The two worst phrases a fan can hear about their team are “rebuilding year,” or “gaining a lot of experience.” These are basically two ways of saying: “We are not expecting a lot, but stick with us and we will be better next year.” Injuries, losing a lot of upperclassman, or changing coaches, can be reasons for this situation, and in the case of the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team, they have two out of the three taken care of. With the most noteworthy event for Wyoming being a YouTube classic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvY7zv9St4w), and although that video is awesome, there are other stories to this year’s Cowboy team.
Losing 4 of their top 6 scorers to graduation, the team knew they were in for an uphill battle. However, returning second-leading scorer, sophomore Afam Muojeke, would provide the team leadership that Heath Schroyer’s club desperately needed. Things have a funny way of working out because in the fifth conference game of the year, Muojeke was lost for the rest of the year with a knee injury. Now, with the majority of the conference season still remaining, the incoming freshman class was thrown into the fire and forced to learn on the fly against one of the strongest Mountain West Conferences in recent memory.
Wyoming has the 3rd-youngest Division 1 basketball program, and as can be expected, they showed their youth often. However, there is an upside: the experience they gain by facing more experienced competition such as New Mexico and BYU will pay huge dividends in the future. Wyoming is like the little brother who always challenges his older brothers in pick-up games; he always gets beat in the beginning, but as he gets better and learns from his mistakes, watch out. An example of this for UW has been the emergence of true freshman Desmar Jackson. He has provided Poke fans with a bright spot as the team has tried to find a new identity. Jackson has been the leading scorer for the Cowboys in 6 of the last 10 games, including a career high 31 points against Utah on February 20th. With Muojeke returning next year, and Jackson gaining confidence, UW is already positioning itself to make run in the Mountain West for years to come.
You may be wondering at the title, what does Wyoming have in common with UCLA and North Carolina? These two national powerhouse college basket ball programs are in a similar situation as Wyoming: UCLA, with losing a lot of upper-class talent, and North Carolina has experienced both as injuries and the NBA draft have depleted their roster. Now, UCLA is struggling below .500 for the first time in years, and UNC is just trying to make the NIT. However, like Wyoming, they are also gaining experience, and I expect to see all three teams return to their previous levels of success next year.