A look into Utah Valley’s 2023-24 Men’s Basketball season

Reading Time: 4 minutes UVU Men’s Basketball took their record-breaking season into the semifinals of the NIT tournament, but they have sights set higher.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Utah Valley Men’s basketball team enters their 2023-24 campaign with high hopes after a record-breaking season the year before.  

The Wolverines will not have the returning starters they hoped for, but with the new transfers plus a new head coach, UVU looks to make yet another statement entering the 2023-24 season. 

Utah Valley fell to SUU in the WAC championship after the Wolverines blew a 22-point second half lead, crushing their hopes of an NCAA tournament bid. 

Despite not making the “Big Dance,” Utah Valley performed extremely well in the NIT. They defeated New Mexico and Colorado on the road and took down Big 12-bound Cincinnati in the quarterfinals. However, UVU fell to UAB in overtime in the semifinals. 

Todd Phillips, the new head coach for the Wolverines, has some big shoes to fill, stepping into the position formerly held by ex-NBA player and new Cal head coach, Mark Madsen. 

Madsen led the Wolverines to a record breaking 28-win season, plus finishing in first place in the WAC. Madsen accepted the job at Cal less than a week after UVU’s season ended. 

One of the hardest battles for Utah Valley, as is common with most mid-major programs, has been retaining a head coach. After Mark Pope left for BYU, the Wolverines brought in Madsen from the Lakers. Under his guidance, they achieved three .500+ record seasons, including last year’s NIT semifinals appearance. 

With Madsen’s departure the Wolverines had to look for another head coach, eventually promoting Phillips from his assistant coaching role to take the position.  

After Pope’s decision to head five miles south, it added to the back-and-forth transfer portal fight between BYU and Utah Valley. 

Pope played college ball at Washington and Kentucky, then started his coaching career as an assistant at Georgia and Wake Forest. After serving as a five-year assistant at BYU, he became the head coach at UVU, and is now the lead man at BYU. 

Former Wolverine and Cougar Jake Toolson, who is the brother of current UVU guard Tanner Toolson, began his college career at BYU, then transferred to UVU, before returning to BYU. 

The Toolson brothers, Pope, Blaze Nield, Colby Leifson, Connor Harding, Brandon Averette, Cory Calvert and Isaac Neislon are all student-athletes who have played at both BYU and Utah Valley in just the last six years. 

This continues to be the battle for Utah Valley, not only getting transfers, but keeping them. 

Utah Valley lost their best player after the 2021-2022 season, Fardaws Aimaq, to the transfer portal after a 18.9/13.6 season. Amiaq went to Texas Tech where he only played 11 games before transferring once again, this time to Cal with Madsen.  

But that was not the only big man who went to the portal. Aziz Bandaogo then hit the transfer portal after last season, heading to Cincinnati in hopes to play for the Bearcats. However, Bandaogo’s two-time transfer waiver was initially denied by the NCAA, and he is ineligible to play for the Bearcats this season, potentially making his move that much more disappointing. But as of this week, he was approved and can start playing immediately.

And it only got worse for the Wolverines. Senior guard Trey Woodbury attempted to get a medical redshirt waiver after playing just two games in 2021 due to injury, but his waiver was denied as well, ending his UVU career. 

In just his first year as head coach for the Wolverines Phillips has brought in 11 new players, three of those being key in-state transfers from the transfer portal. The key transfers being SUU transfer Drake Allen, Utah State graduate Trevin Dorius and BYU sophomore Tanner Toolson. 

“These guys have already made a huge impact for us,” Phillips said. “I think part of our recruiting is to be dominant in the state of Utah and bringing in those three guys helps us have a complete team, and we are excited to see what these guys can do this year.” 

Allen, a 6’4” Sophomore guard from Eagle Mountain, Utah, spent his sophomore year at SUU where he started all 37 games while leading the Thunderbirds in assists at 3.6 per game. 

Allen helped lead SUU to a WAC championship appearance after ironically knocking out the Wolverines in the semifinals. 

“This feels like home to me because I grew up just 15 minutes from here,” Allen added. “On top of that, coach Phillips and the entire coaching staff have made it feel comfortable to be here so I can be me and play the way that I play.” 

Dorius spent four seasons at Utah State where he appeared and started in all 35 games for the Aggies, including a March Madness appearance where they fell short to the Missouri Tigers in the first round.  

Dorius has been a force in the paint for the Wolverines standing at 7’0” tall while averaging 10 points and 7.7 rebounds through the first three games of the season.  

His sister, Tori Ellis, who has been on the UVU women’s Volleyball team for years, played a significant role in him transferring to Utah Valley. 

“It has been really cool transferring here especially to come to a school with my sister and being able to support each other has been really fun,” Dorius said. “Honestly I got a little jealous when she told me about the environment here at UVU and I’ve been excited to spend my senior year here.” 

With all the recruits coming, UVU was fortunate enough to keep Jaden McClanahan on the team, who has already made a huge impact on their success thus far. 

Through the first three games McClanahan is averaging 6.7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. One of these games was a standout against Sam Houston where he recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. 

Utah Valley has gotten off to a great start under coach Phillips and has a lot to look forward to as the year goes on.  

UVU continued on the road to face Southern Mississippi and traveled home to host Western Colorado. 

UVU will then welcome in-conference foe Seattle U and Utah Tech for a quick two-game conference slate.

Both games will be played at the UCCU center and can also be streamed on ESPN+.