The Wyoming Cowboys men’s basketball team got off to a surprising 13-0 start this year. It was the best start in school history (a history that includes a 1943 National Championship) and was garnering a plethora of national attention.
Andy Katz (ESPN writer for college basketball) said, “Wyoming surprising start was unseen, and Larry Shyatt should be in the discussion for National Coach of the Year,” said Andy Katz in a public chat on ESPN.com.
Then, something unexpected and unfortunate happened. Luke Martinez, the team’s second leading scorer, got into a bar fight breaking his hand. This lead to an investigation. It turned out that Martinez had punched and kicked an unconscious man in the face. Martinez is currently waiting his court date. Martinez has been suspended/injured since the incident.
So the once promising start has turned very sour. Since the 13-0 start, the Cowboys have gone 3-7. A team that was as high up as an eight seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology is now not even an afterthought.
Thus, it is never too early to look ahead to next year’s Cowboy basketball team.
Leonard Washington. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com
Wyoming will be losing three seniors. Leonard Washington, Darrius Gilmore and Luke Martinez. The one senior that will really be missed in Leonard Washington.
For a small isolated school like Wyoming to land a big fish like Leonard Washington was remarkable and somewhat lucky. Leonard is a 6’7” 220 “hybrid forward” from Lake Charles, Louisiana and transferred from USC (University of Southern Cal) because of some legal issues. He has flourished since coming to Laramie. His athleticism, leadership, and go-to scoring ability, will be sorely missed.
“For Wyoming Leonard is a once in a decade player,” states Robert Gagliardi, beat writer for Wyoming Athletics.
Darrius Gilmore, starting point guard, is a JUCO (Junior College) transfer who is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. He is the starting point guard and is a “jekyll and hyde player,” Gagliardi said. Some nights he is great and other nights, not so much.
Luke Martinez is the third and final senior. Since he is indefinitely suspended, and has not played for the last month and a half, one can already see what the team will look like without him.
Currently in the Cowboys’ starting lineup they have the two aforementioned seniors and the three other fellas are two sophomores and a freshman. Coming off the bench and getting significant playing time are a junior, two sophomores and two freshman.
Photo of Larry Nance Jr. courtesy of usatoday.com
One of the sophomores that starts is fan favorite, evident by the chants reigning through the AA every time he does something positive, Larry Nance Jr.. He is the son of famous NBA player Larry Nance, who won the first ever dunk contest. Larry Nance Jr. is 6’9” forward who can play around the rim and also hit the occasional outside shot. According to Coach Shyatt, he is still a little undersized, but with an off-season of bulking up, he should be as big as some of the better centers in the Mountain West.
“I expect great strides out of Larry Nance Jr. and anticipate him being an All-Mountain West selection next year,” Gagliardi predicted.
The other sophomore starter is guard, Riley Grabau. “Riley is a pass first kind-of player,” Gagliardi said. His assist-turnover ratio is one of the best, not only in the Mountain West, but in the entire nation. His shooting percentage suggests he also posses a decent shot, both from inside and outside the arc.
“His shooting will improve and expect his decision making to be even more pristine next year,” Gagliardi predicted.
The final starter is freshman guard, Josh Adams. Josh has tremendous athletic ability, which is on display each and every game with his high-flying dunks. “He shows tremendous poise out on the floor for only being a freshman,” Gagliardi proclaimed.
“He does have the best shot in the world, but what he lacks offensively he makes up for on the defensive end,” Gagliardi stated.
Coming off the bench and getting significant minutes are a junior, two sophomores, and two freshman.
Junior, Nathan Sobey, is a JUCO transfer from Conchise College in Arizona and was born and raised in Australia. “Nathan posses decent size for a guard at 6’4” and has a decent shot, but sometimes can be a little careless with the ball,” Gagliardi explained. He comes off the bench and is at his best when he is slashing to the hoop. Lately, he has not been getting a lot of playing time.
“Other players have practiced better than Nate, so they will see the floor first,” Shyatt explained.
Photo of Derek Cooke Jr. courtesy of trib.com
One of the sophomores getting good playing time is Derek Cooke Jr. who is 6’9” 210. Derek is new to the whole basketball thing as he has only been playing organized basketball for the past 3 years. Before that he was a football player, which can be seen in his “rugged, blue-collar playing,” says Gagliardi. He is originally from Washington, DC and played JUCO ball at Cloud County Community College in Kansas. Lately, Derek has been seeing more playing time because of his rebounding efforts, and his offensive game is coming around too.
“The game is still new to Derek, so he can only improve, but the raw ability and athleticism is there already,” Gagliardi proclaims.
The other sophomore is walk-on Jack Bentz from Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Jack, being a walk-on, does not receive a lot of minutes. But, lately, as the Mountain West season has worn on, he has seen more playing time. Jack is not a scorer, but a distributor.
“If he can work on his offensive game and keep his ball-handling prowess he will see the floor much more next season,” Gagliardi predicts.
“He plays within himself. I never see him out there trying to do anything he does not do in practice,” said Larry Shyatt in a phone interview.
One of the two freshman that has seen the floor more than once in Austin Haldorson. Austin is from Highlands Ranch, Colorado and is a long, lanky forward at 6’8”.
“He posses a good shot from outside and on some occasions has shown his craft to score in and around the hoop. He needs to bulk up so he can defend and rebound better,” Gagliardi stated.
“Austin has the most upside of any player on the team,” according to Coach Shyatt.
The other freshman is a fan favorite, Wyoming’s own, Jason McManamen. Jason is a wing-type player with good size at 6’5” with a nice three point shot. During his senior year at Torrington High School he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Wyoming.
“He is a smart, talented player that just needs to get more comfortable and confident in shooting that great shot of his. That will come with time, expect great things out of the Wyoming boy,” states Gagliardi.
Wyoming has four open scholarships for next year and has already filled three of them. The class so far consists of two forwards and a guard. The last scholarship will most likely be filled by a “wing-type player,” Gagliardi predicted.
One of the the forwards is Alan Herndon. He is 6’8, but needs to hit the weight room to bulk up a bit. “He is a project so a red-shirt may be in his future,” said Gagliardi
The other forward is Keonte Vernon. He is 6’6, and has a big frame and evident by his high school numbers is ready to contribute immediately when he gets to Laramie.
“Keonte is unlike many incoming freshman at Wyoming in that he is college ready,” Gagliardi stated.
The final commit is a guard Trey Washington. He is a small guard at 5’10, but has a very good perimeter shot.
“Trey could help out immediately with the departure of Gilmore,” said Gagliardi
“It is hard to speculate on these high school kids because the college game is so much advanced. One thing is certain, the commits so far fit the system and the persona of a Wyoming Cowboy,” Gagliardi explained.
The X Factor
Charles Hankerson Jr.
Charles Hankerson Jr. playing for Alabama. Photo Courtesy of al.com
He is a 6’5”, 220 pound wing. He is a transfer from Alabama and will be eligible to play as a junior next year. He fits the role of a “slasher” something Wyoming does not have and as Gagliardi says, “brings more size to the wing position.”
“Hankerson Jr. is the most physically gifted on the team and potentially the best player on the team a team that includes All-Mountain West performer Leonard Washington,” Gagliardi proclaimed.
Gagliardi thinks Hankerson will jump right into the starting lineup next year and be a huge factor from the get-go.
Wyoming, despite its off-the-court issues, has had a very good year so far. The two seniors, Leonard Washington and Darrius Gilmore, will be missed next year. But, there is enough talent, through recruiting and developing players, to expect great things out of this Cowboy team next year.
In Shyatt we trust.