Oct. 11, 2001
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The long wait for college basketball fans ends this Saturday when the Wyoming Cowboys beginpractice for the 2001-02 season. The Cowboys will practice twice on Saturday, Oct 13 in the Arena-Auditorium. The first practice of the seasonwill start at 11 a.m., with a second practice scheduled for Saturday night at 7 p.m. Practices are open to the public.
Wyoming was picked by Mountain West Conference media members as the team to beat in a media poll released earlier this week. Headcoach Steve McClain welcomes back five starters and nine letterwinners from last year's team that captured Wyoming's first regular-seasonconference title since the 1985-86 campaign, and won 20 games for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
The Cowboys are also receiving a great deal of national attention. Wyoming's preseason national rankings include: a No. 23 nationalranking by Athlon Sports, No. 29 by Basketball News, No. 34 by The Sporting News, No. 37 by Lindy's, and being named one of the six "Bestof the West" teams by Street & Smith's. The other five "Best of the West" teams being UCLA, Stanford, Fresno State, California and Gonzaga.
"I think every team in the country is excited to start practice at this time of year," said fourth year Wyoming head coach Steve McClain."You've worked hard all summer, and you've worked hard on conditioning during the preseason. Now you finally get to go out on the courtand starting working together as a team.
"I'm looking forward to start teaching the new players our system. I'm also looking forward to see how much better our veteran playersare."
After Saturday's two-a-day schedule, McClain said that Sunday will follow a similar schedule with two practices at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.respectively.
"Even though we're going twice both Saturday and Sunday, the first practice each day will be a hard practice, with the second practicebeing more of a teaching session," added McClain.
"One of the things I'm doing a little differently this year is to better define the roles of my assistants. I've assigned Coach (Heath)Schroyer and Coach (Leroy) Washington to focus on the defensive side of the ball. Coach (John) Adams and myself will focus on the offense.I feel that I have the best staff since I've been here. They all have great basketball knowledge, and I'm going to try to use each of theirstrengths to help us be the best that we can be."
McClain is also excited about the attitude that his team brings into the opening week of practice.
"I think our veteran players are excited," added McClain. "They are ready to get started on what they believe will be a long andproductive season.
"I've always believed that every team in the country is excited for the start of the season. But the key to being successful over a longseason, like the college basketball season, is maintaining that excitement into February and March. This group had a great attitude and workethic last year, and I expect them to approach this season the same way."
The Cowboys will face a very exciting schedule in 2001-02. The Cowboys don't have much time to prepare with two exhibition games inthe first week of November, followed by the start of the regular-season in the Preseason National Invitation Tournament on Nov. 13. In the firstround of the Preseason NIT, Wyoming will travel to Los Angeles, Calif., to face a preseason Top 25 squad -- the USC Trojans. The Trojans areranked No. 13 in The Sporting News preseason magazine. That game will be televised nationally on Nov. 13 by ESPN at 7:30 p.m., Mountaintime.
"When you open with a Top 25 team a month to the day after you start practice, that becomes very challenging," said McClain. "Thenyou throw in an early road trip to Detroit (on Nov. 28), which is a team that rarely loses at home.
"But on the other side, I think that is what a veteran teams needs -- early challenges. I think we need to learn early, what we're good atand what we're not good at. It's important to use November and December to get ready for January and the start of the conference race.Having USC on the road, Detroit on the road and Texas Tech on the road (Jan. 1) are three pretty big road games."
Wyoming enters Saturday's practices with a couple of injuries. Senior point guard Chris McMillian is still rehabilitating an off-seasonbroken leg. Sophomore guard/forward David Rottinghaus suffered an ankle sprain during a pickup game this past week and will be limited atthe start of practice.
"Chris (McMillian) is about 85 percent right now," said McClain. "The trainers and doctors hope that by Nov. 1 he will be 100 percent,but he will miss these first couple weeks of practice. Chris is working hard, and he is able to do a lot of basketball drills -- he's just not ready togo full speed. David (Rottinghaus) will probably miss the first couple of practices. He sprained his ankle, and is day-to-day right now. Davidhas been in our system for a year, though, so he can afford to miss a couple of days. The best thing is our new guys are all healthy and readyto go, and they are the ones who need the practice time to learn the system."
In regard to a key player who was limited due to recovering from an injury last season, McClain said that senior Ugo Udezue looks goodentering his final season at UW.
"Ugo (Udezue) has had a great preseason," McClain said. "Since the end of last season, he has dropped about 20 pounds. He's jumpingbetter. He's running better, so I think he comes into the first day of practice feeling really good about himself."
The home schedule is also one of the most exciting in UW history with 2001 NCAA Tournament participants Cal State Northridge (onDec. 6), Indiana State (on Dec. 19) and BYU (Feb. 28) visiting the Arena-Auditorium.
National television exposure of the Cowboys will include four national telecasts. All four games will be carried on ESPN: at USC on Nov.13, in the Preseason NIT, and three ESPN Big Monday games at San Diego State on Jan. 21, at Utah on Feb. 4, and at New Mexico on Feb. 25.
Season tickets are now on sale for the 2001-02 Cowboy Basketball season. Fans may call toll free at 800-922-9461 or 307-766-4850.