Next Star Up
Stud players have come and gone in recent years, yet San Diego State keeps right on winning. The first to depart was Kawhi Leonard, then Jamaal Franklin and now Xavier Thames, a three-year starter at point guard and 2014 Mountain West player of the year. His exit makes way for junior Winston Shepard, a 6'8" swingman whose performance is finally matching his potential. "He read everything that was written, and he let all that bother him," coach Steve Fisher says, "but he's beyond that now." Shepard's versatility should help replace Thames's offensive production, but the Aztecs' strength remains their D: Last season they ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and three-point percentage defense.
At a time when young stars rule the game, Fisher has the benefit of an old-school lineup, which features two juniors and two fifth-year seniors. Those veterans will be joined by San Diego State's best-ever freshman class, which includes three players who were top 100 recruits, as well as another former top 100 player in 6'9" junior Angelo Chol, a transfer from Arizona. That's a fitting roster for a long-in-the-tooth coach. "I always say I hope to be playing on my birthday," says Fisher, who'll turn 70 on March 24. This team has all the pieces to grant him his wish.
With 2014--15 Projected Stats
ROUND OF 64
ROUND OF 32
TELLING NUMBER 120
Consecutive games the Aztecs have won while leading with five minutes to play, a streak that spans four seasons. The last time they squandered an advantage late in the fourth quarter was on Jan. 9, 2010, at Wyoming.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Shepard is ready for his star turn.