LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The University of Wyoming men’s basketball team officially begins preparations for the 2015-16 season on Friday with a two-hour practice in the Arena-Auditorium. Friday is the first day the NCAA permits regular team practices for the upcoming season.
The main goal of those practices will be continuing Wyoming’s success from a historic 2014-15 season. Head coach Larry Shyatt guided the Pokes to their most wins in 27 years, including a Mountain West tournament title and berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002, but faces that task with a new cast. The Cowboys welcome back just seven letterwinners and one starter from last year. Twelve of this season’s 15 Cowboys will be freshmen or sophomores and eight players will don the brown and gold for the first time. That hasn’t dimmed Shyatt’s optimism for this season, though.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to be with a team that has totally new dynamics,” Shyatt said. “These guys have done everything we could of asked and more off the floor and in the classroom this summer. Now we need to take the next step on the floor, because we are going to have to develop quicker than most teams.”
A big part of helping those young Cowboys develop will be Wyoming’s lone returning starter, Josh Adams. The guard returns for his senior season with a breakout 2014-15 campaign under his belt. After earning All-Mountain West Third Team during the regular season, Adams caught fire in the conference tournament to lead the Pokes to three-straight wins and the big dance. The showing included a corner three late in the title game against San Diego State that propelled him to tournament MVP. For the season Adams averaged 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.6 assists. He could finish his career in Wyoming’s top ten in points, assists and steals.
Several of last year’s role players will look to step into starting roles alongside Adams this season. Junior guard Jason McManamen appeared in all 35 games a season ago, adding 3.7 points per contest and several big plays. His late three gave UW its first win at Colorado State since 2009, while his banked-in late three clinched a MW tournament semifinal win over Boise State. Sophomore forward Alan Herndon could be the new man in the paint for the Pokes. He averaged 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds in 31 games last season, including two starts. Sophomore guards Alexander Aka Gorski and Jeremy Lieberman both appeared in more than 20 games last year and could figure into Wyoming’s starting lineup this season. Likewise guard Trey Washington III is a sophomore, but redshirted in 2014-15.
“What I think will help our returners is the fact that Jason, Alan and Trey have all taken advantage of a redshirt year,” Shyatt said. “They have either matured in the game of life or in academics and they most definitely have matured on the floor. At the same time, Jeremy, Alexander and Jonathan [Barnes] did a tremendous job last year of putting their own egos aside for the sake of the team, which can only help us down the road. The real challenge is will we embody what ADU [Aggressive, Disciplined, Unselfish] is really about, which is putting yourself second and making yourself a piece of a developmental process.”
Shyatt will look to teach that team mantra to eight new Cowboys in their first season with program. That group includes six freshmen, a sophomore and a junior from the junior college ranks. Two of them in freshman guard Justin James and sophomore forward Hayden Dalton have already caught the eye of Shyatt during summer workouts. James averaged over 20 points, 11 rebounds and three assists his senior year at Oldsmar Christian High School in Florida, as his offensive potential could make him a dark-horse candidate for MW Freshman of the Year. Dalton was a high school teammate of Adams at Chaparral High School in Colorado, before spending last season at Central Wyoming College under the direction of Pat Rafferty. Freshman Austin Conway and junior Morris Marshall could see time at the guard position, as Shyatt said as many as 10 or 11 Cowboys could be in the early rotation, while freshmen Andrew Moemeka and Jordan Naughton are two forwards that could see action after Wyoming graduated several big men.
“I look at six freshmen and six sophomores as exciting,” Shyatt said. “There is something to be said as a positive of being youthful, because they don’t know what they don’t know and a lot of that is positive.”
Wyoming opens the season on Nov. 7 with an exhibition game against Fort Lewis in the Arena-Auditorium, as the Cowboys will unveil their championship banner in a special pregame ceremony. Fans can purchase season tickets by calling the Wyoming Athletics Ticket Office at 877-WYO-FAN1 (877-996-3261) or going online at GoWYO.com.