Men's basketball preview
Never have meaningless exhibition games been more meaningful to a basketball program. At least that's what the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is hoping.
An 86-53 win over in-town rival Colorado College on Nov. 5 and a superb performance in a 78-75 loss to Division I Denver on Nov. 12 awakened something unfamiliar in recent years for Mountain Lions fans - hope. To the bold, maybe even confidence.
After going 1-26 and getting outscored by an average of 23.5 points per game last year, hope and confidence may seem misplaced. But those who witnessed UCCS' blowout win over CC, which beat the Mountain Lions twice a year ago, and near miss against Denver, which won 20 games and went to the NIT, will have difficulty guarding their optimism.
In 2004-05, UCCS coach Lance Hammond couldn't begin recruiting in earnest until it was too late to secure many top freshmen. Then he watched helplessly as the team he patched together was torn apart by injuries and eligibility issues. By the end of the season, he had three student managers in uniform.
"We gave effort last year" said Hammond. "The biggest difference (this season) is in the talent level and they're my style of kids. I'm not the right coach for every kid and every kid's not the right kid for my system."
A season ago, every player on the roster was new to Hammond's system, which has few set patterns, relying instead on players' ability to read each other's movements on the floor and reacting accordingly. In such a system, familiarity is extremely valuable.
Starting guards Matt Cordova and P.J. Forrest have that familiarity. Cordova, a 3-point sniper who averaged 6.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists as a freshman, is the only returning player who projects as a starter.
"Matt's strength is the way he sees the floor," said Hammond. "He always seems to be in the right place."
Forrest was with the Mountain Lions last season but did not play as he sat out a redshirt year. He'll start at point guard.
"He's done a good job with his assist-to-turnover ratio, which is probably the most important statistic I look at for my point guards," said Hammond, noting Forrest's 2:1 ratio. "He has the ability to play some two guard also, which makes him versatile."
Backing up will be super-quick point guard Leo Thomas, veteran Pat Simpson and Erik Wuthrich.
"Point guard is probably our deepest position," said Hammond.
As Hammond pointed out previously, the biggest difference this year will be the talent level. That upgrade is most evident in three new frontcourt starters: Patrick Hannaway, Bly McGuire and Bryan Snyder.
Hannaway, a junior transfer from Division I Stephen F. Austin, can do a little bit of everything. During the preseason, he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists and two steals per game - all team highs - while shooting 60.9 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. And that's not the best of it.
"Pat's probably the best conditioned athlete we have in the program," said Hammond. "He's a great ball player, a great leader and a great teammate."
Hannaway will be joined at forward by Snyder, a freshman from diminutive Simla High School. At 6-foot-6 and a solid 225 pounds, Snyder looks the part of a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference post man, but he's also among the best shooters on the team.
"(Snyderâ€TMs) going to be good," said Hammond. "Bryan really shoots the ball.
"When I was recruiting him, the only question I had was whether he could be an RMAC post player as far as toughness. A few of the seniors have pulled him aside and challenged him."
Snyder responded to that challenge when he did an outstanding job defending Denver's 6-foot-11 All-American center Yemi Nicholson.
The Mountain Lions' primary post man, though, will be McGuire, a transfer from Western State who was an honorable mention All-RMAC selection in 2003-04. The 6-foot-9 junior is exactly the type of player Hammond wants manning the low block.
"Bly is a great post player," said Hammond. "He's going to be a very efficient offensive player and he's a very good rebounder."
Dan Deveau opens the season as the primary post reserve. The senior averaged 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds this past season.
"Dan is a very athletic kid who can make a difference on the backboards and defensively," said Hammond. "When Dan executes, he's a tremendous basketball player."
While Deveau is 6-foot-7, he's more suited to play the small forward spot instead of the post. Hammond's not worried, however, since help is on the way.
"Cody Blessing and Todd Crist, when they come back from injury, will provide that extra depth," said Hammond. "(Cristâ€TMs) ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter is going to help spread defenses and his 6-6 frame is going to help us on the backboards. He's got a little bit more meat to him than a few of our other players that right now we're having to play at (the post) position."
Blessing, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Coronado High School, is a dangerous shooter and has the versatility to play several positions. Both Crist and Blessing are expected to be available by mid December.
In the meantime, Adam Kemp, Chris Johnson, Ben Roberts and Randy Jones will be trying to prove that they belong in the playing rotation. Kemp and Johnson were both student managers at the beginning of last year but were pressed into service after attrition took its toll. Kemp has size and a nice shooting touch to 15 feet, while Johnson provides relentless hustle and tenacity. Roberts, a senior who sat out last season, has a nose for rebounding while Jones has tremendous athletic ability but needs a little refinement.
Three freshmen, post players Jonathan Caldwell and Chance Manyik and guard Shawn Mueller, will redshirt this season.
"We're going to do two things exponentially better: We're going to shoot the ball better and we're going to rebound better," said Hammond. "We have quite a bit more size and athleticism. Out ability to shoot the ball, position by position, is better than last year. Those will be our strengths. If we play as hard as we did last year, we'll be alright."
Those are meaningful words to Mountain Lions fans.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|September 27, 2006||Hannaway named preseason All-RMAC||Patrick Hannaway of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball team was selected to the preseason All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference first team, the conference announced Wednesday.|
|June 8, 2006||Men's basketball recruiting class announced||When Russ Caton took over as the new coach of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball team, the first order of business was to evaluate the team he had inherited. The second was to augment that core.|
|April 17, 2006||Tryout a success for players, coaches||Thirty-nine hopefuls attended the UCCS men's basketball tryout on Friday.|
|April 10, 2006||Kappel hired as assistant coach||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball program took another step forward Monday with the hiring of Bill Kappel as assistant coach.|
|April 6, 2006||Campus community gets chance to meet Caton||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Athletic Department hosted a reception to allow members of the campus community to meet new men's basketball coach Russ Caton on Thursday.|