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San Diego State basketball: A blueprint back to the top of the Mountain (West) ... for good

SDSU needs to up their recruiting game if they want to be the class of the conference again

Justin Simon. T.J. Leaf. Brandon McCoy.

The San Diego-area has produced some fine players over the past few years and yet, all of three of them chose to further their careers in different cities.

Can you imagine the type of teams Steve Fisher could have had if that type of talent stayed local? At the very least, they would have retained their stranglehold on the Mountain West. It would have been more than realistic to believe that they had a legitimate chance at their first Final Four berth. Instead, they slowly began to decline as a national and conference power after their last Sweet 16 run in 2014.

While last year’s record of 19-14 would have been an extremely successful 25 years ago, today’s fans hold the program up to a higher level of excellence.

As the Dutcher era dawns in San Diego, he must make changes to bring more quality and quantity to Aztec recruiting. While 2017’s recruiting cycle represented a step in the right direction with their underrated two-man class of Jordan Schakel and Adam Seiko, they still have three scholarships available and those spots need to be filled. Here is how SDSU can improve their recruiting efforts to stay at the top of the MW hierarchy for good.

Build a wall around the San Diego area.

While the Aztecs should be disappointed on losing out on a talent such as McCoy, they must view it as an opportunity to make a statement instead of sulking about whiffing on another recruit.

They will get a minimum of two chances to defeat the Running Rebels. Should they emphatically win each game and propel themselves toward a deep run in the NCAA tournament, it would serve as a lesson to all other San Diego products that the best decision would be to stay home. With local studs such as Taeshon Cherry, Warren Washington, the Mobley brothers and the recently offered Boogie Ellis all entertaining out-of-state options, whipping a rejuvenated UNLV program could be a sticking point for Brian Dutcher and staff to sell their team on.

Should these players pick another program, especially one in the same conference (Washington is considering Nevada), SDSU will make you pay for that choice. That must be the philosophy of the Aztecs if they wish not to get spurned again by elite local talent. You can only sell good weather and beaches so much. They lost out on McCoy. They can’t afford to suffer the same fate in 2018 and beyond. Lock SD down. Now.

Sell the program, flaws and all

Everyone knows that recruiting is the lifeblood of the program. Especially for a mid-major program such as SDSU, it is extra important to make a strong impact early in a player’s recruiting process.

As a new era begins at the Mesa, it is crucial for Dutcher and company to set the tone and be in the ears of these recruits the entire time. By building long-standing relationships with these players, it gives them the opportunity to balance the scales. San Diego State is well-known for having a culture of excellence where there is little drama and the only name that matters is the one on the front of the chest.

While regional superpowers like UCLA and Arizona can offer more perks, SDSU can boast that the foundation of their program is built on developing the player, not the brand. Take a look at how much Kawhi Leonard and others improved during their times in San Diego. SDSU would have a legitimate claim to having best player development program in the country. That is a powerful asset to have, regardless of what conference you are in.

The ‘Tecs will boast an experienced core for the next two years, but then what? Starting in 2019, they will need talents such as the Mobley brothers and Warren Washington, along with Schakel and Seiko, to be the cornerstones of the team.

One of the biggest knocks on SDSU is that they still haven’t made it past the Sweet 16. Dutcher knows this, but he can flip this on its head and sell recruits on being the players that brought a Final Four banner to San Diego for the first time. Kawhi became an Aztec legend by bringing the first Sweet 16 banner to the Mesa.

These players can create their own legacy and be the ones who bring the first Final Four banner to the Mesa. That is the pitch the coaching staff must make. There is no been there, done that at SDSU. These recruits will have the chance to change the fortunes of the school forever. Not many players can say that for themselves, can they?

Next stop: Community College

Perhaps the last frontier in recruiting, the junior college market remains largely untapped. With many teams opting to fill their rosters out the conventional way with high school players, transfers and even European imports, JUCO players remain an effective, albeit unsexy, way to bolster your team.

Many are of the opinion that their program is too good for juco players, similar to how a majority of parents believe that their kid is too good for community college. However, Oregon and Baylor each had fantastic seasons, keyed by players from the juco levels in Chris Boucher and Jo Lual-Acuil, respectively. The Aztecs have a rare opportunity to strike gold in an area where no one else is looking.

They have always been a team that looks simply at how a player performs, not by how many stars are by their name. If they want to become relevant again, they need to take a long look at some of the premier players at the JC level. UNLV has caught on by securing the commitment of the top rated JUCO player in the country, Shakur Juiston. SDSU should follow suit if they wish to be the class of the Mountain West once again.

The bottom line is that SDSU is not winning enough. Dutcher has to get the team back to the tournament, and the only way they can do that is by recruiting successfully. They have to be willing to explore any and all options, even if they aren't convenient or conventional.

While they have shown that they can win with their way, the rest of the country is starting to pass them up, both on and off the court. Something has to change. Adapt or die.