‘We want to turn Wyoming back into a basketball school’
LARAMIE -- Indian Hills just snapped Dawson's 17-game winning streak.
And it wasn't exactly close.
The Warriors rolled to an easy 92-65 victory. That resulted in a district title and a berth in the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, where Indian Hills would be the No. 2 seed in the country.
Then, the dreaded text came in.
"It was unbelievable to hear," sophomore guard Drake Jeffries said. "We had so much unfinished business."
Jeffries and the Warriors finished the season 30-3. They were a perfect 21-0 at home. Their own current 13-game winning streak was all a thing of the past thanks to a virus, COVID-19, sweeping the globe.
"We really wanted to go out on top," he said. "That was our best chance to go in and win it. We were excited to get this thing rolling.
"Everything just got shut down."
Two weeks after Jeffries' dream season came to an end, another text appeared on his phone.
This one was from Ken DeWeese, a new assistant coach at the University of Wyoming.
Drake University had been courting Jeffries since September. Indiana State, just over an hour from his hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, wanted him, too.
"We just got to talking and he really liked me," Jeffries said of DeWeese. "Then (Jeff) Linder got a hold of me. In about a two-week process, I heard from all the coaching staff. I gelled with all of them immediately. They made me feel like family. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up."
Jeffries committed to the Cowboys late Saturday night, becoming the second recruit of the Linder era, joining Xavier DuSell of Gilbert, Arizona.
It's easy to see why Wyoming's new coach and his staff were so enamored with the sharp-shooting sophomore. Jeffries averaged nearly 10 points per game at Indian Hills. In 33 games, Jeffries hit 47.6 percent of his shots. He scored in double figures 18 times, including in 9-of-10 games midseason.
It gets more impressive.
Jeffries connected on 44.8 percent of is 3-point attempts. He netted an eye-popping 86 threes.
Linder's Northern Colorado squad last season ranked 10th in the nation in efficiency from beyond the arc, swishing 38.4 percent of its shots.
That art, Jeffries said, has been a process.
"My junior year of high school I made 79 threes. I had terrible form, but somehow, they went in," he laughed, adding that a coach at his first collegiate stop, Minot State (North Dakota), helped him develop a consistent stroke. "... When I came on my visit to Indian Hills, I was watching film with the coach. He was telling me, 'you have to shoot that one. You have to let it fly.'
"He really gave me the green light to shoot it. I kept my butt in the gym, working hard. It all paid off."
His goal in Laramie is a simple one -- win.
That's a trait, he said, he shares with his new head coach.
But in the age of coronavirus, this recruiting process has been altered. Jeffries has never been to Wyoming before. He can't just hop on a plane and take the grand tour of his new home.
They have improvised with technology and a sales pitch.
"It's been crazy," Jeffries said. "The staff just showed me videos and pictures of the campus. They also showed me video of how they run things and the system Linder plays. I see myself in his system. I had to make it official."
Jeffries isn't totally in the dark when it comes to Cowboy hoops.
He knows Larry Nance Jr. and Justin James played for the Pokes. He knew UW was in the Mountain West Conference. He recently learned the Cowboys won the 1943 National Championship. Jeffries also knows Colorado State is the must-win games every year.
He has bigger aspirations than just winning the Border War though. And he knows he only has two years of eligibility to get it done.
"I'm hoping to bring something special to Laramie," he said, adding that the social media support from UW fans has been overwhelming. "I want to get them behind us, and get the Arena-Auditorium packed as much as we can for games. We want to get that place bumping and make it the hardest place to play in the country.
"It's exciting to have an entire state behind us."
Jeffries has already spoken with new teammate Hunter Maldonado. A coach texted him a few numbers of guys to reach out to today -- Hunter Thompson, Kenny Foster and Kwane Marble.
Those three have yet to publicly announce that they are returning to Laramie next year.
Is this a hint?
"I hope so," Jeffries said. "I hear they are really good players. I haven't heard if they are coming back or not."
Either way, Jeffries said there's a renewed hope on the high plains. You aren't the only one who feels that way.
"We want to bring a championship to Laramie," he said. "We want to turn Wyoming back into a basketball school."