Sports, Women's Basketball, Women's Sports

Defensive Player of the Year Maddi Utti finds a home at LBSU

After starting her collegiate career at Fresno State, Maddi Utti would find herself traveling 251 miles south to play her last year of collegiate basketball at Long Beach State.

In 2020, Utti was announced as the 2020 Mountain West Player of the Year and earned herself a spot on the 2020 All-Mountain West team.

Now, the senior from Seaside, Oregon has found herself in a familiar position and was recently announced as the Big West Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot as a first-team all-Big West.

Utti finished her final year of collegiate basketball with incredible numbers as she led the Big West with 86 steals and first in defensive rebounds at 191. Utti also finished the year with 24 blocked shots.

Durability was another thing that made Utti so great for The Beach as she finished the year with 1st in the conference for the season averaging 37.7 minutes per game and even played a full 40 six times this year.

While Utti’s defensive and durability numbers were impressive, her numbers offensively were just as good. She was fourth in the conference for scoring and was first in the Big West for field goals (103), proving her presence inside the paint was a factor for The Beach.

Utti’s head coach Jeff Cammon easily considers her the best player in the nation and said if the team won first place in the league, Utti would have been named the conference Player of the Year.

“She should have been Player of the Year. I mean, she’s the best player in the conference,” Cammon said. “I just hate that I wasn’t able to get us to the point where we win the league.”

Utti was ecstatic when she found out she won Defensive Player of the Year because of all the hard work she put in after receiving a torn labrum the year before.

Utti spent her entire offseason preparing for this year. She had started training for the 2021-2022 season just four months after suffering an injury.

“I put in a lot of work on just understanding our defense and really working hard on that defensive end,” Utti said. “All my hard work paid off, and I try to pride myself in rebounding.”

Over the summer, Utti was limited to what she could do in practice, she wasn’t allowed to perform in contact drills but she was always finding ways to get better. That’s what Cammon believes makes Utti different.

“There’s not many kids that do that,” Cammon said. “Most kids you tell them ‘hey you can’t go’ they’re going to sit on the side, watch practice, and cheer. She’s over there trying to get better and that’s why she is who she is.”

As Utti prepared for the season after her injury, she said being in the gym every day was important for her if she wanted to be 100% for the team’s season opener in Boise State.

While living in the 2021-2022 season was rewarding for Utti, she said that learning the way Long Beach plays defense in comparison to how Fresno State plays defense was challenging for her.

“I didn’t pick it up right away at all,” Utti said, reflecting on the past summer. “The philosophies are different. It’s much more aggressive.”

Coach Cammon said he knows his team’s defense runs differently in comparison to other schools, but he knew it was more than just defense that brought Utti to the team.

A big part of what he liked in Utti was she was a “perfect fit” for the team. When he met Utti, he knew she would fit the culture the team has created.

A positive culture is something LBSU athletic director Andy Fee focuses on for all the programs at The Beach. So when Cammon was recruiting Utti, he was looking for more than just a basketball player.

Coach Cammon said Utti is an amazing person and she was that perfect fit right when she came down to check out the school.

“From the jump, she came in, there’s no ego. I mean you can imagine a Player of the Year coming in from another conference, they can be a little arrogant, and they’ve accomplished a lot. But she didn’t come in with any of that.” Cammon said. “She’s an amazing basketball player that helped take our program to another level.”

Utti was never formally to LBSU for an official visit, she came down to check out the school on her own to see what the campus and team were like.

Immediately, Cammon noticed that she was talking to the players on the team, she was doing everything the right way and the boxes just seemed to check themselves for Utti as the day progressed.

“They welcomed me in from the jump,” Utti said as she reflected on what it was like playing for Long Beach this year.

Featured is Coach Cammon drawing up a play as Berry, King and Utti observe and get ready to get back on the court after a timeout
Featured is Coach Cammon drawing up a play as Berry, King and Utti observe and get ready to get back on the court after a timeout Photo credit: Jorge Villa

Utti said playing under her teammate Justina King’s leadership was one of the best things about LBSU.

“Justina is such a great leader on the court because she’ll literally tell me during the play exactly where to go [especially in the beginning of the season] So I look up to that,” Utti said. “She’s a leader on the court.”

Jasmine Hardy was another teammate Utti loved to play with because of their aggressive approach when it came to shooting.

“Jazzy,” Utti said. “She’s a great shooter, she’s always looking for her shot.”

On the defensive side, Ma’Qhi Berry was a player Utti loved playing with as she mentioned the two’s chemistry on defense was a big part of why the team was so successful this year.

“That’s one thing I really like, we play team basketball,” Utti said. “I wouldn’t ask for better teammates.”

When Utti entered the transfer portal, Cammon said he knew right away who she was, he said he had coaches all over the PAC 12 calling him and asking questions about her.

However, Utti was on a visit to another school until the head coach got fired. That’s when she decided to come to check out Long Beach and Cammon described this process to come naturally as he said she fell right into the team’s lap.

After a friend of a friend reached out to Cammon about Utti, he said the two spoke over the phone and knew right away it was a done deal.

Cammon said the common denominator with her is that she’s a winner and no matter where she is, she’s going to find a way to elevate people’s game.

“She’s not even tapping on the surface of who she’s going to be as a basketball player,” Cammon said.

As Cammon is preparing to have Utti leave after this season, he said there is no replacing her on and off the court, but for the team, she was a part of the culture and building the chemistry the team has made over the years.

“I’m just blessed that she decided to spend her last year here,” Cammon said. “I wish we had more time with her because she’s an amazing young lady.”

As Women’s Basketball season just came to an end, Utti said she is thankful for the LBSU women’s basketball program and said it’s the best decision she could have made for herself.

She has aspirations of one day playing basketball professionally in the future.

“I’m surrounded by the best people, they’re really a family here and I felt like they welcomed me into that family so easily,” Utti said. “It’s just a great environment to be in and I’m lucky to have been a part of it this year.”

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