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Q&A: Previewing the WAC with former New Mexico State assistant Jesse Bopp

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Baylor vs New Mexico State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, former New Mexico State assistant Jesse Bopp (@boppIMGhoops) was kind enough to spend some time discussing his former team, recruiting and the WAC in general. After one season in Las Cruces, he’s now the varsity boys’ basketball coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Prior to joining Paul Weir’s staff, Bopp spent a year as an assistant at Chattanooga under Matt McCall. Part of the Shaka Smart coaching tree, he served as Director of Basketball Operations under Smart for two seasons at VCU. He’s also been a graduate assistant at Florida under Billy Donovan, and was the head coach at Vermont Academy for three seasons.

As can be the case with a VCU background, Bopp has a reputation for defense. Here’s what Weir said about him shortly after his hiring last season:

"This defense is my baby and I wanted to bring someone in with the tenacity and expertise to make it even better," Weir said. "His background will enable us to do that in the most effective way we can design."

After spending a year in the WAC, here’s Bopp on the conference and this upcoming season:

On his current position at IMG Academy:

“I thought that for my development and growth as a coach, this would put me in the best situation to continue to grow and impact the lives of kids. I don’t identify being a coach of a certain level, but coach and leader of youth. I’m excited to continue to have that type of impact on youth.”

On being on the other end of recruiting again after multiple seasons at the college level:

“I think the thing it probably does most for me is I can equip kids with information that hopefully they can use to make informed decisions, and to help them gauge the types of things schools are saying to them. It’s important for kids to understand that the recruitment process is their own. Often times at the college level, because there is so much attention and often times pressure placed on them, they lose sight that it’s their process, and not the school’s process.”

On the interview process for the NMSU head job after getting the vocal support of many Aggies’ players:

[Bopp was one of several coaches to interview for the position before it ultimately went to Wichita State assistant Chris Jans. Shortly after Weir left for New Mexico, several players — including A.J. Harris and former Aggie Matt Taylor — publicly lobbied for him to get the job.]

“That was everything. From the day Coach Weir left to the day Coach Jans was hired, the end result didn’t go the way I would want, but to have those guys convey that publicly and to me, it’s everything to me. That’s why you do this. I felt honored to be someone they wanted to lead them and lead New Mexico State. I understand the decision [NMSU AD] Mario Moccia made to hire Chris Jans with his background and experience, and I respect the decision. I’m excited to see those kids develop and progress.”

On A.J. Harris and his potential:

[Harris is a former four-star recruit that logged 13.7 minutes per game as a freshman at Ohio State. The guard transferred to NMSU and sat out last season.]

“I think A.J. is a gifted athlete, he has special speed and ability to play in the open floor. I’ve seen this when kids transfer from higher levels to a different level, often times they can hold on to where they were and not fully embrace their new opportunity, and leave one foot where they had been. I think A.J. has done a really good job of embracing that he was at New Mexico State and acknowledging the types of things that would make him successful. He can be one of the premier guards in the WAC and mid-major level, as a lead guard that can facilitate and score at the rim. The most important thing is to make your team win, and I fully believe he can do that.”

On how Harris embraced his new situation at NMSU:

“In general, I was at the University of Florida as a grad assistant and guys come at that level and have that type of experience, there are just things that are different at the mid-major level. Like the quality life at the higher level places is different, you might have more gear, you might fly privately. So really embracing, and A.J. did a good job of this, just embracing, ‘this is where I’m at now, what went well before, what didn’t go well before and understanding all the things that I need to do to be successful here.”

On Sidy N’Dir and his ceiling:

[The redshirt junior guard was in the midst of a breakout season in 2016-17, leading the team in scoring (13.7 PPG) before suffering a season-ending foot injury after nine games.]

“Through the roof, as talented as any kid I’ve ever been around at any program. He’s got athletic gifts and is a very kind, conscientious kid. Last year he started to take steps, and early on in the season showed his ability and unfortunately got tripped up with a season-ending injury. I think he and A.J. can certainly play together, I wouldn’t say either is a pure point guard -- don’t really know if that position exists any more. I would describe both as lead guards that will make the play that is required on offense. And both of those guys have the ability to impact the game physically on defense as much as they do on offense.”

On whether the WAC is adequately challenging NMSU:

[NMSU has won at least 11 games in the league play each season since the WAC took on its current form in 2012-13. This includes winning the league tournament five out of the last six years, and having a 40-game home winning streak that was snapped by Utah Valley last season.]

“I think the program was challenged last year. I can’t speak to what happened before, but I think there are three other teams in Grand Canyon, Utah Valley and Bakersfield that are right there with New Mexico State or potentially in front of them. I think all four of those teams are capable of winning the league and beating each other on each other’s home court. I think that’s indicative of parity in a league, when people go on the road and win. Utah Valley came in and beat us on our home floor last year, we beat them in Utah, kind of stole one there to extend the win streak. That’s the biggest revealer of parity in a league since it’s very hard to win on the road. I think the league will only take steps forward as time goes on.”

On what makes CSU Bakersfield’s defense so effective, and whether Rod Barnes has built a consistent winner:

[The ‘Runners finished 20th nationally in defensive efficiency per KenPom last season.]

“Their physicality. They’re really, really physical. They do a tremendous job defending pick and roll, and their bigs for how physcial they are are really mobile. [Moataz] Aly is really good in pick and roll coverage and then can get back and defend the rim. Briggs is really physical and can defend the rim. Their perimeter guys just guard the heck out of the ball, they get in you and make it a rock fight. They make you earn every point you score. If you look at the first halves in our three games with them we might have combined for 50 points. I think it’s their identity, it’s who Coach Barnes is, they just believe they’re a defensive team and win on the defensive end. No matter who the guys are, they have a brand and identity. I expect them to be right there at the end of the year.”

On whether Grand Canyon is truly the sleeping giant many think it is:

“When you have that type of support from a fan perspective, when you have students that excited to be at games and the financial stability they have with the executives and business people in town behind the program... When you couple that with their facilities and Dan Majerle’s pedigree as a player and ability to transition into a college coach, I think that’s as good a mid-major job that’s out there. I would put that on the quality of job as a Dayton, Wichita State, VCU, Gonzaga, that’s as good a job that exists that’s not in the power five or top-seven conference in the country from an RPI perspective. I think Coach Majerle will continue to do well and face, as many successful mid-major coaches face, the question of whether he’s a guy that wants to stay at a level like that and build it into a Dayton, VCU, Wichita State or Gonzaga.”

On New Mexico State’s returning players:

“For New Mexico State as much as it’s Sidy and A.J., Jemerrio Jones and Eli Chuha are the most prolific front court in the league. Their offensive rebounding aiblity is incredible, those guys get to the foul line a lot. I think both are first team all-league players.”

On UVU and Akolda Manyang:

[Manyang is a 7’0’’ center that transferred to UVU after being dismissed by Oklahoma in July 2016. In one season with the Sooners, Manyang was a bit player (8.0 MPG) but flashed big-time rim protecting potential with a block rate of 16.6 percent.]

“People have high aspirations for him, and knowing the league and hearing people talk, I think he can take Utah Valley to that next level. They bring back a lot of experience, were right there in that [WAC Tournament] semifinal against Bakersfield to win that game. All those guards that come back — [Brandon] Randolph, [Conner] Toolson, [Kenneth] Ogbe -- all those guys are really good.”

On CSUB’s returning players:

“[Moataz] Aly is as good a rim protector as there is, I think, in college basketball. Brent Wrapp is the heart and soul of that program, I think he won’t let his senior year be anything short of spectacular.”

On Seattle’s Aaron Menzies:

[Menzies was having a breakout sophomore season (12.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) before a foot injury ended his season after 14 games.]

“Obviously Menzies was hurt last year, what will his health be like, how will he transition into a new style of play?”

On Chicago State’s Fred Sims Jr:

[Sims averaged 18.8 points per game last season and will return after withdrawing his name from the NBA draft.]

“Sims is to me maybe the most prolific scorer in the league, tremendous scorer.”