It’s been seven months since San Diego State University became the talk of America’s Finest City, and the college basketball world in general.
The Aztecs made a run all the way to the national championship game before losing to a powerhouse Connecticut team that had its starting backcourt taken in the NBA Draft.
On Monday night SDSU embarks on its quest to return to the Final Four when they host CSU Fullerton for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at Viejas Arena in what’s expected to be an electric evening. The Aztecs will raise three banners to the rafters, one each for their Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament championships and one for the school’s first Final Four appearance.
The last mid-major program to go to two straight Final Fours (and national title games) was Butler in 2010 and 2011. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that SDSU is led by a Butler.
Senior guard Lamont Butler is the highest profile returner. He’s the man who hit the buzzer-beating jumper to down Florida Atlantic University and send the Aztecs to the national championship. Butler was recruited by Power 5 schools wanting him to enter the transfer portal … and offering some hefty NIL perks. Lamont decided to stay on Montezuma Mesa and finish what he started, a testament to the young man’s character and commitment.
Plus, it’s not like he’s alone with no talent to work with.
Backcourt mate Darrion Trammell, another senior who hit a last-second free throw to beat Creighton and put the Aztecs in the Final Four, returns for one more season. Trammell suffered a shoulder injury in training camp and is expected to miss the first couple of weeks but be in the starting lineup before they make their highly-anticipated Dec. 29 trip to Spokane to face Gonzaga.
The rest of the lineup is going to be a little different. Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year Nathan Mensah, All-MWC forward Matt Bradley, and defensive specialist Aguek Arop all graduated. They’ll likely be replaced in the starting five by seniors Jaedon LeDee and Micah Parrish, who both saw heavy minutes off the bench a year ago, and junior transfer Reese Waters, a guard from USC who won the Pac 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year Award with Trojans.
That trio is likely going to provide more scoring punch than the Friars had a year ago, and they might be even deeper off the bench this time around. In the frontcourt, Aztecs fans will see a lot of Jay Pal and Elijah Saunders. Pal transferred in from Campbell University where he ranked in the top 10 in the Southland Conference in points, rebounds, and blocked shots. Saunders is a 6′ 8″ sophomore who was a 4-star recruit out of Phoenix when he committed to SDSU and has shown the ability to score from the paint and the perimeter. Center Demarshay Johnson Jr. is a 6′ 10” long and athletic sophomore who is also expected to get more playing time.
The first guard off the bench will likely be sophomore Miles Byrd, another 4-star recruit from Stockton’s Lincoln High School who was ranked as the 10th-best prospect in the basketball-rich state of California in the 2021 class. When Butler needs a rest highly regarded point BJ Davis will be on the floor. Yet another 4-star athlete, Davis averaged 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals as a senior at Modesto Christian High School, numbers good enough to earn him scholarship offers from several Pac 12 and SEC schools.
Put it all together and the Aztecs are in about as good a position as they can be as they prepare to put on another show in front of The Show.