The Utah Valley men’s basketball team opens the 2020-21 season at Stanford on Nov. 25 and plays BYU in the Marriott Center three days later.
That’s just how head coach Mark Madsen and his players want it.
“One thing we’ve always said is that we want to play one of the top schedules,” Madsen said. “We want to play a top schedule every year and we don’t shy away from that. BYU is a tremendous team and will probably be picked first or second in the West Coast Conference. Stanford, some projections have them right at the top of the Pac 12. Playing top teams makes everyone better.”
The Wolverines started official practices last week after a challenging summer that saw individual workouts and training stopped three times due to COVID-19.
“It was touch and go for a while,” Madsen said. “But we had a great practice today (Monday) so that made me really happy.”
Madsen finished 11-19 overall and 5-10 in the Western Athletic Conference play in his first season at the helm of the program. The roster was almost completely overhauled this summer. Only three players – junior guard Trey Woodbury, junior forward Fardaws Aimaq and senior guard J.J. Overton – return for 2020-21. Madsen and his staff brought in 15 new faces, including former BYU guards Colby Leifson and Blaze Neild. UAB transfer Jordan Brinson, junior college standouts Le’Tre Darthard and Jaden McClanahan and Georgia Tech transfer Evan Cole lead the list of newcomers.
“We got started a little later than normal and we still have a lot of work to do,” Cole said. “We’re still bonding as a team and we have a lot to cover in the next month to get ready for the season. We’re just sharpening our skills right now. We’ve have a lot of dogs on this team willing to go out and play hard every game.”
Cole described a “dog” this way: “A dog is someone you don’t want to play, that’s for sure. When you wake up the next morning, you know when you’ve played a dog. They are physical and every loose ball is ours. They love doing the dirty work, things like locking up on defense and taking charges.”
The 6-foot-10 Cole averaged just 3.9 points and three rebounds per game in three seasons at Georgia Tech but Madsen said he could be special player at UVU.
“His skill set has far exceeded all of our expectations,” Madsen said. “He can shoot the 3, he can put it on the floor and he can guard 1 through 5. Evan had a phenomenal summer and fall in every context.
He’s a leader and someone who is vocal. He’s such a huge addition to this team and we love coaching him. He makes practice fun and competitive every single day.”
Madsen said they expect all of the transfers to be eligible to play right away.
“We definitely have a lot of new faces,” Madsen said. “But the guys have been great. They’ve really embraced our system and defensive concepts. We want to play with tremendous pace both in transition and in half court sets. We want to be able to out-execute people in the half court. The players have been fantastic at execution so far.”
For the next month, Madsen and his staff will focus on figuring out ways to use that large and varied roster.
“We didn’t have great depth last year,” Madsen said. “This year we have tremendous depth, so I think we’ll use a full court press more. We’ll try to play fast because have the depth. We want to continue to get better with our execution both on offense and defense. We’ve got advanced rotations on defense and it’s a complicated system. We’re going to rep it out, get better and continue to improve.”