Watching Utah State basketball the two previous seasons was like watching two artful post players feeding off each other, making the other better and making the opponent give up.
Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley were the perfect tandem on the low blocks. Both with great hands, solid footwork and a soft shooting touch.
Wilkinson, though, stood out because — despite a few weaknesses in his game — he was a leader. He was the one to slam the doors open as the team left the locker room to take the floor. He was the one to scream encouragement to teammates.
He was the one who willed the Aggies to a 30-5 season last year as the visible leader to a team filled with perfect role players.
Monday night, just three days after USU coach Stew Morrill said the bulk of his team didn’t show up with desire or effort in a loss at Long Beach State, Wesley jumped into the role Wilkinson played so well last season.
Wesley, himself just a junior, said after Monday’s win over Morehead State, that he was not sure it was his place to assume the leadership mantle — after all, USU had a senior point guard named Jared Quayle who is as fine a floor general as the WAC has.
But Quayle’s quiet nature hasn’t lent itself well to a leadership role. While Quayle is certainly a leader on the floor in many ways, Wesley’s firey attitude and physical presence was also needed.
And after a long chat on the phone with Wilkinson, who is playing professionally in Greece currently, Wesley knew it was his time.
Monday, Wesley was aggressive, he powered his way to the basket and drew fouls. He went after rebounds and — perhaps most importantly — was not shy about raising his voice after finishing plays.
It was a display the Aggies very much needed.