It’s been 581 days since Brandon Averette played in an actual college basketball game.
The speedy 5-foot-11 point guard’s last appearance was in the orange and black of Oklahoma State, playing 21 minutes in a 92-84 loss to Western Kentucky in the NIT on March 21, 2018.
That’s 581 days for Averette to work on his game. That’s 581 days to focus on becoming a better teammate. That’s 581 days of waiting to wear the green and white of Utah Valley.
He has another 13 days to wait until the official season opener at the UCCU Center against Westminster.
He says he’s ready.
“I believe the hype in myself,” Averette said. “This feels like it’s been forever just waiting for this. I’ve just been working. I’m ready to go out there and show what I’ve been working on.”
Averette played in 36 games for Oklahoma State during the 2017-18 season, leading the Cowboys in assists (2.9 per game) while averaging six points per contest. He transferred to play for Mark Pope and the Wolverines and sat out the 2018-19 season. Then Pope left for the BYU job and Averette was introduced to former NBA assistant coach Mark Madsen, the new man at UVU.
“The thing about Coach Madsen is how genuine he is,” Averette said. “In college basketball it’s hard to find someone as genuine as Madsen. He’s a real person and he’s always trying to help. He really cares about us as people more than basketball players. That’s really what stands out to me.”
Averette said he focused on becoming a better shooter during his redshirt season with confidence and repetition the focus every day.
“What I saw here was an opportunity to do something really special,” Averette said. “We haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament in school history so just to have the opportunity to take the team there for the first time, it’s something I really want to keep going and push toward.”
Madsen said Averette will be an impact player for the Wolverines right away.
“I would describe him as a tremendous competitor,” Madsen said. “He’s a great shooter. Brandon is someone who is an elite defender and can guard multiple positions. He can impact the game in so many different ways.”
Averette isn’t alone in having a long wait to get back on the basketball floor. He was joined by two other transfers — former Boise State guard Casden Jardine and former Fordham guard Cavit Ege Havsa — who both also elected to stay and play for Madsen after Pope left.
“He (Madsen) is the most interesting coach I’ve ever had,” Jardine said. “His coaching style is different than I’ve ever been a part of. His knowledge of the game is incredible. He’s always calm and always collected. I’m super excited to play for him and to learn from him. It’s incredible to know that you’re your coach is a two-time NBA champion and has coached in the League. To be a part of that is pretty special.”
Madsen said all three of the transfers are ready for their debuts in a Wolverine uniform.
“They spent all last year battling with teammates and they’ve been battling teammates this summer,” he said. “They are ready to be turned loose on other teams and I’m excited for that moment.”
Madsen said the focus over the past five months since he took the job was to install the offensive and defensive systems.
“The players are understanding the goals and the emphasis points,” he said. “Now it’s about perfecting it. Now it’s taking it from a good level to an even higher level so we can get the type of results we want. Collectively, the guys have really bought in. Collectively, the guys have all done a great job. Every single player, one to 15, has been phenomenal, working hard, bringing the energy every day and the effort every day.”
Utah Valley, which was picked to finish sixth by both the media and coaches in the preseason WAC voting — will play a closed scrimmage on Saturday against the University of Montana, followed by an exhibition game against College of Idaho on Nov. 1. The Wolverines officially open the season at home against Westminster on Nov. 5.
UVU women’s basketball
There is also a new head coach for the women’s team: Former BYU assistant Dan Nielson. He brought three former Cougar players — Ashley Garfield, Morgan Bailey and Keilani Unga — to join his coaching staff as well.
The Wolverines have been mainly a zone defensive team but Nielson and his staff have been putting the team to the test by playing more man to man.
“We play man now,” said Jordan Holland, the team’s top returning scorer and a senior. “So that will be a complete difference. Our man defense is coming together really well and it will be hard to play against.
It’ll be more up tempo, definitely.”
Neilson said defense has been the focus during the spring and summer since taking over the program.
“They’ve gone the last couple of years playing a lot of zone defense, so we spent a lot of time playing man to man and teaching basic principles,” Nielson said. “The great thing is the girls have really bought in. We’ve had good level of intensity and buy in from the girls and we’re just excited to get going. We know this year there will be ups and downs and we’re hoping there will be more ups than downs. I think we have a chance to be better probably than people expect.”
The three seniors — Holland, Alexis Cortez and Keana Delos Santos — have taken a leadership role on what will be one of the most experienced teams in the Western Athletic Conference.
“The great thing is I feel like our chemistry has improved since we got here,” Nielson said. “The girls have said they are having fun and they are enjoying playing basketball together. It’s been the seniors that are leading the charge both with their talent and their example. They are really wanting to go out with a bang for their senior year and do something more than they have the past couple of years.”
Like the men’s team, the Wolverines have never been to the NCAA Tournament since becoming a Division I-level program for the 2003-04 season.
“Every coach is the eternal optimist — at least, you should be, otherwise this can be a tough business,” Nielson said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time but once you get to the (WAC) tournament in March, the goal is to win it and go to the NCAA Tournament, because that improves everything. That improves recruiting and the goal is to go as far as we can and I think that’s a realistic thing. The beauty of the WAC is that New Mexico State has dominated but they graduated a lot of players and I think it’s really wide open. Anybody can win it this year.”
The Wolverines — picked to finish fifth by the media and sixth by the coaches in the WAC — have an exhibition game on Saturday against Western Colorado and open the season on the road at UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 5.