The boys from Utah

A bus ticket from Utah: $72.50. Tuition at PSU: $4569. Chance at a Big Sky title and building a tradition: priceless.

So goes the thinking of Jake Schroeder and Josh Neeley, two of the PSU men’s basketball team’s prized recruits who come to PSU from rival Utah junior colleges.

When the deepest PSU team in recent memory takes the Stott Center floor this Saturday for the first practice of the season, the eyes of many coaches and returning players will be on Schroeder and Neeley to see whether they can help fill the holes that kept a much improved Viking team from greater successes last year.

Having played against each other on rival high school, AAU and junior college teams growing up in Utah, Schroeder and Neeley decided to set aside their friendly rivalry and work together to lead PSU through the Big Sky.

Speaking of what their history together had taught him Jake said, “I’ve played against him since high school and the goal is always the same: keep the ball out of his hands because when the ball is in his hands you know something good is going to happen.”

After the compliment, Josh smiled and reached into his pocket, asking, “OK, how much do I owe you?”

Despite their friendship and shared background in Utah, Schroeder and Neeley bring distinct skill sets to the team. Schroeder, a 6-2 shooting guard with a soft touch and smooth release looks to provide the reliable outside touch that last years team struggled to find.

His JC coach Jon Judkins raved about Schroeder’s toughness and shooting, saying, “He was incredible. He walked on, started as a freshman and very quickly, he was the guy that everybody was trying to stop.”

If everybody was trying to stop him, they didn’t do a very good job. Schroeder led the Scenic West Athletic Conference in 3-point shooting at 46.5 percent and finished fourth in scoring (15.5 pts/gm) and assists (4.33/gm).

When asked what he remembered about coaching against Schroeder a rival coach laughed and said, “I remember the ball going in a lot.”

Neeley probably won’t be putting the ball through the net as much, but he’ll make sure that Schroeder and the other Viks get their fair share of opportunities. A tough 6-2 point guard, Neeley led the SWAC in assists (5.25/gm) and steals (2.96/gm) and impressed SWAC coaches with his basketball knowledge and determination.

“He was really the catalyst for our team,” said Norm Parrish, his head coach last year at Salt Lake CC.

“He values the ball and is just a tough kid who is really competitive and does what it takes to win.”

Schroeder and Neeley finished second and third respectively in the SWAC in assist-to-turnover ratio, and can’t help but improve PSU’s abysmal finish as the most turnover prone team in the Big Sky.

Aside from their impressive statistics, maybe the most significant things about their addition to the team are their reputations as coaches’ favorites, in the words of Judkins “the guy[s] you want to have going to war.”

“Maybe they aren’t the most athletic guys, but they’ll hustle and leave it all on the floor and that will rub off,” Judkins said, highlighting the qualities that have come to be identified with head coach Heath Schroyer’s brand of tough, hustle and defense oriented basketball

Schroyer’s excitement about his new players is obvious. “They’re about one thing and that is winning. That’s the biggest attribute you look for as a coach.”

Judkins is confident that winning won’t be a problem, “They’re in the perfect league and they’ll make a big impact.”

If not, it’s only $72.50 for a ticket back to Utah.