The Western Athletic Conference prepares for the 2022-2023 college basketball season this fall with the addition of two programs. One of those programs, the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in Cedar City, UT will slide right into the top-half of the WAC and compete for a conference championship immediately.
The Southern Utah Thunderbirds enter that championship conversation with 7th-year head coach Todd Simon at the helm. Southern Utah has experienced a true rebuild of its men’s basketball program since the hiring of Simon back in 2016.
Prior to his time in Cedar City, Simon spent three seasons on the UNLV coaching staff before taking over in an interim Role during the 2015-2016 season. And while only in charge of the Runnin’ Rebel program since mid-January, 2016, Simon’s UNLV squad managed to post a 9-8 record before New Mexico State head coach Marvin Menzies was given the job after the season.
Before that, Simon helped build a powerhouse prep program at Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV. During that time, the Pilots won multiple national championships, sending dozens of players to all levels of college basketball and the NBA Draft Lottery in the process.
Now, Simon returns two All-Big Sky selections from last season and has reloaded the Thunderbirds’ roster for a new challenge. Southern Utah looks to make an impact during their first season in WAC, while hoping to dominate and establish a regional rivalry with Utah Tech.
And lastly, the ultimate goal is making a deep run in the conference tourney at the end of the season. They have the tools and foundation to do it, with plenty of eyes following them along the way.
Todd Simon, 7th Season
96-94 at Southern Utah
9-8 at UNLV
23-12 (14-6, 2nd in the Big Sky)
Lost 67-48 to Fresno State in The Basketball Classic semifinals
John Knight III-(Graduated)
Aanen Moody – Transfer (Montana)
Malik Muhammed – Transfer
Nick Flemming – Transfer (Cal Poly)
Marquis Moore – Transfer (Hawaii Pacific)
Zion Young 6-3, R-Jr. G Transfer (Oakland)
Cameron Healy 6-3, Gr. G Transfer (Central Michigan)
Drake Allen 6-4, So. G Juco Transfer (Snow College)
Deng Dut 6-4, Jr. G Transfer (Wyoming)
Felix Lemetti 6-1, Jr. G Transfer (Omaha)
Tevian Jones 6-7, Sr. G
Maizen Fausett 6-6, Sr. F
Jason Spurgin 6-11, Jr. C
Harrison Butler 6-5, Sr. G
The Southern Utah Thunderbirds enter the WAC in a position to immediately contend for a top-half spot and play a role in the title race. Southern Utah certainly lost key pieces from last season’s squad. SUU finished 2nd place in the Big Sky, while also making a postseason run to the semifinals of The Basketball Classic. John Knight III, a 1st-Team All-Big Sky selection and now pro in Norway (Froya Basket) is gone. Floor general Dre Marin is also gone, beginning his professional career in Germany (Wurzburg).
Back though, are three returning starters and the first man off the bench for Simon last season. And all are ready to contribute to Southern Utah’s success in year one in the WAC.
Third-Team All-Big Sky selections Tevian Jones and Maizen Fausett were joined by Harrison Butler in a mid-June announcement that the trio would return to Cedar City to begin their fifth seasons of college eligibility.
Jones was last season’s leading scorer (14.6 PPG), dropping 36 points on Portland State in January. Fausett is a 6’6, 225-pound 4-man who has a high motor and crashes the boards for second chance opportunities. Lastly, Butler was a 6th Man of the Year candidate averaging 7.9 points and grabbing 4.1 rebounds in just 21.5 minutes per game. He also managed to reach double figures eight times off the bench last season.
They’ll join fellow starter and junior big man Jason Spurgin in the starting lineup. All of the returners fall into similar roles to last season’s squad.And they are joined by some anticipated newcomers hoping to fill an important role in the Thunderbird’s backcourt.
Part of what makes Southern Utah a top west coast program this decade, is the culture Todd Simon and his staff has established. Player development and their utilization of the transfer portal year in and out. This past offseason was no different, as the Thunderbirds welcomed several additions to what seemed like must-fill positions.
The offseason recruiting emphasis appeared to fall between the 1-3 positions, with all six of Southern Utah’s newcomers being guards standing 6-4 and under.
Players like nearby JUCO recruit Drake Allen, who held over a dozen mid-major offers, before choosing to play for Todd Simon. He’s joined by a pair of proven mid-major transfers in Swedish shooting guard Felix Lemetti and Australian Cameron Healy. Both players are two guards who averaged double-digits at their last stops. While Healy, a sharpshooter who has scored over 1,000 points in his career may play the biggest role of all of the newcomers.
So here comes the 2022-2023 season, a first for the Thunderbirds and Mavericks of UT-Arlington. But also one that will see perennial conference powerhouse New Mexico State and dangerous two-year conference member Sam Houston making their last hurrahs in the WAC before exiting next summer. Not to mention others like Grand Canyon, Seattle or Stephen F. Austin vying for a ticket to the big dance. Southern Utah certainly has a mountain to climb en route to cutting down the nets in Las Vegas next March. But they have all the right elements to do just that.
The Southern Utah Thunderbirds have yet to release a full non-conference schedule. Though a few high profile non-conference games have been announced. With a matchup against the defending national champions Kansas and a recently announced December 21st road game in Boulder against the Colorado Buffalos.
Southern Utah Announces Non-Conference Matchup Against Colorado
— SUU Men's Basketball (@SUUBasketball) August 4, 2022
Southern Utah will also participate in two multi-team events this fall. First in Las Vegas at the 2022 Jack Jones Hoopfest against 2022 Big West Champion Cal State Fullerton. Followed by matchups against former Big Sky Conference mate Sacramento State and either Hawai’i or Texas State, at the North Shore Classic in Laie, Hawai’i.
tickets are LIVE for the Jack Jones HOOP FEST!
see ya in Vegas ⚡️#TBirdNation pic.twitter.com/fZDBIWiDzj
— SUU Men's Basketball (@SUUBasketball) July 16, 2022
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.