Madsen feels UVU men’s hoops on the right track
In his second year as head coach of the Utah Valley men’s basketball team, Mark Madsen led the Wolverines to a 9-4 record in the Western Athletic Conference and a share of the regular season title.
In his mind, it’s only a start.
“Our goal was the make the NCAA Tournament and we fell short,” Madsen said. “Our goal is a deep run. I think we made a lot of positive steps in that direction. I’m very proud of our players. The media had us picked seventh and we tied for first. That goes back to the players and the program. They studied film, they worked hard and they went out and had great performances.”
The most successful player was 6-foot-11 sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq, who led the nation in rebounding (15.0 per game) and won a boatload of postseason awards, including the Riley Wallace Player of the Year given annual to the top transfer in Division I.
Aimaq announced last week he was declaring for the NBA Draft, though he will retain his college eligibility should he chose to come back to UVU.
“We’ve been in touch with the NBA and they’ve been touch with us,” Madsen said. “Fardaws is taking those steps to prepare for the draft. It shows what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to win games and get players to the NBA or overseas. We’ve been doing that every year. It’s exciting. Fardaws is an example of the type of talented player we’re trying to bring to Orem.”
Madsen said junior guard Trey Woodbury (15.6 points per game) was “the glue that held the team together.” He also praised the work of senior guard Jamison Overton (15.6) and Georgia Tech transfer Evan Cole (11.4).
“Blaze Nield, he was among the nation’s leaders in assist to turnover ratio,” Madsen added. “Jaden McClanahan came on strong late in the year with his scoring and passing. And Le’Tre Darthard was one of the most efficient players in the country.
“Sports is all about resiliency. We had seven full or partial shutdowns (due to COVID-19) and that wears on you over the year. I felt like our guys were incredibly resilient. We found a way through it.”
The numbers bear out Madsen optimism. The Wolverines were 11-19 overall and 5-10 in WAC play during his first season in Orem, going 6-7 at home and finishing with a NET ranking of 250. UVU was 11-11 overall and 9-4 in WAC play this season, posting an 8-4 home record and raising to No. 216 in the NET rankings.
The offseason provides plenty of challenges for Madsen and his staff, including piecing together a 2021-22 roster amid the rush to the transfer portal by thousands of athletes.
“There is actually more free agency in college basketball than in the NBA,” Madsen said. “In the NBA, you sign a multi-year deal. If you have problems you work it out or you’re traded. In college basketball if you have a difference of opinion between a player and a coach, it’s a one year contract or less. There’s no leverage for accountability. We have to adapt to this new environment.”
The Wolverines roster, like most college programs, is in a state of flux. Aimaq could return for his junior year and Cole is looking at overseas opportunities. Overton and sophomore guard Jordan Binson are seeking opportunities in the transfer portal. April 15 is the date players can start signing with new schools. Madsen pointed out that the average number of transfers for a college basketball program is now almost three per year.
“We’ve been having some significant discussions with individuals to fill some of those spots,” Madsen said. “There are a lot of exciting things happening.”
Madsen signed Utah’s Mr. Basketball, 6-8 Ethan Potter of Layton, last November. Potter plans to serve a church mission upon his graduation this spring.
“Our approach is put up a wall around Utah and get the very best Utah players,” Madsen said. “We got Ethan Potter this year and we’re going to build it organically. We’re also going into the transfer portal. We want veteran players. In our program we want a mix. We want the best high school players and amazing transfers. We want to go forward to build something special.”