The Aggies gain a coach and lose a star in the same week
McEwen’s transfer makes coach Smith’s first-year expectations a mystery
With McEwen out, all hope for an Aggie resurgence rests with the new guy
It’s been a bit of a tumultuous week for Utah State basketball.
Tuesday saw the keys to the kingdom handed to new rattlesnake-punching head coach Craig Smith, a promising infusion of new blood and enthusiasm into a program struggling to find relevancy. By Friday, that same upheaval among the coaching staff cost the Aggies the services of one Koby McEwen.
Yes, a new age of Utah State basketball has begun.
McEwen’s transfer news isn’t entirely shocking. The 2017 Mountain West Freshman of the Year should have no problem finding new employment this fall, tallying 15.6 points per game in a solid sophomore campaign. No one player on Utah State’s roster seems prepared to take up the now-vacant backcourt scoring role alongside Sam Merrill. Analysis of literally any metric will tell you this is a painful blow to Utah State’s on-court talent next season.
However, it may not be the worst thing for coach Smith.
A new coaching hire often carries the unreasonable expectation to maintain all that was good about a program before arrival, and to build on every potential weakness over one brief offseason. Fans (and perhaps more importantly, boosters) are fickle. The thirst for a winning team able to contend in the NCAA tournament is by no means unique to Aggies fans. That being said, a history of conference dominance and an intense desire to see the ghost of “Spectrum Magic” reanimate itself has USU fans feeling especially anxious.
McEwen could’ve helped Smith enter those fans’ good graces this fall as a leader on an astonishingly young squad, but his transfer may have accomplished that feat just the same.
It’s significantly more difficult to define what a successful 2018-19 season might look like under Smith, knowing the entire identity of the team could transform in the Maple Mamba’s absence. With McEwen, the team would likely have to look like a strong conference contender throughout the regular season and show up again in Vegas just for coach Smith to avoid bust territory.
Instead, expectations have cooled. Pressure to adapt to any existing leadership in the locker room is alleviated. Coach Smith has free reign to run his team as he sees fit, to implement strategies and styles he believes will lead to wins, and to do it all without catering to a style his veteran players intend to cling to.
Yes, the Aggies may suffer some cruel realities next fall. The team could slip, trying to find its footing in a Mountain West conference that seems to be improving all the around them. But there remains some merit in providing a new coach with a clean break from the old, and a blank slate with tempered expectations entering the new.
McEwen is out; it’s Smith’s show now.