Nov. 9, 2000
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
With a roster of just five returning lettermen, and a host ofplayers who have never worn the school colors, one would expect a head coachto approach an upcoming season with some trepidation.
Quite the contrary in the case of Wyoming Head Coach Steve McClain.Don't blame the Cowboys' third-year coach if he is just a little bitanxious to embark upon the 2000-2001 basketball campaign.
Of the five lettermen returning from last year's team that producedan outstanding season of 19-12, and 8-6 in Mountain West Conference play,four were starters, including two who who were picked as pre-seasonAll-Mountain West Players and could be premier players in the league, andtwo others who combined for 57 starts. Mix in a recruiting class that mightbe as talented as any Wyoming has had in years, and one can understandMcClain's excitement.
"We have a good nucleus returning," McClain said, "guys who haveplayed lots of minutes at this level. Early on we will count on thoseveterans while our new guys make the adjustments. How quickly we become agood basketball team will depend upon how quickly our new players make theadjustments to the system, to their teammates, and to this level of play.Chemistry is something a coach worries about each and every season. Willeveryone adapt to our style, and feel comfortable in it? Will everyoneadapt to each other? Will everyone be able to handle competition at thislevel? Those will be very important questions that must be answered if weare to be a successful team.
'From perimeter to inside we have a very diverse group," McClaincontinued. "We have people who can play two or three different positions.That is a big positive for a coach as well as for the system we run."
McClain indicated that his primary concern was how quickly so manynew players will adapt to the system. "We have a lot of big games early inthe schedule which means we can't take too much time adjusting."
Personnel aside, another factor that has everyone excited for theseason is McClain's style of play. The Cowboys completed the 1999-2000season as the fifth-ranked team in the nation in scoring at 82.8 points pergame. That average also led the Mountain West. The Cowboys nearly broke theschool record for points scored in a single season with 2,567 in 31 games.The school record is 2,641 which came during a 32- game schedule. Both ofMcClain's first two editions have ranked in the Top 10 nationally inscoring. At the same time the Cowboys' pressure defense contributed to theleague's best turnover margin at +2.16 per game.
Wyoming returns two all-conference players for the new season, onefrom last year, one from two seasons ago. Forward Josh Davis was a FirstTeam All-Mountain West Conference selection as a sophomore last year and UgoUdezue, who missed the 1999-2000 campaign following knee surgery, was aSecond Team All-Western Athletic Conference choice as a sophomore two yearsago. Both are highly-touted heading into the season.
Udezue produced a sensational sophomore season averaging 20.5 pointsper game which ranked him 29th in the country. He scored 30 or more pointson five occasions during that 1998-99 season, and averaged 25.5 points pergame over his last 11 outings. Heading into last season he was consideredone of the nation's top returning players. Knee problems were affectinghim, however. He had undergone an arthroscopic procedure during the summerfollowing his sophomore year. The knee trouble continued, and he struggledthrough the first five games of last season before undergoing additionalsurgery. The most recent one was a full-scale procedure to clean up thearea of the left knee cap. Fortunately there was no ligament damageinvolved in either of the two surgeries. He did receive a medical redshirt.He has undergone a six-month rehab, and is now nearly 100 percent as heenters his junior year. If he can return to his form of two seasons ago,he will be a major force for his team, and in the conference.
"Ugo says he feels very good about his knee," McClain said. "Thatis the most important part of coming back from an injury. If he feels goodabout it mentally, then there's no reason why he can't return to hissophomore form. He will have to regain his basketball instinct, but I havenot doubt he will do that. Obviously he gives us a tremendous boost."
Davis was one of 30 players in the nation, aged 20 or younger, to beinvited to tryout for the USA Basketball World Championship for Young Men'steam this summer. His credentials certainly warranted that invitation.Davis led the team in scoring (14.3 points) and rebounding (8.7) as asophomore. The rebounding total ranked him third in the MWC. He also wasranked ninth in the league in scoring, 10th in field-goal percentage and11th in steals. Twice he was named the league's Player of the Week. Hisplay earned for him a spot on the Mountain West's first All-Conference team.Playing either the three or the four spot, he should be a major impactplayer in the league this season.
The other returning starters played major roles last season as well.Junior point guard Chris McMillian will enter the 2000-01 season rankedsixth on the Wyoming career assist list with 244. He also ranks tenth onthe career steal list with 96. He has started every game of his career atWyoming--59 straight games--and has scored in double figures in 30 of them.Last season he ranked among the MWC's Top 25 in scoring (19th), free throwpercentage (4th), assists (3rd), steals (10th) and assist-to-turnover ration(5th). Sophomore forward Marcus Bailey started Wyoming's last 26 games asa true freshman a year ago, and played very well. He had a career high 19points at New Mexico in a Cowboy victory. For a freshman he had a knack ofplaying very well in big games. Bailey led the Cowboys in field goalpercentage (.515), and scored in double figures 12 times. He finished hisfirst season averaging almost eight points per game. With a year of playbehind him, and an understanding of what this level requires, he should bean outstanding player.
Although not a starter, the fifth returning letterman played atremendous role in Wyoming's success last season. Brett McFall, theCowboys' lone returning senior, ranked No. 16 in the nation in three-pointfield goal percentage as a junior. He led the team in three-pointers with57, and ranked third in assists. He was tremendous off the bench with hisability to hit the key three or make the exciting pass. He enters hissenior year ranked ninth in career three's. He very well could be the bestsixth man in the Mountain West next season, if he's not a starter. Much,however, hinges upon how well he recovers from a broken left foot sustainedlate in the summer. He should be full go by the second week of pre-seasoncamp.
McClain is counting on a very talented recruiting corps to fill inthe gaps. Six scholarship players will be playing Cowboy basketball forthe first time in 2000-2001. . . three freshmen and three junior collegetransfers. In addition two players begin their careers at Wyoming afterredshirting a year ago.
Both redshirts are expected to have an immediate impact on theprogram as well as a couple of the junior college players. Redshirtsophomore Uche Nsonwu-Amadi, a cousin to Udezue, will give the Cowboys anadditional presence inside. At 6-10, 260, he is a big, physical player withoutstanding athleticism who should offer immediate help on the boards,defensively and offensively, thanks to an excellent shooting touch.Redshirt junior Paris Corner--a transfer two years ago from Iowa State--willgive the Cowboys additional speed and quickness at either guard spot. Hisis very quick, and can be effective from the perimeter. Like Udezue bothplayers will have to regain their game instincts.
Junior college transfer Scottie Vines (College of Eastern Utah) isa great athlete who may fill the role of departed senior Anthony Blakes. Acandidate for the three spot, he is a slasher offensively and a pefect fitfor McClain's uptempo style of play. A seven-foot high jumper, he wasrecruited to play football by Florida State. Vines averaged 26 points inAlabama high school ball, and nearly 16 a game for Eastern Utah.
A pair of other transfers, Chad Brown, a guard/forward, and RonellMingo, a power forward/center also will receive the opportunity to helpimmediately. Both are California transfers. . . Brown from Chaffey Collegeand Mingo from Compton Community College. Brown is a versatile player whocan play one through three. He is an outstanding scorer.Mingo averaged almost 16 points per game at Compton, and led the conferencein blocked shots (3.4) despite being injured for part of his sophomoreseason. He is a talented, athletic 6-9 player who blocks shots and canscore from outside, or inside.
Of the three true freshmen entering the program, one may beredshirted and the other two may have a chance to contribute in their firstseason. Center Alex Dunn out of Sioux Rapids, Iowa, has improved so muchthat McClain may change his mind on redshirting him. He originally plannedto do that until seeing the strides Dunn has made. Joe Ries, a 6-8 powerforward from St. Louis, and David Rottinghaus, a 6-5 guard-forward fromCharles City, Iowa, should see time as true freshmen. Ries is physicallymature for his age, and comes from a system very similar to McClain's. Hehas excellent toughness. Rottinghaus is a scorer. He is an outstandingshooter with great range.
"We are much deeper than last year's team," McClain said. "We have12 guys capable of starting. We have more athletic ability and we are muchquicker. Those things should allow us to be more aggressive on defense. Iexpect the number one area of improvement for us will be on defense. If wecan get better defensively that will help our offense and our rebounding."
McClain, who coached Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College to theNational Junior College Championship in 1994, was selected by the MountainWest Conference media members as Coach of the Year for his work last season.In his first two seasons he has posted a 37-22 record which is the secondhighest win total by a UW coach through his first two seasons in schoolhistory. Since his arrival in Laramie, he has made the Arena-Auditorium avery difficult place for opponents. The Cowboys are 24-3 in the Double Aunder McClain, and 12-2 in conference play.
McClain's Evaluation by Position
Point Guard: "We feel very good about this position because we haveexperience, and athleticism. There is excellent depth here. ChrisMcMillian has started every game for us as a freshman and as a sophomore.He certainly understands what we want to accomplish, and how to get it done.He has a chance to be as good as anyone in our league at this position. Hemust become a more consistent shooter. He has been getting open shots, heneeds to hit those open jumpers. He has worked hard on it, and hopefully hecan shoot for a higher percentage. Our lone senior, Brett McFall, withoutquestion was a spark for us last season, and played a lot of minutes. Hehas the ability to give this team a big lift when he enters the game. Ifhe can be a more consistent defender he will become an outstanding player inall phases. There is no question about his ability to spark us with hisoffense. Paris Corner is a guy who can knock down perimeter shots. He canhandle the ball at either one or two. I also believe he can be anoutstanding defensive player, at point or the wing."
Two Guard: "I like our depth here as well. I think we have threeplayers who give us a lot of things. Mark Bailey is the returnee. I thinkhe is going to be an even more effective player after going through a yearin the program. I think he can be a better scorer for us, and averagebetween four and six rebounds per game. He should be more consistent fromthe perimeter. He did a good job for us last year taking the ball to thegoal, and I expect him to be able to finish even better than he did lastseason. Paris Corner also will play here as well the point-guard spot. Hewill give us great quickness and the ability to score from the perimeter.Chad Brown must make the adjustment to this level of play. There is nodoubt about his talent level. He is a little more like Anthony Blakes inthat he is a scorer rather than a shooter. He must work on notover-handling the ball. He needs to distribute the ball more effectively."
Three (Small Forward): "This might be our strongest position. Ithink we have at least four players here who can make us very successful.Scottie Vines is the kind of athlete you look for as a wing playerespecially in this style of play. I think he will become a more consistentshooter from the perimeter, but he is a perfect player for our system. Hecan go to the goal and finish as well as anyone. He also can go out and getfive or six boards a game. We are very excited to have him fit into thisprogram. I think he's going to be an outstanding player. David Rottinghauscomes to us with a great reputation out of high school as a shooter. Hewill have to make some adjustments in terms of getting his shot off at thislevel. I think he will be an outstanding three-point shooter for us. For ayoung player he also is a very good defender which is a plus for him. Wecertainly will look at Josh Davis at three. To play this position, and Ithink he will be very effective here, he has to defend a smaller player.How quickly he can make that adjustment is how much he will get to play atthis spot. Everyone knows what kind of player he can become, but it will bevery exciting to see how he can contribute at this position."
Four (Power Forward): "Josh can play here and be very effective,especially in the low post. He will play here at times. I think he can bea better, or at least more effective rebounder than he has been. I reallythink he can average between eight and 10 per night, rather than 12 one gameand two or three the next. His maturity level should help with that.Maturity breeds consistency. One of our new players, Ronell Mingo, can bea huge plus for us, especially as his offensive play developes. He hasthe ability to be an excellent shooter from the perimeter. He has excellentpost moves, and he is a very good passer. I really like the little jumphook he has developed. He is one of those strong, physcial players who is agood athlete as well. He can be a good shot-blocker for us as well. He isa very versatile player. Joe Ries is a young guy who can play the four orfive. He can be effective on the high or low post. He's strong andphysical with the basketball. I really like the way he rebounds, and he canshoot the 15 to 17 footer. He is the kind of guy who will do a lot oflittle things for us. He'll make the tough pass, get the tough rebound, geta put-back when we need it. He's that kind of player. I think he will be avery good player in this program for a long time to come."
Post Position (Five): "Obviously we start with Ugo Udezue here. Hehas been our most dominating player, and we are confident that with sometime he can regain that form of two years ago. The biggest challenge forhim will be to get on the court, and get his game instincts back. He needsto get those back as early as he can. If he can do that, then I think hewill be fine. I believe that mentally he is ready for the challenge. Hefeels good about his surgery, and he's anxious to return to form. Does heneed to improve his game? Yes he does, especially his foul shooting. Hemust become better from the free throw line because he is going to receive alot of opportunities. I assure you he will go to the free-throw line awhole lot. Uche (Nsonwu-Amadi) brings a strong, physical player to ourprogram. Like Ugo, he will have to make all the adjustments from not playfor a year. He, too, needs to regain his court instincts. I look at Ucheas a player who is capable of giving us 10 to 12 boards per night and 14 to18 points per game. He can be a great rebounder. He can be a greatdefender. He can be a scorer. He's a guy who shoots 58-60 percent from thefield. He has a very soft touch around the basket. He has very soft handsso he can catch, and he also can make the good pass. When he adjusts tothis level, and regains his instinct, I believe he will be a very importantpart of this team. Alex Dunn had as good a preseason as any of ourfreshmen. At 6-10, he can play four or five. His ability to shoot from theperimeter is his strength. He has to become stronger and he must adjust tothis level. But he has gone from a player I thought I would redshirt, to aguy I'm not sure I can afford to. His skills allow him to make up for hislack of playing time on this level."