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Story by Liz Alper
Video courtesy goaztecs.com
January 31, 2018 (San Diego) - The Aztecs men's basketball team has had a harrowing couple of weeks, but now they're back home (finally) and ready to face Air Force Saturday night. Head coach Brian Dutcher and junior guard Jeremy Hemsley sat down with the media this week.
Dutcher opened with a simple "Well, we’re back at it," and continued "We practiced extremely hard on Monday with a heavy emphasis on our defense. We took yesterday off...and we’re back to work today on the practice floor getting ready for Air Force, which everybody knows is a unique game in that it’s an academy school [and] they run the Princeton offense. They’re very disciplined and they have about 20 guys on their bench. They’ve got a lot of very good players that get a chance to play in different games and it’s going to be a real challenge. We only have three players who have played against the Academy – we have Malik [Pope], Jeremy and Max Montana. The other six guys available to me for the game have never played against Air Force or the Princeton offense, so the next three days are going to be very important for our prep.”
Just as media asked Rocky Long in preparation for football's Armed Forces Bowl showdown against Army, we asked Dutcher about preparing for an academy school. “Even if you play good defense, there are certain shots you know they are just going to get and if they’re making them it’s a difficult game, but if they’re missing them, you’ve got a chance. As much as you can say ‘let’s take away everything,’ there are only certain things you can take away. They’re going to get shots within their offense, they do against everybody. So we want to prevent the ones we can, prevent any back cuts for layups and we want to contest as many threes as we can – they’ve shot as many as 36 or 37 three-point shots in one game this year – so we know they’re going to shoot it and if they make them, it’s going to be a real challenge for us.”
Hemsley added: “This team specifically is a lot different than any other team we’ve played. They’re so focused on their offense and they run it basically to perfection. It’s not something we see too often, so it’s definitely different.”
Senior guard Trey Kell sustained an injury in the game against UNLV. Dutch gave an update. “Well, we were really worried about Trey, obviously. He left the game against UNLV in a walking boot, non-weight bearing on crutches also. He saw our doctors when we came back and hopefully we’re looking at a minimum of two weeks that he’s going to be out. I think that would probably be the earliest and it could stretch anywhere to three and beyond. So he won’t play against Air Force and whether the two-week window is Nevada and something happens in rehab, that I don’t know because that is basically two weeks away. So we’ll see how the rehab goes, but definitely will not be available against Air Force on Saturday.”
Hemsley took Kell's place in the UNLV game and Dutcher praised him. “I’d like to say what a good job Jeremy did stepping in for Trey against [UNLV]. Seven for 12 from the field, 19 points, and so I’m not worried about the next guy being ready to step up."
Dutcher also took the time to praise freshman Jalen McDaniels. “I would say this about Jalen: whatever you’ve seen, there is more there and it will slowly start to come out. He can shoot the three and we let him take the three, but he’s not at the point where he’s looking for it a whole lot, but he’s a terrific shooter. If it shows at the end of this year or the start of next year, he’s got more to his game than he’s showing and we’re letting him develop at his pace. When he’s ready to do it, trust me, he does it in practice, and we’ll eventually see some of that aspect of his game on the game floor. He can attack the basket off the dribble, he’s an aggressive rebounder, he plays with a high motor and I just think he will continue to grow his game into something special for us. Not only this year, but in the future.”
Hemsley said about his teammate simply: “When Jalen first started practicing, it was pretty obvious that he had something special about him and when he does the things that he does on the court, I don’t think any of us find it as a surprise. There’s Jalen being Jalen.”
SDSU takes on Air Force Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at Steve Fisher Court at Viejas Arena.