LARAMIE, Wyo.- Wyomings new basketball coach Steve McClain is used to all kinds of fireworks offensively. Uptempo hoops is his nature.
The Cowboy team he inherits is used to a very deliberate style of play. Their goal a year ago was to limit opponents to an offensive night under 60 points. If that happened, not only did they feel they had done a nights work, but in the main, they were winners.
Two ends of the spectrum philosophically speaking to be sure. And, while McClain is adamant that he will play the style that best suits his players, he and the Cowboys are itching to see what can be done at a faster speed.
It isnt that McClain has a bunch of old dogs who cant learn new tricks. There is not a scholarship senior on the squad, but six juniors, two of them redshirt juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen. They are young, and very willing to learn new things.
"There is no question we are young," McClain said. "We have five new freshmen coming in, all of whom will actually have the opportunity to play. And, even some of the young returning players for the first time in their careers are going to be placed in the position where they are the starter. They are individuals whom we are going to have to count upon for minutes.
"But while we are young, I believe this group to be talented athletically, and they have great work ethic. It may be a more athletic team than the one last year, but it is smaller in size. So we are going to have to really use our athletic ability to play the way we want to play."
There are eight lettermen returning from last years breakthrough team that finished third in the WAC Mountain Division with a 19-9 overall mark, and a 9-5 league slate. Of that group, forward Justin French and guard Andy Young were starters. Young started all 28 games, and French 27 of the 28. Both were important cogs in the Cowboy run, and very solid players. French averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds. Young averaged 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Both played outstanding defense as well.
The remaining lettermen were role players last season. . .forwards Antone Lostetter, Bradley Mann and Ugo Udezue, and guard Brett McFall. All will be asked to step of their play in a major way this season. The only two seniors on the squad were walks-ons a year ago, forward Marty Kleeman and guard Levi Porter.
Two very important pieces are redshirt juniors Anthony Blakes at guard and LeDarion Jones at forward. Blakes played some last year, but had problems with both ankles and was limited. Jones sat out the entire campaign.
Very likely McClain may be looking for some important help from five incoming freshmen. . .guards Pasha Bains and Chris Millian, and forwards Josh Davis, John Pettersson and Jimmy White.
"Until we get on the floor Oct. 17, Im not sure if we know what kind of style we can play with these guys," McClain said. "I dont know if this team can go out and press, and play up-tempo for 40 minutes. We can get a feel for that in pre-season. It may be January or February before were comfortable with how were going to have to play to win. Were going to have to go through some growing pains because its new for everyone, and for some of these kids its their second or third system.
"I know this, we are going to play however we have to play to win. I think we have the athletes to play uptempo, and thats how were going to approach the first day of practice, and yet to win a championship it all comes back to how good were going to be defensively. Our players will have to evolve into this system. You just cant go out and play it."
McClain heads into the season with two major concerns. . .the size of his outfit, and therefore rebounding, and perimeter shooting.
"As you look at our roster, we do not have a true post player, nor do we have that many big people. In looking at tape from last years team, guys like Justin French were excellent rebounders because of how hard they worked. That same situation exists this year. Im concerned about rebounding but for us to be a good rebounding team, we will have to out-work people. Do we have the guy who can step up and stick the big shot when we need it? Thats my other concern. Bradley Mann came along towards the end of last year, and started to step up and make threes. We are going to need Bradley to do that from day one. His development will be a big key for us."