Going green: UVU men’s hoops optimistic about 2021-22 season
It wasn’t easy for the UVU men’s basketball team to battle through the COVID-19 stoppages and the uncertainty of 2020-21, but the Wolverines overcame the challenges and ended up tying for first place in the Western Athletic Conference.
Jay Drowns, UVU
Now with much of the roster returning — including the nation’s leading rebounder in sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq — UVU has its sights set high heading into the season.
“I’m really excited,” Aimaq said at Monday’s media day in Orem. “We have a lot of returners and key pieces that are new. We’re going to have a really good squad.”
Wolverine head coach Mark Madsen said he’s watched his team go through the journey and push itself to be its best.
“I’m really pleased with this group,” Madsen said. “It’s been a dedicated group and I couldn’t be more excited for the season.”
When asked about the returning players, Madsen had to check off a whole list since five of the top eight scorers are back for UVU.
Isaac Hale, Daily Herald
“We have a number of key players back,” Madsen said. “Let’s start with Fardaws, who was the WAC Player of the Year, the Defensive Player of the Year and led the nation in rebounding. He was dominant. As great as he was last year, I think his summer of work was even better in terms of preparation. He is moving like an NBA player and playing at a very high level. He’s added different things to his game.”
The player who tallied the most points last year is junior guard Trey Woodbury, who notched 343 points in 22 games.
“He is a tremendous leader who has great knowledge of the game,” Madsen said. “Trey just makes big plays. He makes everyone around him better. A big part of our winning was due to Trey and what he did.”
Madsen talked about how former Lehi and BYU guard Blaze Nield had to undergo surgery during the offseason but was incredibly reliable when he was on the floor last season.
“His assist-to-turnover ratio was a highlight,” Madsen said. “At one point I think he was No. 4 in the nation. To have a point guard who didn’t turn it over was important.”
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He also talked about how key sophomore guard Jaden McClanahan, sophomore guard Le’Tre Darthard and sophomore forward/center Tim Fuller were to the Wolverines and how their talent and experience will be important for UVU this year.
In addition, the Wolverines brought in some newcomers who are going to be battling for opportunities, some of who played Division I basketball and others who are coming from the junior college ranks.
“I think we have a lot of guys who potentially could be very good,” Woodbury said. “We also have guys who are young who haven’t had a lot of Division I experience. We need to stay together as a group and consistently get better throughout the season so when March comes we will be ready.”
He believes UVU will be able to be versatile on the attack but has to stay focused on improving defensively.
“I think our interior is our biggest strength,” Woodbury said. “Getting the ball inside will be huge for us but I think we have a lot more shooting this year. That will be something we can play to as well. Defensively you can always get better. Doing that throughout the season would be good.”
Isaac Hale Daily Herald
Aimaq hopes everyone on the squad has a sense of urgency because he feels they are going to need it.
“I learned you’ve got to play every single game with the mindset that you might not play the next day,” Aimaq said. “We have to bring it every single day. There is no spot on this team where you can mess around and still play a lot. Guys will come take your minutes. You have to bring the intensity every day at practice and then have it translate to games.”
While Aimaq had the most high-profile statistics on the team, he said he only cares about how it gives the Wolverines opportunities to emerge victorious.
“My personal goals are just win as much as we can win,” Aimaq said. “I’m not too worried about the extra stuff. I know last year was big with the year that I had but I’m definitely planning on stepping it up and doing more. I’ve learned and matured a lot. I think those things will help me have a bigger year than I had.”
Madsen said his message to the team is to control what they can control and emphasized how vital it will be to have good communication.
“That at times hurt us last year,” Madsen said. “It affects every part of the game. It’s affects defensive rotations. Every single player has to know the play. It sounds simple but that happens in the NBA. You get in hostile environments and the crowd is loud, communication solves a lot of problems.”
The bottom line is that UVU wants to take another step further in its progression as a college basketball program.
“Our goal is the NCAA tournament,” Aimaq said. “The biggest key for this team is how well we can mesh together before we play in the conference tournament. With the new guys, we have to figure out how to mesh and play well together. Every team will have ups and downs but at the end of the day it’s about how well we can play together as a team. The conference is going to be really good and anyone can beat anyone this year.”