After an unexpected coaching search following Rodney Terry’s sudden departure from Fresno State, the Bulldogs have found their new men’s basketball coach. And, they didn’t even need to go outside of the conference to find him. The Bulldogs announced the hiring of Justin Hutson on Thursday, bringing a tumultuous three week coaching search to an end. The SDSU assistant had been on the Mesa for 10 years in two separate stints, with 2 years at UNLV in the middle. He had been promoted to associate head coach in 2017 with Brian Dutcher’s promotion to head coach. He was primarily known for his stifling defenses in San Diego, and for his high-level recruiting. He kept the Aztecs in the Top 15 nationally for defense during his last 4 years there, and helped UNLV to a 25 win season while recruiting No.1 draft pick Anthony Bennett to the Rebels.
There was a desire during the coach search to bring in someone with Valley ties, and they found it in Hutson. Originally from Bakersfield, he played at CSUB when they won two Division II titles in 1993 and 1994. He quickly turned his playing time into coaching, taking over at Bakersfield High, turning them into a CIF powerhouse, even leading them to a No.22 national ranking in 2004. After this, it was off to the college ranks, as he spent one season at Cal Poly before departing for Montezuma’s Mesa in 2006. He spent 5 seasons with the Aztecs, turning them into a pre-eminent program on the West Coast, and 3 straight Mountain West titles. After returning from UNLV, SDSU went straight back to their old ways of dominant defense, as they won the MWC title in 2014, and made a run to the Sweet 16. Their 2014 defense ended the season ranked 2nd in scoring defense in the NCAA, which is an incredible feat for a mid-major school. They’d remain in 2nd for 2015, while ranking 3rd and 15th in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Besides just the defensive strengths, Hutson has long been known as a top-flight recruiter. In 2013, he was listed as the 8th best recruiter nationally, and best on the West Coast. This came after recruiting Bennett to UNLV, as well as Kawhi Leonard and Xavier Thames to SDSU. He was also recently instrumental in bringing Malik Pope to SDSU. This should pay great dividends for Fresno State, as he has shown success in recruiting players for both one-and-done success, and long careers in college.
Now that Hutson has been hired, the real work will begin. No word has been issued yet on assistant coaches, although it is believed that he’ll want to have a clean slate. Byron Jones has announced that he’ll be leaving, and Jerry Wainwright will likely retire. There is also the issues with the roster and recruiting. Leading player Deshon Taylor has declared for the draft without an agent, which leaves a large question mark for the Bulldogs. They’ve already lost star recruit Isaac Likekele, and Efe Odigie has not made a comment either way. That leaves the Bulldogs behind the 8 ball for recruiting, since the window closes very soon. On the plus side though, next year will see Noah Blackwell and Braxton Huggins become eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. The roster though will feature 4 seniors, and another two redshirt juniors. Hutson will need to nail these first couple of recruiting classes, or risk leaving the program in a deep hole.
Hutson nailed the introductory press conference, making it quite plain that he is very interested in building relationships in the Valley, and getting butts back into seats at the Save Mart Center. That will include introducing a brand new generation of Red Wavers to Fresno State basketball, and an exciting, winning, product should be step 1. We’ll see what happens for next season, as expectations are now much higher for the Bulldogs than they were the last time they hired a new coach. This is also compounded by the rousing success Jeff Tedford had last season, putting extra pressure on first year head coaches in the Valley.
Hopefully assistant coaches will be named soon, and articles will be posted when that information becomes available.