LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Sam Merrill had worked so hard to help lead Utah State back to the NCAA Tournament.
So when Utah State’s second all-time leading scorer found out March Madness had been canceled due to fears about the coronavirus, he and the rest of the Aggies were understandably devastated.
“We were to the point where we were expecting it at some point,” Merrill said. “We just didn’t know when. But when I saw this tweets about it being canceled, it was a gut-wrenching moment for sure.
When the team got together, things turned emotional for the Aggies, who had automatically qualified for the NCAA Tournament by beating San Diego State on a last-second shot by Merrill to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament last Saturday in Las Vegas.
“It was a really emotional meeting,” Merrill said. “We met down here on the Spectrum floor. Coach Smith spoke to us for a few minutes and it was very emotional. He mentioned how proud he was for all of us and how sad he was for all of us.
At first, it appeared the Tournament would go on without fans in attendance, but Merrill said he really didn’t see the point to that.
“After hearing we were going to play without fans, to me it just seemed better to cancel it,” he said.
The cancellation of the tournament means Merrill’s last-second shot to beat the Aztecs will the final moment of his brilliant Utah State career.
“Obviously I wish there were more opportunities, but in hindsight knowing what we know now, it’s a perfect way to go out.”
There has been discussion about the NCAA restoring a year of eligibility for seniors, but Merrill said even if that does happen, he doesn’t see himself coming back to Utah State.
“I’m definitely in support of it, but for me, I’m going to be 24 in a couple months,” he said. “I feel like I’ve given everything I had to Utah State. So, for me, I feel like it’s time to move on.”
Merrill said he will begin the NBA pre-draft process and look to hire and agent.
Even though his career at Utah State did not end the way he wanted, Merrill said he is proud to be a part of the resurgence of the Aggies program, earning back-to-back Mountain West Conference Tournament bids.
“For me, it’s even sweeter because I grew up a Utah State fan,” Merrill said. “Our first two years were tough, and we weren’t as good as we wanted to be. A lot of guys look to transfer when things aren’t going well. But for me, Diogo [Brito], Abel [Porter], Brock [Miller], Justin [Bean], and those guys who were on those two previous teams, we really felt like we could do something and be successful here. But we put in the work and obviously had two of the best years Utah State has had.”
You can click on the video to see the entire interview with Sam Merrill.