FORT COLLINS, Colo., -- "I sure hope those guys stick around."

That's the overwhelming sentiment from Wyoming fans anytime Cam Manyawu or Kael Combs are mentioned on social media.

Or in a restaurant.

Or in a bar.

There's plenty of reasons for this base to be a tad gun shy, too.

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After losing eight players to the NCAA Transfer portal last offseason, including the Mountain West's Preseason Player of the Year, Graham Ike, that wound is still a fresh one. The way head coach Jeff Linder speaks about the need for fans in the stands, as well as cash flow for his team's NIL fund, it's enough to make anyone nervous.

Those things just aren't happening -- yet.

Manyawu finished with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds and Combs was 3-for-3 from the field and dished out a trio of assists in the Cowboys' 70-62 setback Saturday afternoon inside a sold out Moby Arena.

The stats are impressive enough. The calm, relaxed composure these rookies played with even more so.

This is the Border War. The hate is real. Emotions are high.

Not for these two.

"They've felt that now, so they don't get rattled," Linder said of the duo from Kansas City, referring to playing in front of crowds like this one at Texas, BYU, Utah State and others. "I thought Kael, down the stretch when Sam (Griffin) picked up his fourth (foul), I mean, he was really composed, got us into what we needed to get into and just was able to make plays, not just for himself, but for others.

"That's the big thing about Kael, he has the ability to create easy baskets for his teammates."

Are we sure Manyawu is only 18 years old?

"He just gets better and better and better," Linder added. "He doesn't know what he's doing, but he just has a knack for the ball and just has soft hands."

CSU head coach Niko Medved agreed, joking, "I thought Cam Manyawu was going to have like 25 rebounds tonight there in the first five minutes."

Sounds good. So, why aren't these two in the starting lineup?

Not only have they earned it, they should be the future faces of this program.

"We talk about how we want to keep trending in the right direction," said Manyawu, who is also roommates with Combs, "so that next year, we can have a really good season."

Linder doesn't have boisterous home crowds yet to offer these guys. Money? That's likely not coming anytime soon. Those things are earned in wins and loyalty.

What he does have is minutes. Valuable minutes.

Manyawu is averaging nearly 23 of those. Combs, just over nine. Those have increased of late. They should.

There's an undeniable confidence when these two are on the floor. We saw that again Saturday with the Cowboys trailing by nine with 14:40 to go in regulation. Combs sparked an impressive sequence that saw the visitors eventually go on an 8-0 run, jumping in front of an errant Joe Palmer perimeter pass and coasting down the court before shoveling a strike to Manyawu.

The 6-foot-9 Kansas City product took care of the rest, rocking the rim and turning what could've been the start of a blowout into a five-point game.

Moments later, Combs dribbled into the paint, spun and banged away, gliding up to the rim before softly laying in a bucket to cut the Rams' lead to 48-46.

Mason Walters had an unfortunate front-row seat to Manyawu's progression early on this season. Sidelined with a thumb injury on his non-shooting hand, the senior watched as the youngster landed five double-doubles in his first eight outings.

"Cam flourished," Walters said. "He stepped into that role, performed well and now he's shining ... Kael has come a long way, as well, from the beginning of the season to now. So, I think for not only our team, but the future of Wyoming basketball, I think it's trending in that direction."

Linder said postgame he doesn't put much weight into the starting five. That's good. Then there should be no problem scribbling the names Combs and Manyawu into the lineup when Air Force comes to town next Tuesday night.

Will he? Not likely.

"I think the minutes are what they need to be based off our personnel and what we've done," Linder said, adding Manyawu would've gotten more minutes in Fort Collins if not for foul trouble and Combs was "gassed" late. "... It wasn't a matter of not wanting them in there, but, you know, for us right now, in terms of the starting lineup, it doesn't make any difference to how you win the game or lose the game. Obviously, you want to maximize those 200 minutes. But, overall, our group collectively gives themselves a chance to win that game."

Now, though, is the time to show these guys you have the confidence in them to be the leaders of this team going forward with just two games remaining in the regular season and the upcoming Mountain West Tournament.

Show them you have faith.

Prove it.

The future is now.

POKES: The Seven Best Games In The History Of The Wyoming-CSU Border War Rivalry (Naturally, they were all Wyoming wins)

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