Linder focused on recruiting current UW players
LARAMIE -- Before the ink was dry on Jeff Linder's new five-year contract to become the new head men's basketball coach at the University of Wyoming, he was in his car heading south.
He wasn't going home to Denver to celebrate or stopping in Greeley to clean out his desk, instead he was on the recruiting trail.
The re-recruiting trail.
Linder said Wednesday during his introductory press conference -- which was done over the phone because of the COVID-19 virus -- his first priority was to meet face to face with as many current UW basketball as possible.
He stopped in Denver to chat with up-and-coming star and All-Mountain West Tournament team player, Kwane Marble. Next came a visit to guard Kenny Foster's house. He then headed to Colorado Springs to meet with team leader Hunter Maldonado.
More visits are in the future.
"Not being able to do a press conference allowed me to focus on those guys yesterday," Linder said. "It was important for me to get in front of them and their parents."
It wasn't the first time, either. Linder recruited most of these same guys to Northern Colorado. Most of those player have also been to Greeley on official visits.
"I wasn't walking in like some kind of stranger," he said. "They know who I am and how we play. It's about starting to trust. I have to start building that. That's something not gained over night."
Does he feel like his message got through?
He is playing the waiting game, too.
"They were very positive responses," Linder said. "At the end of the day, I don't expect them to tell me right then and there. They know they are a big part of what I want to do."
And speaking of what he wants to do, Linder said it's no big secret -- just look at his body of work.
"We are going to play fast," he said when asked if he would take advantage of playing at the highest elevated Division-I arena in the country, " but we aren't going to play stupid either."
That's not Linder's M.O.
His teams love to shoot. The deeper the better. UNC was 10th in the nation in 3-point shooting last season. Linder makes no bones about it -- he's an offensive guy. When he was the head assistant at Boise State, the Broncos led the Mountain West in scoring three times in his six seasons. They finished second once.
"We need to add pieces and value shooting," he said. "That's something I will not sacrifice in recruiting. That will be something we look at going forward ... We need to add a few pieces to the puzzle, but I think we can cause some noise in the Mountain West next year."
Aside from offensive consistency, Linder's teams don't beat themselves. The Bears were sixth in the country in fewest turnovers.
His teams defend, too. UNC allowed just 62.7 points per game in 2019-20. You can credit that mostly to a stifling defensive effort on the perimeter. The Bears held opponents to 28 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman said Wednesday that he always likes to sit behind the visiting bench inside the Arena-Auditorium. It gives him a front-row seat to what his opponents are doing.
Burman remembers being impressed with Linder from his Boise State days. Not to mention UNC's last three trips to Laramie where the underdog Bears have walked out victorious, becoming the first non-conference team to win at Wyoming in back-to-back seasons.
"You could tell he was running that," Burman said of Boise State's potent offense under Linder. "It had am impact. I believe one of -- not the only -- but one of the ways we should be successful is to have to have a very good shooting team. We have to knock down threes at a high clip."
One thing Linder hopes to keep from the Allen Edwards' era -- aside from assistant coach Shaun Vandiver, who will remain at UW -- is the family atmosphere. Linder and Burman know how important that is to the current team inside that locker room.
It's crucial for them, too.
Many players, including Hunter Thompson, Marble and Maldonado, among others, took to social media after wrapping up last season's 9-24 campaign. They fought for Edwards to retain his job.
The day after Edwards was fired, sophomore TJ Taylor was the first to put his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Many wondered if that was just the beginning of a mass exodus.
"After I met with Edwards, I met with the team and separately with a handful of players," Burman said. "We had one-on-one meetings, and I had dialogue with three or four other kids also, whether by phone or meeting with them. I've had some sort of conversation with everybody."
Now, with players scattered all over the country, Burman said he has reached out to players through text since hiring Linder.
The fact that the Cowboys are in the midst of one of the worst stretches in program history didn't scare Linder.
He's seen worse.
When he got to UNC in 2016, the Bears had just two 20-win seasons in 40-plus years of basketball. They won just 10 games the previous season. Not to mention the program was engulfed in academic and improper benefits scandals, which took away any hopes for postseason play, limited recruiting hours and cut scholarships.
Those were self-imposed sanctions.
The cupboard in Greeley wasn't exactly stacked either.
Now, three consecutive seasons of 20-plus wins and a CIT championship later, Linder proved he could defy the odds and make the Bears into a winner again.
He truly believes that same thing could be on the horizon in Laramie. That's his recruiting pitch anyway.
"I said, 'hey, we aren't going to lose. We are going to win next year,'" Linder told those players in their homes Tuesday. "You have to believe that -- I believe that. I wouldn't have left my situation at UNC if we couldn't win from day one. They got experience last year, and if we add a few pieces, it's not unrealistic to do some great things.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work. Guys will have to adjust to a different system. With what we have now, add a few pieces, we can get there."