Linder to face former team, mentor for first time
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder is going to make sure there's a large sign inside the Boise State locker room next week.
It will read something like this: "Welcome to 7,200 feet. How's your oxygen?"
That isn't a new ploy. Those signs are up and down the back hallways of the Arena-Auditorium. It's intended to evoke fear and doubt for the visitors inside the nation's highest Division-I basketball gym.
Will it work?
Linder is looking for any advantage his team can get with the league-leading Boise State Broncos coming to town for a two-game series, beginning Monday night.
If history tells us anything, altitude hasn't impacted the visiting Broncos in the nine games they have played on the high plains since Boise State joined the Mountain West Conference back in the summer of 2010.
They have won six of those.
In fact, Linder had a hand in three of them as one of Leon Rice's top assistants from 2010-16.
"In the past, Boise State has done as historically well here as any team," Linder said Friday during his weekly press conference. "But I know all the tricks (Rice) is going to pull."
Linder joked with Boise media members on the Zoom call this morning. It was a small reunion of sorts. The COVID-19 version, anyway. This will be the first time Linder has ever coached against Rice and his former Broncos' squad.
They've been around the block together.
Linder and Rice reached two NCAA Tournaments together, including the school's first in 2013. In 2015, they won the regular-season title in the conference. That team fell one game shy of the league title game in Las Vegas. They ran into Larry Nance Jr and Josh Adams in Sin City, falling to the eventual champion Cowboys 71-66 in overtime.
So, what is Rice going to tell his first-place team when they arrive in Laramie?
"He's going to bring the Beet juice," Linder joked. "He's going to try and trick (Emmanuel) Akot and (Devonaire) Doutrive and all those new guys. He's going to bring out the fake thing they use to dry the floor when it's wet. He'll bring out those machines and he'll tell them they are like climatizing machines."
This series won't just serve as a barometer for Linder's young roster of Cowboys, there's no denying it, this is special for Wyoming's first-year head coach.
"Without saying, it's going to be a little different seeing Leon down on the other side," Linder said. "I'm just glad our scorers' table is up against the court so we can actually lean against it.
At ExtraMile Arena in Boise, those guys are nowhere near the court because of the virus.
"It's like 30 feet back," Linder joked. "Seeing him over there at the game, hanging out, doesn't quite look right. I'm glad he'll have some support while he's here."
Linder credited Rice with letting him coach. He delegated, Linder said. He added that Rice has no ego.
"Leon is very comfortable knowing that he doesn't know everything," he said. "He's done an unbelievable job hiring assistant coaches that makes up for some of the things he's not as good at.
"... I wouldn't be as good of an offensive coach if he wouldn't have given me freedom to own the offense."
Linder reached out to Rice when the Wyoming job came calling. He didn't need to. Linder grew up in Denver and coached in the same league. He knew plenty about the Cowboys -- present and past.
Obviously, he liked what he heard from Rice.
Memories are at the forefront now, but come Monday, Linder hopes to see his team take a major step in the right direction.
Can they bounce back from a 20-point loss at Fresno State?
Can the Cowboys get back to hitting buckets -- the easy and deep ones?
Can Wyoming protect its home court and compete with the top team in the conference?
There are plenty of questions. Answers will come in due time.
"To play a team like Boise and see their experience, discipline and habits, for our guys to see it on film and experience that, is only going to help us moving forward," Linder said of the 9-1 Broncos, who are also a perfect 5-0 in league play.
It's safe to say this Wyoming (7-2, 1-1) squad is attempting to mimic the one Linder helped build in Boise.
"It's a good measuring stick," he said. "That's the beauty of our guys -- they're not scared."