Newcomers are always an interesting part of the equation heading into a new season. And with the transfer portal, there have been some really good newcomers to the WAC.
Names like Fardaws Aimaq, Teddy Allen, Holland Woods, Savion Flagg, Gorjok Gak, and Asbjørn Midtgaard among others.
And thus far in 2022-23, there have been some newcomers who have shined in the non-conference slate. The transfer portal creates a lot of opportunities for newcomers. And, these are just a few of the newcomers who have stood out thus far.
Let’s take a look at a few.
Rayshon Harrison – Grand Canyon
It took a few games to get comfortable, but Rayshon Harrison has been really good as of late for GCU. The Presbyterian transfer has had to be good. Jovan Blacksher Jr. has been hurt and GCU really didn’t have a ton of offense. At least until Saturday night.
Either way, Harrison came in with a lot of hype. Harrison averaged over 17 points per game at Presbyterian and was expected to fill the void left by Holland Woods. After a rough start where Harrison failed to score in double figures in five of GCU’s first six game, Harrison has come alive.
Harrison is averaging over 18 points per game over his last six contests. And the Lopes are 3-3 in those six games. With Jovan Blacksher Jr. injuring his ankle again on Saturday night, Harrison will continue to be the focal point of the GCU offense.
Deshawndre Washington and Xavier Pinson – New Mexico State
The entire New Mexico State team could be on this newcomers list. Okay, not really. But let’s take a look at two guards who are the floor leaders for the Aggies.
There is no denying that first-year New Mexico State head coach Greg Heiar has a dynamic pair of guards. Washington is a triple-double waiting to happen. And Pinson has SEC experience, and a quickness that we don’t often see in the WAC.
Washington leads the Aggies in scoring at 14.2 points. Pinson is second on the team in scoring at 13.0 points. Both guards have the ball in their hands A LOT. And both are expected to make a play for the Aggies. Both guards have scored in double figures in seven of New Mexico State’s nine games.
If the Aggies are to win the WAC again, Washington and Pinson will be a big reason why.
MY GOODNESS @Nogood_24 ?#AggieUp | #SCTop10 pic.twitter.com/hOkocG70vY
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) December 15, 2022
Aziz Bandaogo – Utah Valley
When Utah Valley athletic director Jared Sumsion hired Mark Madsen as the. men’s basketball head coach, it raised quite a few eyebrows. Madsen didn’t have any head coaching experience and had spent most of his coaching career in the NBA.
But, four seasons later, Madsen has proved his worth. With newcomers and key returners, Madsen has had some big wins in Orem. But his greatest worth might be what he does off the floor.
And as part of that worth, it is the development of big men that sets Madsen apart. In his first season, Madsen had Emmanuel Olajapoke who led the WAC in blocked shots.
Mercer transfer Fardaws Aimaq became the first big man in 40 years to average 15.0 rebounds per game in Madsen’s second season. And Aimaq won back-to-back WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Now, Madsen has another big who has been really good thus far in 2022-23. 7-footer Aziz Bandaogo came over from Akron has been a rim protector and offensive presence the Wolverines needed to fill the shoes left by Aimaq.
Bandaogo already has six double-doubles to lead the WAC. And Bandaogo is second in the WAC in blocked shots with 28. Bandaogo averages 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Wolverines.
If you haven’t seen Utah Valley play, you have missed some impressive dunks from Bandaogo.
Qua Grant – Sam Houston
Head coach Jason Hooten needed someone to step into an immediate scoring role for the Bearkats. And Wichita State transfer Qua Grant has stepped into that role pretty well in 2022-23. Grant is averaging a team-high 13.3 points for the Bearkats who are 9-2.
Grant’s best performance came at Utah on Nov. 17. With the ball in his hands every possession down the stretch, Grant put the Bearkats on his back in a road win at the Huntsman Center. Grant scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. And, down the stretch, Grant scored 18 of those points to lead the Bearkats to a big non-conference win.
Keep an eye on this veteran guard going forward. His past two games haven’t quite been up to par with five and nine points, respectively. But, Grant will be relied upon heavily as WAC play begins in a little less than two weeks at Utah Valley.
Cold-blooded ❄️?@yesssirqua pic.twitter.com/qPPYG4znAS
— Sam Houston Men's Basketball (@BearkatsMBB) November 18, 2022
Tanner Christensen – Utah Tech
Head coach Jon Judkins had to replace Hunter Schofield in the offseason. And Judkins went to Moscow to find that replacement. No, not Moscow, Russia. But, Moscow, Idaho.
And 6-10 center Tanner Christensen has filled Schofield’s shoes really well for the Trailblazers. The Idaho transfer is third on the team in scoring at 10.6 points per game. Christensen also leads the Trailblazers in rebounds at 7.6 per contest.
In Utah Tech’s loss at Washington, Christensen went for a team-high 26 points. On Dec. 3 at Weber State, Christensen had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Big, strong body that protects the paint. It is exactly what Jon Judkins was hoping he would get out of the former Idaho Vandal.
Christensen and the Trailblazers are currently 6-5 overall but should enter WAC play at 8-5. Utah Tech hosts UTRGV On Dec. 29 in the WAC opener for both schools.
Will Johnston – UTRGV
There is a little point guard in the Rio Grande Valley that hasn’t quite gotten the attention he deserves. So, say hello to UTRGV point guard Will Johnston.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Johnston has quietly put together a really nice first two months of the 2022-23 season. Johnston is averaging 15.7 points, leads the Vaqueros in assists with 41 and is shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.
Three 20-plus point games. And nine straight games in double figures. In the win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 30, Johnston had a game-high 29 points.
Keep an eye on this guard who shares the Vaquero backcourt with Justin Johnson. A very good guard duo is what Matt Figger runs on the floor night in and night out.
.@williamjrj14 knocks down another 3⃣ and we lead by 20 ?
? https://t.co/3na88hjY38#RallyTheValley #UTRGV #WAChoops pic.twitter.com/KOaGJnfyyB
— UTRGV Men’s Basketball (@UTRGVmbb) December 16, 2022