Over the past five years, the Mountain West has sent 20 players to the NBA. One is a star, most are decent role players that have carved out their niche, like UNM’s Tony Snell or Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson, and some are there but not, like UNLV’s Christian Wood. They’ve had eight NCAA tournament bids, including dominant teams like the 2013-14 Aztecs or last year’s Wolfpack. There is a constant battle and shuffle amongst the top tier in the conference.
And then there’s this: 13-78 (.142) That’s San Jose State’s winning percentage throughout its Mountain West tenure. The talent exodus is overwhelming. The list has been regurgitated by MW insiders so many times, it seems like overkill to repeat it again. By now, it’s a list that the Mountain West is all too familiar with.
What could they possibly do to get some talent? That’s the question that second year coach Jean Prioleau has to answer. His staff has scoured every source that he can to try and get the Spartans back on a competitive level in the conference.
They wore down the JUCO circuit and picked up some starting pieces with Michael Steadman and Brae Ivey. So far, these two are the team’s leading scorers. Brae Ivey, the junior from Huntington Community College, is being a workhorse for the Spartans and playing over 30 minutes a game and is still shooting a tick below his numbers last year. They added senior Oumar Barry off the JUCO market as well.
They hit the transfer market and grabbed two centers, Samuel Japhet-Mathias from Wake Forest and Craig Lecesne from Pepperdine. After sitting out last season, Lecesne has stabilized the forward spot for the Prioleau’s squad and is one of a plethora of players that the Spartans are trying to use in a stretch four role.
The biggest key for Prioleau: not having his players transfer so that he can develop the pieces on his roster.
It sounds simple, but it’s anything but for the Spartans. They have an incredibly young team and there is a ton of potential for them to grow. A lot of the stars in that have passed through the MW have done so with some growing pains as underclassmen, only to blossom as junior and seniors.
Josh Adams. Larry Nance. Justin James. Ryan Welage. Gian Clavell. There’s a longer list, but that would take up a lot of space. In a mid-major league, it is a blessing in disguise that you don’t necessarily have to rebuild your whole roster every year.
The downside to having such a young team is that the veteran teams eat you alive during conference play, partially because of the talent gap and partly because of the basketball IQ of having played so long in the MW. Little things like missing and late rotations or lackadaisical passes are things that the upper echelon of this conference thrive and feast on.
Freshman Seneca Wright and Christian Anigwe have both shown promise so far. Anigwe, in particular reminds me of another lean, lanky Spartan freshman with a solid game around the basket, but still learning the flow of the college game.
It seems like eons ago, but when Brandon Clarke stepped onto campus, his game showed flashes but was still unpolished and needed room to grow. After his freshman year at SJSU and his transfer year at Gonzaga, Clarke has blossomed into a ferocious defender and crucial cog in the Gonzaga machine.