The University of Wyoming men's basketball team officially begins preparations for its 2014-15 campaign on Tuesday with a two-hour practice in the Arena-Auditorium. Tuesday is the first day the NCAA permits regular team practices for the upcoming season. Practices are closed to the media and public until renovations on the Arena-Auditorium are completed.
"The NCAA rule changes the last couple of summers have given every coach the opportunity to work with their team in the summer for longer than they have in the past," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "Because of that I can say the attitude, spirit and unselfishness has been there for us all of June, July and this fall. That is an important stepping stone with the dynamics this team has with six seniors and six freshmen."
Shyatt and the Cowboys notched an 18-15 overall record in 2013-14, including 9-9 in the Mountain West, to qualify for the postseason for a third-consecutive season, a feat accomplished just four previous times in program history. UW's .500 mark in conference placed it fifth in the MW standings, the program's best finish since 2002-03, while the nine MW wins were the most since 11 in 2001-02. The Pokes seem poised for another return to the postseason in 2014-15, as Shyatt welcomes back four starters and nine letterwinners. Wyoming's returners accounted for 74 percent of its points, 78 percent of its rebounds, 73 percent of its steals and 75 percent of its assists last season.
"We had a misstep last season when we suffered an injury to one of our top players and that hurt us for the short term, but hopefully that will help us in the long run because there is a realization that everyone is important and how we play together is equally important," Shyatt said. "So when we approach practice Tuesday I think there is a maybe a small chip with our team that we can be better and we need to be better. We have beat some nationally ranked teams and climbed to a level of competitiveness with the best teams in our conference, but we still need to have that desire to go further."
Returning starters Larry Nance Jr., Riley Grabau, Josh Adams and Derek Cooke Jr. have a lot to do with Wyoming's optimism. Nance earned All-MW First Team and All-Defensive Team honors last year despite suffering a season-ending injury Feb. 18. At the time of his injury, he ranked 10th in the MW at 15.4 points per game, fifth with 8.6 rebounds, second at 54 percent from the field, sixth with 1.4 steals and fourth at 2.1 blocks. Grabau was just as impressive from his guard position, as he produced one of the best shooting seasons in Cowboy history. He connected on 42 percent from the field, 42 percent beyond the arc and 89 percent at the free-throw line. He led the nation in three-point percentage at several points throughout the season, while his 68 treys ranked seventh in UW single-season history.
Adams continued to show big-play capability as a guard and blossomed after Nance's injury. He scored in double figures in seven of UW's last eight games, including four-straight contests with 20 or more points to become the first Cowboy to accomplish the feat since 2010. Cooke, a forward, showed marked improvement as well in just his second season in the program. His 62.9 percent from the field put him third in Wyoming single-season history, as he ranked second on the squad in rebounds and blocks. Nance, Grabau and Cooke are seniors this season, while Adams is a junior.
Senior guard Charles Hankerson Jr. could step into Wyoming's other starting spot, after being the first Cowboy guard off the bench last season. Sophomore Trey Washington III should see extended minutes after showing promise last season at the guard positions. Guard Jason McManamen and forward Alan Herndon are wildcards for the Pokes after redshirting last season. McManamen could see time at the three spot, while Herndon could prove to be a valuable reserve on the inside. Forward Matt Sellers and guard Jack Bentz round out UW's returning lettermen and the six-man senior class. Both will play valuable minutes off the bench for the Cowboys this year.
Shyatt also welcomes one of his most talented recruiting classes since returning to Wyoming with five true freshmen. Jonathan Barnes and Tyrell Williams are two big men that could see game action right away in 2014-15, while Alexander Aka Gorski could challenge for time at the three-guard position. Jeremy Lieberman is a tall, quick guard to run the point for the Pokes in the future. Diontae Jones rounds out a UW class that, on paper, is the best the Cowboys have landed in some time.
Wyoming opens the season, and the newly-renovated Arena-Auditorium, by hosting Northern Colorado on Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. MT. The 2014-15 campaign features 19 home games, while postseason play begins at the MW Championships on March 11 in Las Vegas. 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.