Men's basketball season preview
If the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball team were a part of the Chinese lunar calendar, 2004-05 would be the year of the question mark.
How will the Mountain Lions overcome two consecutive years of lethargy during which they posted a combined 11-41 record? How will they replace four departed starters and eight lettermen that combined to account for 73.7 percent of CU-Colorado Springsâ€TM points, 79.7 percent of its assists and 69 percent of its rebounds? Will the Mountain Lions have enough healthy post players to stand up in the hyper-physical Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference?
The man tasked with finding the answers is first-year coach Lance Hammond, who served as assistant coach the past two seasons, the first under Ed Pipes and last year under Marty Fletcher. He first tackled the lethargy question by instilling his bulldog attitude among the team.
"I want to see a level of focus and intensity that's been missing from this basketball program, which is something we started in instill it last year," said Hammond. "I want a team that takes care of the basketball, rebounds and plays defense. If you do those three things, you're in every game."
Hammond also sees the leadership being provided by his three seniors as a seed from which to grow a winning attitude.
"Jim Pecic, Trey White and Stephon Hicks have been incredible," said Hammond. "I couldn't ask for more out of my seniors. This team doesn't lack leadership."
Hammond's answered the second question by assembling an imposing recruiting class that featured a savvy mix of junior college transfers and highly regarded freshmen. As he was putting the finishing touches on the team, though, another puzzler was dropped into his lap.
During the offseason, the NCAA enacted new eligibility requirements for transfers. Rather than grandfathering the current season's class as is customary when instituting new rules, though, this rule was made fully active immediately. Suddenly, some of Hammond's key juco transfers were deemed ineligible.
Not to worry, says Hammond while sporting his best Afred E. Newman "What, me worry?" grin. He believes that the players still available will prove to be a major talent upgrade. The most important of those will likely be point guard Torrey Phillips, a lightning-quick transfer from Lamar Community College.
"We're going to get more open perimeter shots than what we've ever gotten in this program before because of the improvement of the point guard sition," said Hammond. "I think (Phillips) will be the best point guard to ever play here."
Getting those perimeter shots will be returning wings Hicks, White, Dan Deveau and Patrick Simpson along with transfer Keith Flores and freshman Matt Cordova.
Hicks, who played the role of defensive stopper last year, is one of the team's most creative and effective scorers. His challenge will be one of the most unusual found in athletics - he must become more selfish.
"Steph is a very good scorer but needs to be more offensive-minded," said Hammond. "He passed up too many open shots last year."
White, who shot just 31.5 percent last year, dedicated himself in the weight room over the offseason. He comes into this season sporting a chiseled 200 pounds, which has shown itself in improved shooting range and consistency.
Another player who hit the weights hard was Deveau, who is perhaps the team's best 3-point shooter from the baseline. The added strength will allow the 6-foot-7 Deveau to see some time at the post this season, which gives Hammond some matchup options that were lacking previously.
Simpson should see an exponential increase upon the 31 minutes he played last season. Though undersized for the wing, Simpson's shooting touch, toughness and hustle will make it impossible to keep him off the floor.
Flores, a transfer from Otero Junior College, will be the backup to Phillips at point guard. But Flores is also a dangerous shooter who will get some time at wing as well
Cordova and post player Devin Martin represent the heart of the Mountain Lions' freshman class and a departure from past regimes as it pertains to recruiting. Cordova is from Doherty High School and Martin is from Lewis-Palmer High School, both in Colorado Springs. In years past, CU-Colorado Springs has watched while the best of the area high schools went elsewhere. Hammond reached in and pulled out two plums.
"The players in this area are extremely well coached," said Hammond. "I hate seeing great players leave Colorado Springs.
"I love my freshman class. When you have two freshmen who are earning considerable minutes, that points to a bright future."
Martin will join Pecic, Chris McGowne and Anthony Earl in a post rotation that represents one of the team's biggest unknowns.
Pecic is athletic, experienced and should be among the team's top scorers and rebounders. He is also better suited for the power forward than the center. Hammond's offense makes that distinction moot, but how Pecic stands up to the 250-pounders defensively when Martin, McGowne and Earl are on the bench will be crucial.
And that's really the question: how many minutes will those three post players be able to log? Martin is a phenomenal talent, but he's a freshman and freshmen often struggle with their introduction to Division II basketball. McGowne, a division I transfer, is 6-foot-10, experienced and very athletic, but he's still limping from major foot surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2003-04 season. He'll play as much as his pain tolerance and mobility allow. Earl is still in a cast from a foot injury and may be several weeks away.
Still, Hammond remains optimistic.
"With our four-out, one-in offense it's not going to affect us as much as you might think, because we're only going to play one true post who has his back to the basket," said Hammond. "Between Pecic, Devin and McGowne, we have enough depth to play that position. Anthony Earl will also help us there when he gets healthy."
Part of Hammonds' optimism revolves around his coaching staff. Kevin Conboy is a respected veteran coach with an even demeanor that complements the fiery Hammond nicely. Jay Johnson, who played Division I basketball at Prairie View A&M, knows the sacrifices required to play at the highest levels and can relate that to the young Mountain Lions.
The optimism will be put to the test early, though, as CU-Colorado Springs will open its season with a schedule that features four Division I teams, all of whom could qualify for the national tournament, and Division II powerhouse Metro State.
"We'll play five games and never play anybody the rest of the year that's better than those first five opponents," said Hammond. "It's a good measuring stick. It let's the kids know where they're at and how far the need to come."
It will also prepare the team for its Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference schedule.
"Our season is those 19 conference games," said Hammond.
With the talent upgraded and the team enthusiastically buying into Hammond's philosophy, the 2004-05 Mountain Lions should be much improved over the past two yseasons. How that improvement will manifest itself into wins and losses is hard to tell. Hammond will be using a different gauge of success for the time being.
"We just have to play hard and play smart and good things will happen," said Hammond.
And question marks will be erased.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|November 12, 2005||UCCS impressive, but drops final exhibition||Patrick Hannaway took the inbounds pass with four seconds remaining. He went left to avoid one Denver defender, then sprinted right, across the midcourt stripe, to elude another pursuing guard. He deked 6-foot-11 center Yemi Nicholson then set himself to fire the tying 3-pointer against the Division I Pioneers.|
|November 5, 2005||UCCS tops CC in exhibition||Sure, it was only an exhibition game, but Mountain Lions basketball fans may want to allow themselves to start getting just a little excited|
|April 27, 2005||Men's basketball recruiting class announced||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs announced Wednesday that men's basketball coach Lance Hammond had received commitments from five local players to be the foundation of his first recruiting class.|
|March 4, 2005||Pecic, White honored by RMAC||Jim Pecic and Trey White were named All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference West Division honorable mention, the conference announced Friday.|
|March 2, 2005||Pecic named player of the week||University of Colorado at Colorado Springs senior Jim Pecic was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference West Division player of the week, the conference announced Wednesday.|