What should you expect from this UW team?
LARAMIE -- Back in 2006, Jeff Linder was an assistant coach on what was supposed to be a lowly Weber State basketball team.
It was his first season in Ogden under Randy Rahe. His first gig at the Division-I level in five years. The previous campaign, the Wildcats finished 10-17 overall. A paltry 4-10 mark in the Big Sky Conference led to a seventh-place finish.
That kind of record -- coupled with back-to-back losing seasons -- will get you a new coaching staff at most schools.
The media left Weber State for dead in '06.
They were picked last in the preseason polls. They were returning just three seniors. One never even scored a single point in a Wildcat uniform.
Linder thought back to that moment Thursday during his first Mountain West Media Days when he was asked if a ninth-place prediction for his new team served as a sort of motivation.
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The 22nd head coach in Wyoming history smiled and said his goal right now is to practice with a full roster. On Oct. 30, the Cowboys shutdown the program for two weeks because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One player is still stuck in contact-tracing protocol.
Linder got around to that season at Weber State though.
"We were in the same situation," he said. "We had a bunch of new guys and were picked to finish last.
"Lo and behold, we won the league and went to the NCAA Tournament."
The Wildcats finished 20-12 overall and 11-5 in conference play. They took on UCLA in the first round of the Big Dance.
Should Cowboys fans expect that quick of a turnaround in Laramie?
Linder isn't going there, but crazier things have happened.
Here's what we do know:
- Wyoming will shoot a ton of three-pointers.
- The Pokes will defend the arc with a passion
- There are young; zero seniors on the roster
- This team will be fun to watch
On that last note, just ask redshirt junior Hunter Maldonado.
"What excites me most is the amount of weapons we have and that everyone is buying into their roles," Maldonado said Thursday over a Zoom interview with the media. "... This team plays super hard and competes every day. It's been fun to watch."
Maldonado also mentioned three-pointers. The Cowboys plan on shooting a lot of them.
Linder's Northern Colorado team a year ago finished 10th in the nation in that category. The Bears attempted 826 three's. They made 317 of them.
For comparison sake, Wyoming finished 239th in the country last winter. The Pokes made just 260 of 809 attempts.
Drake Jeffries, a junior college transfer from Indian Hills (Iowa), sank 44.8 percent of his shots from distance. That's a whopping 86 three-pointers.
Drew LaMont sank 84 three-pointers last year at Indian River State College (Fla.). That's 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Xavier DuSell can shoot from deep, too. So can Marcus Williams, Kenny Foster, Hunter Thompson and newcomer Jeremiah Oden, among others.
The Pokes will defend the three-point line, too.
UNC was fourth in that nation at doing that in 2019-20. Linder's Bears allowed the opposition to hit just 28 percent from deep.
Once again, to compare, UW allowed teams to shoot 33 percent in '19-20. Doesn't seem like a huge difference, right? It is. The Cowboys ranked 172nd overall.
"It's a staple of who we are," Linder said. "... Three's are worth more than two's."
Maldonado said last year the goal was to get to the shooter when he caught the ball. Now, it's about anticipation.
"The attention to detail is a little greater," he said.
Wyoming will be a young squad this season. Maldonado, by far, has the most experience. Just three other players -- Kwane Marble, Thompson and Foster -- return from a team that went 9-24 overall but surprised the league and knocked off Colorado State and Nevada in the first two rounds of the MW Tournament.
Linder said "old teams" have traditionally won the Mountain West. He pointed to Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State. Those teams were filled with veterans. They are mature.
"I'm going to have to play a lot of freshmen," Linder said. "I hope our freshmen play like juniors."
Of the 12 total players on this year's roster, five are freshmen. There's also three sophomores and four juniors. Graham Ike, a true freshman big man from Colorado, is coming off an ACL tear and likely won't suit up until January at the earliest, Linder added.
Linder said his new team will feature a "position-less offense." There won't be any preseason games this season. Just having a full practice has been enough of a problem.
Every Mountain West coach Wednesday and Thursday echoed the same narrative. Nothing is normal.
Wyoming isn't alone in navigating this worldwide pandemic.
So, why can't the Cowboys compete right now?
"It's motivation for us to try and prove people wrong," Linder said about the media's early predictions for his team. "It's our job to change that and rightfully so."