I came to Utah State in the fall of 1994. I loved college basketball, but, growing up in Salt Lake, I didn't know much about Utah State's basketball program. That season the Ags, under head coach Larry Eustachy, went 19-7, won the Big West regular season title but lost to UCI in the conference tourney and ended up in the NIT. The highlights of the season were a 24 point drubbing of BYU and 2OT thriller against New Mexico State in the Spectrum (one of the greatest games I have ever seen). I was hooked as an Aggie fan for life. I loved the way Eustachy's teams played – hard-nosed defense and rebounding were the cornerstone of all his squads.
I followed the team closely during my time in Logan. The 97-98 season saw the Aggies go to the NCAA tourney. In the off-season, Eustachy left Utah State for Iowa State University. Many Aggie fans (myself included) wondered where the program would go next. Eustachy had been a successful coach during his time in Logan and was considered one of the hot young coaches in college basketball.
Enter Stew Morrill. Stew had coached at Colorado State University for seven seasons before he was hired by Utah State. I wondered why Stew would leave a program in a 'major' conference to coach a team in conference that was struggling to stay intact (UNLV, Nevada, New Mexico State, among others, had left or would soon leave the Big West). Stew said he came to Utah State because he felt like he had a better chance to go the NCAA's in Logan. It was great news, even if Stew's first season (a serious rebuilding year) was only a .500 season.
In 1999-2000, Stew's second season, not many expected much. The team had a lot of JC transfers and no one knew what to expect. USU lost to Florida by two points in the first round of the Maui Invitational and went on to beat USC before the tourney was over. It was an intriguing start to what would become a magical season. Before it was over, USU rattled off 19 consecutive wins and went undefeated in the Bog West conference. Stew was named Big West coach of the year and signed a 10 year contract extension. Aggie basketball fans saw only sunshine on the horizon. In 2000-2001, with most of the team back, USU again won the Big West tourney and even pulled of an upset of Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tourney, the Ags first NCAA tourney win in 31 years.
Many Aggie fans thought this year would be a down year, a rebuilding season since we lost 4 starters from the team that upset Ohio State. As I left Logan for Salem, Oregon, I thought back on the 1999-2000 team, another 'rebuilding' year, and wondered whether the Ags could have another great season with a group of players inexperienced at the Division 1 level. But never underestimate the power of Stew. Coach Morrill has the Aggies in the thick of it again. A return trip to the NCAA's is entirely possible. As a an Aggie fan and a basketball fan in general you can only marvel out what Stew Morrill has been able to accomplish. In his four years at USU, he has an 89-29 record. The team posted back-to-back 28-6 seasons. USU is 74-16 over the last 3 seasons, only Duke and Cincinnati have a better winning percentage over that span. As this season draws to a close, I just want to say thanks to Coach Morrill for building one of the best mid-major programs in the country and congratulations on another great season.