Men's basketball season preview

By Doug Fitzgerald published October 17, 2006

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has long desired a strong, stable men's basketball program around which the campus community could rally. After 15 seasons and only one winning season, that desire has turned into a whim for many, like the treasured but unattainable bicycle behind the store window.

But there's a glimmer of hope for long suffering Mountain Lion fans. That hope comes in a plan that has already begun implementation.

Athletic director Stephen Kirkham first envisioned the plan. Doug Schakel, who took over as interim coach midway through last season, did the site survey. In new coach Russ Caton and assistant Bill Kappel, Kirkham added the architects he believes can make the dream a reality.

And best of all, a strong foundation is already in place.

The Mountain Lions return five players from last season's team which, while it went a dismal 5-22, won three of its final six games as they adjusted to the basic fundamental concepts Schakel was teaching.

Armed with those concepts, Patrick Hannaway, Patrick Simpson, Bly McGuire, Bryan Snyder and Leo Thomas are looking to take the next step. And they won't be alone in the effort. Caton has brought an impressive recruiting class to UCCS that features " according to blueprint " seven freshmen and only one junior college transfer.

Why the emphasis on freshmen? Because Caton will have four years to develop them into impact players. Juco transfers are more game-ready immediately, but freshmen have the higher upside. That's how you build an enduring program instead of simply piecing together a team from year-to-year.

But the success of this season's team will hinge upon the returners. And the key returner is Hannaway, a first-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference West Division selection a year ago.

All Hannaway did in his first campaign with the Mountain Lions after transferring from Division I Stephen F. Austin was set new UCCS single-season records for points (542), points per game (20.1), free throws made (156) and free throws attempted (210).

When interim coach Doug Schakel assumed control of the Mountain Lions for the final 13 games of the 2005-06 season, he wanted to identify smart players that could quickly absorb and execute his concepts. He found one such player in Patrick Simpson, who was barely used during his first 2½ seasons at UCCS. Simpson's playing time ballooned from 10.7 minutes per game to 25.5 minutes, during which he averaged 2.4 assists per game and made 17 of his 34 3-point attempts.

Joining Hannaway and Simpson on the wings will be three key recruits: Joe Scott, Kyle Perkins and Nick Taylor.

All three have impressive credentials. Scott averaged 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals per game as a senior at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. Taylor averaged 27.3 points per game at San Diego's Granite Hills High School and led the San Diego section in 3-pointers made with 132, 51 better than the next best total. Perkins, a slasher, averaged 21.9 points per game for Montezuma-Cortez High School.

Also in the mix at the wing will be a pair of local products, Aaron Cain from Falcon High School and Daniel Moore from Palmer.

Caton focused heavily on wing players during his recruiting, in part because big players are in such high demand.

"Instead of fighting that battle, it's a good idea to find a system that fits more guards," said Caton. "There are a lot of good guards out there."

But he also focused on wings because he already had outstanding post players in McGuire and Snyder, a duo that couldn't be more different on the floor.

McGuire is a classic, low-post player who possesses outstanding moves with his back to the basket. The senior averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds for UCCS this past season. McGuire is the prototype of what Caton wants his post players to be.

"A post player's main priority is to screen," said Caton. "Everything really runs around him. He's the traffic control tower for the offense."

Although he continues to improve in that area, Snyder does not yet provide the low-post presence of a McGuire. What he can do is shoot. In fact, the 6-foot-7 sophomore led the team in 3-point shooting at 47.4 percent.

"Bryan, because he shoots so well, is going to do a lot of screening and popping out to the perimeter," said Caton. "That's going to force the big men to step out and defend on the perimeter which is really going to open up some things for the guys who can get to the bucket."

Another force in the post will be Eric Davis, who was recruited out of high school as a tight end. The 6-foot-6 freshman averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds as a senior and brings a bull-in-the-china-closet style of play that will make him a fan favorite. Also in the post mix is redshirt freshman Jonathan Caldwell.

But the biggest difference maker among the newcomers will likely be Nic Fuller, who transferred from Otero Junior College. Fuller is a classic, pass-first point guard, something that UCCS has sorely lacked since Tre Carruthers roamed the then-Gold Pit 10 years ago.

"Fuller dribbles two balls as well as he does one and he's really good at seeing the floor," said Caton. "That's going to help (McGuire) and (Hannaway) more than anything " 'somebody getting them the ball when and where they can be most efficient with it."

And Taylor can also be a scoring threat.

"Nic's bringing a lot to the table that way and he can also really shoot the ball," said Caton. "He'll give it up two or three times in a row and then bust a three on you. That's tough to defend."

But in keeping with the plan, Caton also brought in a point guard to develop for the future in Ben Feilmeier. The freshman is a solid decision maker and accurate shooter. Add the super-quick Thomas, who averaged three points and 1.3 assists for UCCS a year ago, and point guard has turned from a weakness into a strength.

The Mountain Lions will be tested early, playing Division I schools Weber State and Wyoming in exhibition games in the first week of November.

Division-I moved their schedule up a week so that allows us to go play two exhibition games and have almost two full weeks of practice before we get into our regular-season games," said Caton. "That's huge for us because we can really break things down and see what we really need to focus on."

He'll also be able to see how his team is adapting to his philosophy.

"That's what's real important to me; working hard, playing smart basketball and working as a team," said Caton. "If you have those three things, you can overcome more athletic teams and more experienced teams."

And you can build a basketball program to be proud of.


UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Bly McGuireBly McGuire33CSr.
Bly McGuireBly McGuire33CSr.
Leo ThomasLeo Thomas12GJr.
Leo ThomasLeo Thomas12GJr.
Leo ThomasLeo Thomas12GSr.
Aaron CainAaron Cain32GFr.
Bryan SnyderBryan Snyder54FSo.
Bryan SnyderBryan Snyder54FSo.
Eric DavisEric Davis35FFr.
Eric DavisEric Davis35FSo.
Daniel MooreDaniel Moore15GSo.
Kyle PerkinsKyle Perkins21FFr.
Kyle PerkinsKyle Perkins21FSo.
Nick TaylorNick Taylor30G/FFr.
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