Oct. 10, 2012
Laramie, Wyo. -
The University of Wyoming men's basketball team will officially begin preparations for its 2012-13 campaign on Friday with a two-hour practice in the Arena-Auditorium at 5 p.m. Friday is the first day the NCAA permits formal men's basketball practices for the upcoming season.
"Our staff is very excited and anxious for the start of practice because we like the energy and focus around the team headed into this season," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "We have three hungry seniors and several letterwinners returning that will allow us to have a deeper rotation this year. We'll need that facing several teams in the preseason that qualified for last year's postseason and a Mountain West conference that is deep from top to bottom."
Shyatt's return during the 2011 offseason paid immediate dividends for the Cowboys. He guided Wyoming to a 21-12 overall record last season for its first 20-win season since 2002-03 and earned the program's first postseason berth since 2009. The year was highlighted by a 68-66 upset of No. 11 UNLV on Feb. 4 for Wyoming's first win over a ranked foe since 2002.
The 2012-13 season will be a new challenge for Shyatt, though. He lost six seniors to graduation, including three starters, and now faces another tough campaign in the Mountain West with a young Cowboy squad. The UW roster this season will feature 10 freshmen or sophomores and five upperclassmen. Shyatt will depend on seniors Leonard Washington, Luke Martinez and Derrious Gilmore to help guide the team this season.
"We always rely on our seniors," Shyatt said. "We need their leadership not just on the court, but also in the game of life. These guys have an understanding of what it took to win 21 games last year and I don't think they are satisfied to do the same this year. They want more. That's a good quality to possess."
Washington and Martinez, UW's two returning starters, formed quite a dynamic duo last season. Washington was one of the top big men in the conference, ranking in the top 10 of six different MW statistical categories, while Martinez hit 81 threes during the season, including an active streak of one in 29 consecutive games. Gilmore steps into the starting role at point guard after serving in a backup capacity behind graduated senior JayDee Luster last year. Luster was named the MW Defensive Player of the Year last season, but Shyatt believes Gilmore plays the same tenacious defense with more of an offensive threat.
"The three seniors and Larry Nance Jr. return with a large amount of experience, which will help us a great deal because it gives us a resource of information on the floor," Shyatt said. "That group gives our new players the communication skills they need to learn on the floor every day in practice."
Shyatt and the Wyoming staff will also look to the four other returning Cowboys to step up their game in 2012-13.
"Losing six seniors and three starters may seem like a lot, but it is actually a smoother transition than last season," Shyatt said. "At this time last year, we were teaching coaches and players an entirely new system. We have seven players returning this season that understand how we want to play at both ends, in addition to a terrific coaching staff back, so that puts us farther ahead already."
After working his way into the sixth man role last season, sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr. could earn a starting spot this fall. He played in all 33 games a year ago and averaged 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. Fellow sophomore Riley Grabau should also be a valuable Cowboy after serving as a backup point guard in 21 games last season. He could see major minutes at either the one or two guard position. Sophomore guards Jack Bentz and Shakir Smith will also battle for more playing time with a year of experience in the program under their belt.
A young team means several newcomers and the Cowboys have plenty of those in 2012-13. Eight of UW's 15 squad members are in their first year in the program this year. Josh Adams headlines a promising group of three freshmen, Nathan Sobey is one of four junior college transfers that could see time this season and four-year transfer Charles Hankerson Jr. will sit out a year due to NCAA rules. Shyatt pointed out good practices, including UW's nine before it went to Canada this summer, will help the team come together quickly.
"You are a product of your habits, so we try to create good habits in practice and drills," Shyatt said. "If we make our practices more difficult than games then we can extend that conditioning and mentality to games and be a more prepared team when it counts most."
Adams, a guard, and fellow freshman Austin Haldorson, a forward, dominated Colorado during their prep careers, while Jason McManamen, a guard, did the same in Wyoming at Torrington High School. Sobey will look for playing time at several guard positions, while fellow junior college transfers Derek Cooke Jr. and Matt Sellers add depth to UW's big men. Aaron Tyser joined the program in October as a walk-on after attending Sheridan College last season. Hankerson transferred from Alabama and will be eligible to play in 2013-14 after sitting out a season.
The Cowboys will play two exhibitions games, including one against Fort Lewis on Oct. 31 in Ethete, Wyo., before opening the regular season against Western State on Nov. 10 in the Arena-Auditorium. The 2012-13 home schedule features 17 games before the Reese's MW Championships on March 12-16 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 WyomingAthletics.com.