Let’s get this straight right from the opening line: Jared Quayle is a fine leader.
He’s just a lead-by-example rather than an in-your-face kind of guy. And there’s really nothing wrong with that.
But Utah State’s basketball team lacked something, nobody’s exactly sure what, as the Aggies started the season. The undeniable team leader from last year’s 30-5 squad — Gary Wilkinson — was the only notable difference on the roster when this season opened.
But with Pooh Williams missing a couple of games with an injury and the Aggies’ typical field goal shooting percentage a little off, there were rumblings from fans, players and maybe even coaches that the team wasn’t playing to its potential.
Utah State was just 6-4 after a double-digit loss at Long Beach State. And, even though the 49ers are the odds-on favorites to win the Big West, the loss was unacceptable to Aggie coach Stew Morrill. The effort was lacking, the focus unsharp and the result ’embarrassing.’
Only one player, Morrill said, showed up to play in that game. That player, Tai Wesley.
The 6-foot-7 junior from Provo made 10 of 12 shots, scoring 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds. The rest of the team made only 11 of 43 shots and the team lost by 13.
That game, despite it being a loss, marked the day Wesley took the team on his sturdy shoulders.
Always a fiery player, Wesley stepped forward even more last week during the Basketball Travelers Invitational. He scored 50 points and missed only nine shots in three games. Counting the Long Beach game, Wesley has been an offensive juggernaut and his rebounding and defense have gotten better in the process.
He’s now leading the team in scoring and rebounding while his field goal percentage of 58.2 is among the WAC’s best.
Most importantly, though, Wesley has taken over on the floor when it comes to being the face of the team.
Whether it’s being the person demanding more from his teammates while providing it himself or being the vocal Aggie bursting through the doors up the tunnel to lead the team onto the Spectrum floor, Wesley has indeed stepped forward and assumed the role Gary Wilkinson had before him.
And the team is now 9-4 with a game against Western Oregon as the final tuneup before conference play begins. While a repeat of 30-5 is almost out of the question, Utah State has find its identity, its leader.
And it couldn’t have happened fast enough.