Season preview: Reinvented Mountain Lions looking to run

By Doug Fitzgerald published October 28, 2008

According to Plato, necessity is the mother of invention. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs menâ€TMs basketball coach Russ Caton couldnâ€TMt agree more.

Caton endured Murphyâ€TMs season in 2007-08, with everything that could go wrong going wrong. The Mountain Lions overcame a spate of preseason injuries to get out to a quick start, but the attrition continued, particularly in the post. The results were devastating as UCCSâ€TM record tumbled.

By seasonâ€TMs end, however, Caton had fully implemented a frenetic, fast-paced attack that changed the face of Mountain Lion basketball. He went to it out of need since UCCS had little else by seasonâ€TMs end but guards, but will stick with it because it was remarkably effective. The Mountain Lions won three of their final four games last year with a lineup that often had no player taller than 6-foot-4 on the floor.

The concept is simple. All offenses are run with the goal of breaking down the opponentâ€TMs defense. The Mountain Lions look to exploit the defense in transition, before it can be set up in the first place. The high-octane pace can take lumbering big men out of the defensive picture and helps neutralize individual athleticism. It also inevitably leads to fatigue

“When fatigue sets in, nobody is as good as they are when theyâ€TMre not (fatigued),” said Caton. “If we can continue to push the ball for 40 minutes, eventually that is going to catch up to these teams.”

Lastly, few teams maintain that kind of pace, which makes the UCCS offense unfamiliar. During the season, a team may have only one or two days to prepare for an opponent. If you run something dramatically different than what an opponent is used to seeing, itâ€TMs a far bigger adjustment for them.

“Itâ€TMs a style a lot of people arenâ€TMt used to playing,” said Caton. “What looks like a rat race to them is actually good basketball.”

But looking at last yearâ€TMs tapes wonâ€TMt help opponents very much. There will be some big â€" literally â€" reasons why this yearâ€TMs incarnation of the “UCCS Scoot & Shootâ€TM will be much more versatile.

Steve Clements, the last post player standing a year ago, returns. So does 6-foot-7 Tommy Klausner, whose 2007-08 season was ended by a foot injury before he got to play in a game. Add in prized recruit Cole Smith, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Otero Junior College, and UCCS has options in the post that Caton could only dream about last year.

Smith, the fastest of the three, gives UCCS a strong post presence who can keep up with the fast-paced offense. So can Klausner, who also has tremendous post footwork and is a strong rebounder. Clements is the most experienced.

Adding to the depth is the presence of several legitimate power forwards. Sophomore Chris Fernandez saw limited action early as a freshman, but was a starter by the end of the season. Over the final four games, he averaged 12.35 rebounds and 2.96 blocked shots per 40 minutes while shooting 50 percent from the field. Rob Howe saw limited action as a freshman, but has come back stronger and more aggressive. Heâ€TMs a promising offensive player. Luke Hristou comes to UCCS after redshirting as a football quarterback at Utah State. His skill set includes accurate outside shooting and surprising athleticism. Also in the mix is Matt Baarts, a freshman from Colorado Springs Christian School.

“We have some size there; none of those guys are smaller than 6-4 and they have some decent bodies on them,” said Caton. “That was one of the things that hurt us last year when we switched to a faster game. We were having trouble defending bigger guys on the other end.”

The biggest question mark will be at point guard, where last yearâ€TMs best player, Nic Fuller, has graduated and taken a seat on the bench as Catonâ€TMs assistant. Caton points out, though, that the offense gets the entire team involved, making point guard more of a situational position.

“The way we try to speed the game up is we have numerous outlets,” he explained. “Anybody that gets the ball, or rebounds it, can go. We only need a point guard for dead ball situations to start us off.”

Nonetheless, UCCS has options at the position. Ben Feilmeier returns after missing last season. He was Fullerâ€TMs primary backup in 2006-07 and already understands what Caton wants his point guards to do. Heâ€TMs joined by two freshmen, speedy Scott Sublousky and Daryl Ward. Caton can also opt for one of his better ballhandling wings. Jordan McClung is a deft shooter and the teamâ€TMs best pure passer, while Nick Weaver is a proven scorer and powerful penetrator.

Whichever players are not chosen to man the point will be in a crowded mix on the wing, which also includes Fernandez and Hristou when Caton chooses to play two of the post players at the same time.

But regardless of who else is in the mix, expect Frank McCollum to be a big part of the puzzle. The teamâ€TMs most dynamic athlete, McCollum averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds a season ago, numbers that could grow considerably in this, his senior season.

Whether itâ€TMs at the point or on the wing, McClung and Weaver will be key contributors. McClung became a starter for the final 11 games of his freshman season and, in that role, averaged 10.8 points and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3-point range. Weaver is a transfer from Division I Cleveland State who possesses a deadly combination of outside shooting and the ability to slash to the hoop.

Other wings include Cody Lara, a sharp-shooting transfer from Division I Texas-San Antonio, Alex Snyder, a tough, athletic defender from Otero Junior College and Levi Harris, a freshman from Coronado High School in Colorado Springs

It all adds up to an impressive collection of shooters at UCCS.

“For our shooting drill, you got to hit 70 out of 100 (3-pointers) to be able to have the green light to shoot whenever you want,” said Caton. “We do that to help with their knowing when they can and canâ€TMt shoot the ball; take some of that guess work out of it. Hopefully, it improves their shooting percentage a little bit.”

Caton said Weaver, McCollum, Feilmeier, McClung and Sublousky have all consistently met the 70 percent target, while Harris, Fernandez and Hristou have also hit it more than once. Lara, who has been sidelined with an injury, is also known as a shooter.

The combination of shooters, slashers and post players is an offensive mix that all coaches desire. On paper, the Mountain Lions look to have all three. Defensively, Caton expects the same pace and effort that the offense generates.

“I donâ€TMt want to just run and gun and I donâ€TMt want to trade buckets,” said Caton. “Our best offense comes off of defensive stops and one-shot rebounds, so weâ€TMre really trying to emphasize that this year and make us more sound defensively.

“Hopefully, weâ€TMll be a hard-nosed defensive team with a real aggressive offense that pushes the pace. For me itâ€TMs a lot of fun to watch these guys and it looks like a lot of fun to play. Itâ€TMll be entertaining at least if nothing else.

So it could be said that, to Caton, life must be lived as play. Plato couldnâ€TMt agree more.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Cole SmithCole Smith32FJr.
Cole SmithCole Smith32F
Cody LaraCody Lara24GSo.
Scott SublouskyScott Sublousky15GFr.
Scott SublouskyScott Sublousky15GSr.
Levi HarrisLevi Harris34GFr.
Levi HarrisLevi Harris34G
Matt BaartsMatt BaartsF
Daryl WardDaryl Ward10GFr.
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