TUCKER: Are hoops fun in Laramie again? It’s sure trending that way
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder still has a scholarship or three to hand out.
There are still a pair of potential All-Conference caliber players that have yet to re-commit to the program. Publicly, anyway.
Wyoming still has plenty of "wants" to add to its basketball roster. In years past, that word in parenthesis was needs. This new -- and very likely improved -- lineup hasn't proven a thing yet, but the trajectory sure is nice to gawk at.
Linder has brought in five new players in less than a month on the job. He has sold his vision to last season's leading scorer, rebounder and assist man, Hunter Maldonado. Linder, along with Maldonado, also helped influence Hunter Thompson to stay put in Laramie.
Will Kwane Marble and Kenny Foster follow suit? Sources close to the program are confident that will happen.
Yes, this is just a new coach doing his job. But just think of the roadblocks his newly established staff has had to deal with. Mainly, the worldwide pandemic, COVID-19.
Linder and Co. have virtually -- literally -- recruited sharp-shooting junior college guard, Drake Jeffries. Drew LaMont also took his official visit over the world wide web. Same goes for new 6-foot, 10-inch Irishman, Eoin Nelson.
Guards Marcus Williams and Linder's initial UW recruit, Xavier DuSell, already had relationships with members of this staff. They were both heading to Northern Colorado until Linder accepted this new gig March 17.
These five are all expected to sign on the dotted line April 15.
They haven't been able to take the traditional route in this recruiting process. These five players have never even stepped foot in Laramie before. They didn't get the grand tour of Wyoming's facilities, a snow mobile trip or any of the other bells and whistles that come with an in-person visit.
That's a credit to Linder and his assistants, Ken DeWeese, Shaun Vandiver and Sundance Wicks. And who could forget the new director of recruiting, Riley Grabau.
We can't ignore another obvious uphill battle facing this staff -- Selling this program.
Over the past two seasons, Wyoming is just 17-48 overall. The Cowboys have won just six Mountain West games during the regular season. Only 10 of those wins have come inside a mostly empty Arena-Auditorium.
Truth be told, these last two years have rivaled some of the worst in this program's storied history.
The last time the Cowboys were this bad on the hardwood came during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons. Bill Strannigan coached the Pokes to nine wins the first year. Moe Radovich milked four total wins out of the latter squad.
Linder's vision is a fairly simple one: Shoot, play defense, win.
That alone, he hopes, will bring excitement back to the "Dome of Doom."
Wyoming already has its unique challenges when it comes to this recruiting game. Yes, there's the weather that everyone likes to talk about. There's the isolation. There's the lack of big-city flair.
DuSell put this all in perspective real quick.
“I’m not too worried about weather,” he said. “I’ll be on the basketball court, or in the dorm or doing something productive.”
Jeffries, who started his collegiate career at Minot State in North Dakota, laughed when talking about weather in Laramie.
He's got a point.
Linder has snagged players from Arizona, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Ireland. Whatever he's selling, these guys are buying.
Let's be honest -- his body of work really speaks for itself.
UNC, though it shares it's initials with North Carolina, isn't exactly viewed as a "blue blood." In fact, before Linder's arrival in Greeley back in 2015, the Bears had won 20-plus games twice in the program's 44-year history.
Linder eclipsed the 20-win mark the past three seasons.
Then there was his six-year stint as the top assistant at Boise State. The Broncos quickly became the most feared offense in the conference. In four of Linder's six seasons in Idaho, Boise State led the MW in scoring. They finished second once.
That success, coupled with the personalities of this group of assembled coaches, has done everything right. So far.
I mean, who wouldn't want to play for this guy?
Can this team win now? Linder sure thinks so.
If the high school and JUCO numbers of these five recruits translates to the Division-I level, sharing in Linder's enthusiasm won't be a difficult task. He said he would go after shooters. He's certainly done that.
Jeffries is one of the top 3-point threats in the nation, sinking 44.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc last season at Indian Hills. DuSell is a three-star recruit, who specializes in creating his own shot. Nelson is the big body the Cowboys desperately needed. He shots nearly 50 percent from the field, too. LaMont is another long player at the forward spot. Standing 6-foot, 8-inches tall, he can strike from the outside. He also had Division-I experience, playing for American University out of high school.
Williams might be the steal of this recruiting period.
The Dickinson, Texas, product averaged 21.4 points per game last season for one of the best teams in the Lone Star State. Dickinson competes in 6A, the largest classification in the state. MaxPreps.com calls him the 32nd best player in Texas. He earned third-team All-State honors.
His athleticism is apparent in his highlight videos. This combo guard could be special.
See for yourself:
I often ask myself -- are we over-blowing how impressive Linder's first month on the job has been, or have things just been that bad around here?
I don't think I'm crazy. It's been good. Really good.
Depending on what happens with Marble and Foster, the Cowboys still could snag a trio of players to reach the 13 scholarship minimum. Fan support, albeit on social media, hasn't been this high since arguably the Steve McClain years.
As Wicks likes to say, "Bring your own juice."
The newest version of the program is sure doing its part.