Utah State Basketball: Sam Merrill And Life Without The Big Dance
Merrill like others moving forward after NCAA’s decision to cancel postseason.
Utah State’s Sam Merrill gives a first hand account of what this decision mean’s to collegiate athletes.
Sam Merrill has given a lot to Utah State University. After growing up an Aggie fan in Bountiful, UT just an hour south of Logan, Merrill will graduate this spring leaving his imprint on a program that received a ticket to go dancing after being led by their senior star to a Mountain West tournament championship for the second straight season.
But the world had different plans, and as sports leagues across the globe began postponing or suspending their seasons with the fear of outright canceling them still a very real possibility, the tournament seemed untouched. Then as the dominoes began to fall midweek, the NCAA announced their plan. The tournament was to be played without fans, which many were against but ultimately accepted given the current state of sports around the globe.
In an interview conducted by the Utah State athletics department released this past week, which featured senior guard Sam Merrill inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Merrill spoke about life without the NCAA tournament from the perspective of a group this decision impacts the most, the players.
He provided an inside look at the timeline between the start of the Aggies season to just this past week when the tournament was canceled. They would enjoy a Mountain West conference tournament run that placed them in the championship game against the best team in the conference, No. 1 seeded and top-five ranked San Diego State.
After a hard fought game, Merrill and the Aggies found themselves tied 56-56 in possession of the ball and with only one guy to take the last shot. A Merrill three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left on the clock sealed the deal.
The Aggies would cut down the nets inside the Thomas and Mack Center for the second straight year and as one of the few conferences to start and finish their postseason tournament, it was then time to wait. Wait for March 15th and wait for selection Sunday.
When first hearing about the news to continue on with a fan-less NCAA tournament, Merrill admits he thought it would be a better idea to cancel the whole thing altogether. For which you can’t blame him as one thing that makes this sport and time of year so special is the fans. Last year’s national championship game had over 72,000 fans in attendance and to Merrill’s point that would be a huge change in the tournament’s pageantry.
He then spoke about how head coach Craig Smith had been mentally preparing his guys for a complete cancellation going into the week as that was what everyone was expecting to happen next.
The news broke Thursday, March 12th regarding the tournament’s cancellation. It was tough news for everyone around the sport to hear, but as media, fans and businessmen complained. This decision really impacted two groups of people, the players and the coaches. While many student-athletes have taken to Twitter to protest, we hadn’t seen much out of the senior until this video interview.
In the video he mentions how he was on his way to practice when the team was told the news, and how instead of moping or canceling practice, focuses were shifted to individual skill development as the players and staff simply had to move on. It’s an uncanny moment to think of, for a group that has come together with one singular goal in mind to ultimately be told “Sorry you won’t be given that chance” is heartbreaking.
Merrill also spoke to the ups and downs of the 2019-2020 season, as an Aggie team that came into the year with a mix of high expectations, injuries and inconsistent play in the first half of the season was tough. And as Merrill put it “A lot of people lost faith in us, a lot of fans lost faith in us”, but they never wavered. They instead learned to adapt, bounce back and make adjustments during the season helped the Aggies finish second in an extremely competitive Mountain West. So, even though his senior season didn’t exactly go according to plan and even though it ended prematurely, to Merrill it still was a spectacular finish to his career.
“It’s a perfect way to go out for me personally and for us as a team to beat one of the best teams in the country and win a conference championship and be able to celebrate together, like I said we wish there was more but it’s a perfect way.” -Sam Merrill
When asked about his plans in the next coming weeks, Merrill mentioned his next steps for a life after Utah State. As the 24 year old talked about finding an agent, scheduling pre-draft workouts and accelerating that entire process. He also mentioned the possibility of spring athletes retaining a year of eligibility, which has now been confirmed as an official plan of the NCAA.
But after backing that idea he stated “you never know what’s going to happen in a year maybe some seniors won’t want to come back and we’ll just be ready to move on.” Then when asked about the possibility of winter sport athletes getting any sort of eligibility back and if that would be something he would be interested in coming back for, he replied by saying
“I’m definitely in support of it, especially all of the teams that…you know some team’s their seasons had already ended, like a lot of teams in our league and some tournaments had already started but a lot teams didn’t get a finish. And for a lot of those teams you sit their and wonder what if so i’m definitely in support of it but for me…I’m going to be twenty-four in a couple of months um…i’ll be graduating…I fell like I’ve given everything I had to Utah State so for me I feel like it is time to move on but I am definitely in support for those who feel like they’ve left things unsaid.”
With those words it seems as though Merrill is done with collegiate basketball and for fans of the Mountain West over the past four years, we can only be thankful for what he has brought to the Aggie program and the Mountain West as a whole and wish him well on his professional aspirations.