State
10 – Lamar
11 – UTRGV
12 – Tarleton State
13 – Chicago State
WAC Preseason Player of the Year
Teddy Allen – New Mexico State
All-WAC 1st Team
Jovan Blacksher Jr. – JR G Grand Canyon
Fardaws Aimaq – RS SO C Utah Valley
Gavin Kensmil – SR F Stephen F. Austin
Darrion Trammell – JR G Seattle U
Demarkus Lampley – SR G Sam Houston State
All-WAC 2nd Team
Ty Rowell – RS SR G California Baptist
Trey Woodbury – JR G Utah Valley
Jabari Rice – RS SR G New Mexico State
Riley Grigsby – SR G Seattle
Montre Gipson – SR G Tarleton State
New Mexico State (12-8, (7-6)
The Aggies got a huge boost in mid-June when Johnny McCants, Clayton Henry and Donnie Tillman all announced they were returning. That gives Chris Jans four returning starters as Jabari Rice also returns. Add in Nebraska transfer Teddy Allen who averaged 16.5 points per game and 4.7 rebounds in the Big Ten and Nate Pryor who has played in the Pac-12 before his most recent stop at North Idaho of the JUCO ranks and the Aggies are loaded. Question is, how will the chemistry be? In 2020-21, the Aggies had more than just WAC opponents to deal with. Lack of discipline, lack of chemistry and simply put by one reporter, just not playing Aggie basketball, were all keys in New Mexico State missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly four years. Chris Jans reloaded though and there is a massive chip on the shoulders of McCants and company heading into the 2021-22 season.
Stephen F. Austin (16-5, 12-3)
The Lumberjacks return three of their top four scorers from a 16-5 finish in its final season in the Southland Conference. SFA returns four starters including Gavin Kensmil who averaged 15.9 points per game. In fact, SFA returns six of its top seven scorers from 2020-21. Add in 6’10 big man Jonathan Aku who transferred over from Texas A&M and Kansas transfer Latrell Jossell and head coach Kyle Keller has a pretty stout lineup. All this for a team who missed the postseason in 2020-21 due to a one-year postseason ban for lack of institutional control violations. SFA moved up the ban so they could compete for a WAC championship and possible NCAA Tournament appearance in its first year in the conference.
Grand Canyon (17-7, 9-3)
The Lopes are the defending WAC champions. However, GCU lost a lot from that championship team including big men Alessandro Lever and Asbjørn Midtgaard. Starting guard Mikey Dixon moved on, as well. However, all is not lost in the Valley of the Sun. All-WAC guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. returns. Sixth Man Gabe McGlothan returns. And in his second season at GCU, head coach Bryce Drew has reloaded via the transfer portal. Taeshon Cherry (Arizona State), Aidan Igiehon (Louisville), Yvan Ouedraogo (Nebraska), Walter Ellis (Bucknell), and Holland Woods (Arizona State) are all now at GCU. That is four Power 5 transfers and a Patriot League commit. And the big thing is you can’t doubt Drew’s ability to coach transfers up. Look at Midtgaard who averaged nearly a double-double while shooting 70 percent from the floor. Add in that GCU has what some might call the best atmosphere in college hoops, and GCU will be in the mix once again.
California Baptist (13-10, 6-6)
In 2020-21, California Baptist had five new starters. And once again, CBU finished with a winning record. Led by All-WAC performers Ty Rowell and Gorjok Gak, the Lancers continued to show they belong at the Division I level. Gak is gone but Rick Croy returns three starters in Rowell, Reed Nottage and Tre Armstrong. Croy and his staff also brought in Long Beach State transfer Chance Hunter, Gonzaga transfer and big man Pavel Zakharov and UMBC transfer Dan Akin. CBU will be able to shoot the ball once again. If Zakharov has a big season in the paint for the Lancers, watch out.
Seattle U (12-11, 4-5)
The Redhawks have five starters back including All-WAC guards Riley Grigsby and Darrion Trammell. Seattle is loaded. Perhaps the only hit on the Redhawks is the lack of size. But, what Jim Hayford’s team lacks in size, they make up for on the guard line. Nate Robinson came on strong to end the 2020-21 season as he was finally healthy. Kobe Williamson had some good minutes for the Redhawks as a freshman. Emeka Udenyi showed some flashes of brilliance.
And in the offseason, Hayford went out and signed another City College of San Francisco transfer in Kyree Brown. Hayford also signed 6-10 forward Brandt Chatfield out of Washington State. But perhaps the biggest get is Houston guard Cameron Tyson who played in the 2021 Final Four. Tyson averaged 6.2 points per game for the Cougars and was third on the team with 35 3-pointers. The Redhawks are deep, talented and can score the basketball. The biggest question might be if there are enough shots to go around.
Utah Valley (11-11, 9-4)
WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq is coming back to Utah Valley for the 2021-22 season. Along with his 15 boards per game. Aimaq also averaged 13.9 points for the Wolverines who also return leading scorer Trey Woodbury. The All-WAC guard is the most reliable player on Utah Valley’s roster and averaged 15.6 points per game in 2021-22. The big question for the defending WAC co-champs is who will step in and fill the shoes of Jamison Overton (15.6 ppg) and Evan Cole (11.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg)? Le’Tre Darthard has potential. Tim Fuller showed he is capable off the bench. Head coach Mark Madsen brought in 6-9 Coastal Carolina transfer Tim Ceaser. Shooting guard Connor Harding transferred right up the street to Utah Valley from BYU. And JUCO guards Justin Harmon and Jordan Battle will bring depth to the guard position for the Wolverines.
Abilene Christian (24-5, 13-2)
The Wildcats made their presence known to the WAC in 2020-21. The Wildcats won the Southland Conference and then put the stamp on a 24-win season with a thrilling 53-52 win over 3-seed Texas in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, ACU lost its head coach who took the UTEP head coaching gig. But, the Wildcats won’t miss a beat with Brette Tanner stepping in as the head man. Tanner has been the associate head coach the past six seasons for the Wildcats. Perhaps a big reason why Tanner filled the position so quickly is because Wildcat players basically demanded he be the head coach or else they wouldn’t play. Reggie Miller and teammates agreed to not participate in workouts until Tanner was offered the head coaching gig. Miller along with Coryon Mason and Damien Daniels are all returning for Tanner. The Wildcats have some holes to fill especially in the paint as Kolton Kohl is gone. But the pressure defense first instilled by Joe Golding isn’t going anywhere under Tanner.
Sam Houston State (18-9, 12-3)
Sam Houston State is another one of the unknowns, per se, on this list. Zach Nuttall is gone. And there is a lot of turnover in Huntsville. But head coach Jason Hooten might have gotten the steal of the offseason in the WAC with Texas A&M transfer Savion Flagg joining the Bearkats. Hooten is underrated as a head coach and has second-leading scorer Demarkus Lampley returning along with Jarren Cook who averaged 6.4 points off the bench. At 7’2, Utah State transfer Kuba Karwowski gives Hooten and the Bearkats some much-needed size in the paint.
Dixie State (8-13, 4-10)
The Trailblazers return four starters including Hunter Schofield, Cameron Gooden and Frank Staine Jr. Add in sophomore guard/forward Andre Mulibea and Dixie State is deep heading into its second season in the WAC and at the Division I level. Isaiah Pope can light it up on any given night and head coach Jon Judkins knows how to win games and make adjustments. Add a pair of JUCO guards to the mix and the Trailblazers have plenty of key pieces to improve upon their first season at the DI level. The one that might hurt is BYU transfer Kolby Lee who announced he was retiring from basketball. Would have given the Trailblazers even more depth in the paint.
Lamar (10-18, 6-10)
The Cardinals have a new head coach and a lot of new faces in Beaumont. However, Lamar also boasts a lot of talent. Former Austin Peay guard Jordyn Adams is coming back to Southeast Texas. JUCO guard Xavier Ball adds size and athleticism. 6-10, 230-pound big man Valentin Catt bolsters the paint for the Cardinals.
UTRGV (9-10, 2-5)
Matt Figger has some big shoes to fill in South Texas. And in order to do that, Figger went to work to retain players already on the roster and filling in pieces left by transfers out of the program. Perhaps the biggest news is big man and rim protector Jeff Otchere is staying in South Texas. Lew Hill’s death knocked the Vaqueros off the rails as UTRGV finished the season losing six of its final seven games.
Tarleton State (10-10, 5-7)
It has been a rather quiet offseason for the Texans as they prepare for their second season at the DI level and in the WAC. Inconsistency was the name of the game in 2020-21 as one night the Texans looked like they belonged, and another night they looked like a junior varsity squad. Montre Gipson should return and head coach Billy Gillispie landed Western Michigan grad transfer Kawanise “Squeaky” Wilkins to his roster.
Chicago State (0-9)
After losing all nine of its non-conference games, the Cougars suspended the 2020-21 season. The Cougars are 1-43 in conference games since 2017-18. The last win in the WAC came against UMKC on March 3, 2018. And with a revamped WAC, things won’t get any better for Chicago State who is in its final season in the WAC.