San Diego State Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher has never been one for embellishment.
After reaching their program’s first ever Elite Eight with a win over championship favorite, Alabama, Friday night, Dutcher made his intentions clear.
“I said this before, that our plan is to make it to a Final Four, to win a national championship,” he said. “So we can’t act surprised when we’re sitting up here. This is what the goal has been.”
Dutcher has been a part of the Aztec program for 24 years and has seen many good teams. He watched as players such as Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and Toronto Raptors guard Malachi Flynn came through his program without making it past the Sweet 16. Now, with this tightly-knit group of guys, he has a team that he not only believes can beat Creighton Sunday in the regional final, but can win a national title next weekend.
Junior guard Lamont Butler echoed that sentiment before the tourney even started, and he continues to bring that belief into every game.
“Everyone believes we can win,” he said. “I feel like that’s been carrying around the whole team, and I feel everybody’s energy going into the season and the work that everybody put in. So I just kind of knew in my head and my soul that we could do this.”
Butler is one of two junior rotation players along with Micah Parrish. Led by the scoring of senior guards Matt Bradley (12.8ppg) and Darrion Trammell (9.8ppg), this team is the perfect example of what March brings out: teams that rally around each other to achieve one goal.
“We’re so deep, and nobody has an ego as far as ‘let me be the guy’ or ‘let me get this shot,’” Bradley said. “Everybody’s accepted their roles, and when somebody is open, we just let them shine. We continue to let them shine.”
Shining brighter than the rest last night was Trammell, who dropped 21 points, getting nine straight at one point to bring the Aztecs all the way back from a nine-point deficit midway through the second half.
“I think it was God’s time for me,” he said. “I think it’s bigger than scoring, but it just happened to be last night was one of my nights. That’s the things we talk about throughout the entire year is our depth. It can be anyone’s night. Last night was mine.”
A close-knit, high-character group of guys is never sure to raise any headlines, but, as this team has proven, they sure can win games.
“I could serve a meal to these kids, and it wouldn’t be completely hot,” Dutcher said. “It would be cold, and they wouldn’t complain. They would just be grateful for what they had...that’s just the nature of this team, and it’s a good group of young men that know the world is more than just about the 15 basketball players on this team. We got players up here that we do a great job of evaluating their character. Young men, they play hard, they have a chip on their shoulder, and that’s what our program is about.”
That chip on every players’ shoulder is the reason they have made it this far.
Their goal now is simple: send Creighton home. After suffering a loss to the Bluejays in the first round of the Tournament last season, a bit of revenge is in order at one of the highest stages in college basketball. They plan to win like they always do, play for each other and play with physicality.
“Of course you want a revenge-type game,” senior forward Keshad Johnson said. “But also, you have to stay level-headed and then just stay the course of the game so that it won’t happen again. We’re more veterans now than we were back then, so we just are trying our best to learn from that and learn from that situation.”
Johnson, along with senior teammate Nathan Mensah, has seen it all for the Aztecs. Both members of the team during the COVID year, their loyalty to the program and willingness to work has put them in the position to make their program’s first ever Final Four after being robbed of that opportunity just three seasons ago.
Now, with the entire city of San Diego behind them, the Aztecs will take a shot at history Sunday in front of a crowd of fans that have traveled all the way across the country for their team, hoping to be able to book a trip to Houston next week.