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37 days ‘til opening day: High school teammates headline rebuilding efforts at Southern Utah, Portland State

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NCAA Basketball: Wyoming at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Oct. 4 and we’re just 37 days from opening day.

Nine days ago, the countdown looked at 46-year old Portland State coach Barret Peery. Staying with the age theme cop out, we look at another Big Sky coach: 37-year old Todd Simon, who enters his second season in charge at Southern Utah.

Simon and Peery have more in common than being age-based subjects of the countdown. They’re both tasked with rebuilding Big Sky programs that haven’t had much success in recent seasons. Their respective 2017-18 rosters are also light on freshmen, and two of those newcomers — SUU guard Dre Marin and PSU guard Holland “Boo Boo” Woods — have something in common themselves.

The pair were teammates at Apollo High School outside of Phoenix, making up an all-future Big Sky backcourt.

Woods and Marin were rivals when they were 10.

Marin's said he told Woods' dad that they need to get them on the same side.

In high school, especially the past two years, they've become so connected that they do everything together. They spend the night at each other's homes. They eat together. And they play basketball together.

The one-time rivals, then inseparable teammates, now become rivals again, and get particularly important roles in youth movements at their respective programs. The duo led Apollo all the way to the Arizona 5A Conference title game last season. The next time they meet on the court will be when the Vikings visit Cedar City on Feb. 22.

At that point, Marin and fellow freshman wing Jordan Lyons could be in bigger roles at SUU than their coach originally thought. The Thunderbirds had a series of false starts with star Randy Onwuasor. The second team all-league guard initially appeared set to return for his senior season, before deciding to take the grad transfer route to LSU late in the offseason.

His departure removes big-time production (23.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.2 APG) from a team that despite a six-win season was, all things considered, relatively respectable on offense. That threw a wrench into Simon’s plans for his second season.

Onwuasor leaving strikes a major blow to Simon’s rebuilding efforts. The high-scoring guard was the lone Southern Utah all-conference player last season and Simon opted to bring in a graduate transfer (Jamal Aytes, BYU) and a junior college transfer (Jamil Jackson, Williston State) in part to help take advantage of Onwuasor’s senior season.

“You probably do something a little different,” Simon said of recruiting. “We were going to play a little more team-oriented style regardless of that. And I love the guys we got, I wouldn’t have changed any of that.”

The longer-term perspective thus becomes even more important at SUU, with the development of Marin and Lyons at its core. Simon — who led UNLV to a 9-8 record as its interim coach two years ago — has two other future pieces sitting out this season.

Arizona State transfer Andre Adams (5.7 MPG) and Boise State transfer Cameron Oluyitan (7.6 MPG) will join a team in 2018-19 that will have completely turned over since Simon took over. Another transfer — Jadon Cohee — is eligible this year, and figures to play a prominent role after starting 18 games and averaging 7.8 points per game at Seattle in 2015-16.

Shortly after getting the job in March 2016, Simon talked about his excitement in getting a chance to breathe life into the program.

“It’s been unbelievable everywhere you go,” Simon said. “You can just sense the hunger for this program to take off. It’s an incredible challenge, but when you have that, my goodness, I don’t know how you not get goosebumps and are ready to go.”

Even with the Onwuasor hiccup, that excitement could continue to build with solid seasons from his two freshmen, and his players beginning to flood into the program.