NCAA champion heads to Logan: Marco Anthony’s path to USU basketball

NCAA champion heads to Logan: Marco Anthony’s path to USU basketball

Toward the end of Utah State’s 77 to 45 victory over New Mexico on Jan. 6, junior point guard Marco Anthony, having just put up an impressive stat line of 15 points, five rebounds, and four assists, trotted off the court. Despite playing nearly the entire game, the 6-foot-5 kid from Texas was far from jaded. 

“I played 35 minutes, and I was asked ‘Marco are you tired, Marco how do you feel?’,” said Anthony. “And I was just like, I haven’t played basketball in three years so I feel fine.” 

For someone who had struggled so long just to get on the court, staying there was the easy part. His journey to get to this point — playing a substantial role for a competitive division one program —  has been long-awaited. 

Anthony was an electric player at Holmes high school in San Antonio, Texas, averaging 25.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a senior. He received an offer from head coach Tony Bennett and the prestigious University of Virginia and committed in 2017.

But when he arrived in Charlottesville, he found himself playing behind now-NBA guards Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Deandre Hunter and struggled to get playing time his first two seasons. Marco played just 7.9 minutes in 13 games as a freshman and 5.4 minutes in 22 games as a sophomore. After Virginia won the NCAA tournament in 2019, Anthony, who saw just one minute of action throughout the entire tournament, decided he wanted a change and entered the transfer portal. 

“My biggest thing was just going somewhere where I could actually play and actually be just a huge impact for that school,” said Anthony. 

One of the first schools to reach out to him was Utah State. Head coach Craig Smith had previously recruited Anthony out of high school while coaching at South Dakota and wanted him in Logan. Smith shared his vision for what the transfer guard could accomplish for the Aggies. Though he liked what he heard, Anthony was unsure whether or not Smith was telling the truth, so he reached out to two close friends from San Antonio who had played for Smith at South Dakota, Stanley Umude and Brandon Armstrong. 

“I just talked to them and I just asked, is Coach Smith really as genuine as everybody says? They said, ‘whatever coach Smith tells you he’s not leading you on.’ I was just really looking forward to what he told me and the things he told me and so that led me here to Logan,” Anthony said.

 

But even though he found a new home, the waiting game continued; as per NCAA eligibility rules, he had to sit out a year before playing. During what he called “a great experience,” Anthony spent the 2019-20 season practicing on the Aggie scout team and watching from the sidelines, soaking up everything he possibly could in preparation to play during the 2020-21 season. And finally, on November 25, 2020, his time to shine finally arrived — he started at point guard for Utah State against VCU. 

For the Aggies, Anthony’s eligibility comes at an ideal time with veteran guards Sam Merrill, Diogo Brito and Abel Porter all leaving the team in the offseason.

12 games into his junior season, Anthony is proving to be a critical piece of the puzzle in replacing the graduated guards’ production, averaging a team-high 12.9 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists per game. Six games into conference play, he has an effective field goal percentage of 60.0 percent, No. 9  in all of the Mountain West.  

 

Anthony has also helped an already stout Aggie defense be even more assertive on the court. This season, the team is holding opponents to 91.9 points per 100 possessions, No. 24 in the nation. But their defensive prowess is even more impressive in the Mountain West; through the first six games of conference play, USU is holding opponents to an astounding 71.2 points per 100 possessions. Last season they held opponents to 94.6 points per 100 possessions, No. 48 in the nation, and 95.6 points in conference play. 

“That dude, he’s a load on both ends of the floor. We love having him in the offense and on the defensive end.” said junior forward Justin Bean. “He can score from all three levels so we love having him here.”

Anthony’s ability to be a multi-facet, do it all guard, was not something that was developed overnight. His time spent at championship-winning Virginia helped him learn how to perform at a high level. 

“It was definitely a great learning experience just seeing how it was done and seeing what had to be done to get there,” Anthony said. “That just really helped me out in just being able to instill that to the guys here that just makes everything a whole lot better just knowing that I have that experience under my belt.”

One recipe of success that Anthony learned from UVA was how to play elite-level defense, as that was the standard to be a part of Bennett’s team. In Anthony’s sophomore year, the Cavaliers defense faced some of the most dynamic offenses in the country and gave up just 89.2 points per 100 possessions, making them the No.5 most efficient defense in the nation.

Anthony has been the primary defender of opposing teams top guards thus far this season as an Aggie, which has put him up against Northern Iowa’s 20 points per game scorer A.J. Green, who he held to just 9-23 from the field, and BYU’s Alex Barcello, who he held to just eight shot attempts. 

“He guards really, really well,” said senior forward Alphonso Anderson. “So his impact on the court is big time.”

Anthony being an anchor on the perimeter defensively will prove vital as Utah State competes against potential NBA guards like San Diego State’s Matt Mitchell and Boise State’s Derrick Alston in the coming weeks. Pivot to the other end of the court, Anthony is the primary ball-handler and facilitator of the offense. His poise and ability to set the pace of the game when he has the ball in his hands has been significant for USU this season. 

His floor general ability is something Anthony learned from former teammate, Jerome, who led the ACC with a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2019. Jerome taught him you are in control of everything with the ball in your hands, and nobody should be able to take it from you. 

Anthony has an assist to turnover ratio of 1.3 this season and has been effective in breaking full-court presses and getting the offense set up, and his passing has improved as the season’s gone on. His assist rate (assists divided by teammates’ made field goals) in conference play is 21.1 percent, No. 10 in the Mountain West per KenPom. 

But what makes Anthony really dangerous for opposing defenses isn’t just his dribbling and passing skills, it’s his explosiveness and ability to get to the hoop. 

“He’s very aggressive,” Bean said. “He can get to the paint whenever he wants to and score there.”

79 percent of his shots are from inside the three-point line so far this season, he’s 43-86 from mid-range, exactly 50 percent. He can pull up for a jump shot, hang a contested layup, or flush it down at the rim. 

 

Anthony’s unrelenting tenacity getting into the lane and ability to finish there was another thing he learned from a Cavalier teammate, Hunter, who was one of the premier defenders in the nation. Anthony had to go up against the 6’7 guy in practice everyday, and found ways to get around him and get the ball in the hoop. 

Anthony’s tremendous set of skills have been on display more and more every game he plays in an Aggie uniform. After starting the season 1-3, he’s helped Utah State go on a tear, winning eight games in a row by a margin of 29.9 points per game. But those games have been against an NAIA opponent, a Big Sky opponent, and three bottom feeders of the Mountain West. Greater challenges loom ahead, starting Jan. 14 when No. 36 San Diego State visits Logan for a two-game stand. Anthony is proud of what the team has accomplished thus far this season and is prepared for the task at hand. 

“I know like the first games everybody on the outside was stressing out like oh my gosh Utah State they’re not the team they used to be but hopefully y’all can see that we’re definitely doing something special over here,” Anthony said. “We all know what our goal is at the end of the day and so we’re just gotta keep doing what we need to do to get to where we want to get to.”


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