COACH AND PROGRAM
Heath Schroyer wasn’t brought in as Wyoming coach in 2007 to simply win more games.
The program had become stagnant the last five years of Steve McClain’s nine-year run in Laramie. The Cowboys didn’t reach the postseason in five straight seasons, fan interest dwindled and the team’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) was in such bad shape it lost two scholarships over the last three years, one of which will be felt in Schroyer’s second season in 2008-09.
Wyoming athletics director Tom Burman hired Schroyer at Portland State and watched him turn a perennial doormat in the Big Sky Conference into a 19-game winner in his third and final season. When Burman took over at Wyoming he fired McClain at the end of the 2006-07 season, even though McClain had around $530,000 still owed to him by the school, and brought in the best guy he knew to rebuild a program.
Fan interest is still lukewarm after Schroyer’s first Wyoming team went 12-18 last season and 5-11 in conference play, eighth out of nine teams.
The season ended on a downer with a 68-63 loss to Colorado State in the MWC Tournament play-in game.
But there were regular-season sweeps of Colorado State and fellow conference rival Utah. And, Schroyer is excited about some of the new players he brought in during his first recruiting class that will be eligible this season.
|Last Season||12-18 (.400)|
|Conference Record||5-11 (8th)|
|Coach||Heath Schroyer (Armstrong Atlantic State ’95)|
|Record At School||12-18 (1 year)|
|Career Record||47-65 (4 years)|
|RPI Last 5 years||123-122-170-122-219|
The program’s APR is getting better, even though it will take years to get it up to NCAA standards.
“I think we accomplished a lot of things we wanted to accomplish in year one,” Schroyer said. “We brought in two Division I transfers [who will play this season] and red-shirted two other guys. We upgraded our talent level. We upgraded our character and we’re still a young team.
“Year two I’m looking forward to because there are only two guys left that were coached by anybody else. The face of the program has changed. The culture of the program has changed, which was what we needed to do.”
One player that was coached by somebody else is 6-2 senior guard Brandon Ewing (17.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.0 apg). He is a three-year starter and has earned all-conference honors all three seasons, including second-team honors each of the last two. Ewing led the MWC in scoring and minutes played (38.0 mpg) last season, and was second in assists. Ewing also garnered second team All- District 13 and All-District VII by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Ewing is 11th in career scoring at Wyoming, and should become one of three players to eclipse the 2,000-point mark in a career, along with Fennis Dembo (2,311) and Flynn Robinson (2,049).
“Brandon made as many strides last year, both on and off the floor and in the classroom, as anyone in our program,” Schroyer said. “He has much more of a true understanding of what it means to play as a point guard. I think he’ll have a phenomenal senior year.”
Sean Ogirri, a 6-2 senior, will man the other guard position. Ogirri transferred last season from Wichita State, where he helped the Shockers to the NCAA Sweet 16 a couple of years ago. He averaged 9.7 points per game at Wichita State in three seasons and Schroyer expects his addition to be an upgrade from last year’s two-guard — 6-1 senior Brad Jones.
That would be good for Wyoming, because Jones (12.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.6 apg) was productive.
“We were able to upgrade talent-wise with Sean,” Schroyer said. “He’s a kid that in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament for Wichita State two years ago when they went to the Sweet 16 led the tournament in scoring. Sean can really score the basketball in many, many ways, and he’s a better defender than people give him credit. He’s as good with the basketball as any guy I’ve been able to coach.
“I think him and Brandon as two seniors will be very, very good. It’s as good a backcourt I’ve been able to coach.”
Ogirri averaged 9.5 points two seasons ago. And as a sophomore, he stunned Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 23-point outburst fueled by six three-pointers.
The depth behind Ewing and Ogirri is thin, although both can play the point and the two-guard. Schroyer expects 6-5 freshman A.J. Davis out of Harmony Community School in Cincinnati, Ohio to play this season. A year ago he averaged 18 points, nine boards and three assists.
“I think A.J. will get on the floor and help us win basketball games as a true freshman,” Schroyer said. “He can put the ball on the floor and guard many positions.”
Sophomore guard Eric Platt was expected to be the team’s best perimeter shooter last season. But shin splits and a hard time adjusting to a new system cut his production and minutes almost in half from about 6.5 points per game as a freshman to 3.5 last season. Platt left the team after the season.
Schroyer likes guys who are tall, long and versatile enough to play a lot of different positions. He has that in 6-8 junior Ryan Dermody (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and 6-7 red-shirt freshman Afam Muojeke, who can play the two, three and even the four at times.
Dermody is a former walk-on and in his first full-season of action last year was the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder while averaging 33.5 minutes per game. His shooting needs to improve — though he shot a respectable .336, 45-of-134, from three-point range — but Schroyer likes Dermody’s versatility and experience.
“He understands everything we’re going to do,” he said. “He has a very high basketball IQ. It’s hard to knock basketball experience.”
Muojeke is a player Schroyer recruited for 18 months, dating back to when he was the top assistant for Steve Cleveland at Fresno State before he was hired at Wyoming.
“I think Afam will see a lot of minutes this year,” Schroyer said. “He’s a guy I think will be one of the top scorers in this league later on in his career.”
Along the forward line returns 6-6, 235-pound senior Tyson Johnson (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) who emerged as one of the team’s go-to guys offensively the later part of confer-nce play. Johnson used his wide body and explosive first step to score in double figures in 10 of the team’s last 12 games. He shot .585 from the field (86-of-147).
“Tyson has proven he can score in this league,” Schroyer said. “Tyson’s done a really good job with his body. He’s working on becoming more athletic and to be able to defend on the perimeter, and also to rebound more out of his area.
“He was probably our second scoring option going into the last 10 games of the season. I think he’ll pick up where he left off.”
Schroyer is excited about two newcomers in the frontcourt in 6-9 sophomore and Baylor transfer Djibril Thiam and 6-7 junior Mahamoud Diakite from Antelope Valley (Calif.) Community College, who is a native of France.
Thiam, from Senegal, will be eligible after the fall semester in late December.
“[Thiam] can play the three or the four,” Schroyer said. “He can rebound, defend the perimeter and defend the post. He’s worked hard since the day he got here on his perimeter skills. He fits what we do. The day he gets eligible he will definitely be in the rotation.
“Mahamoud will be our most athletic player. He can defend any position on the floor. He’s a freaky athlete that can do a lot of things. He’s that one piece I thought we were missing going into a lot of games last year.”
Wyoming has two true centers on the roster in 7-0, 270-pound sophomore Mikhail Linskens (4.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and 6-9 red-shirt freshman Adam Waddell.
Linskens was pressed into duty last season because of a nagging knee injury to junior Bienvenu Songondo that forced him to end his career prematurely, and the inconsistent play of sophomore Travis Nelson, who transferred to Division II Mankato State in Minnesota after the season.
Schroyer wanted to red-shirt Linskens last season, but he was nevertheless pleased Linskens got some playing time and saw how he must adjust his game compared to how he was used to playing in his native Belgium. Linskens can shoot the three-pointer and showed signs of potential.
“I think Mikhail will come back and be a much better player,” Schroyer said. “By playing him we got better as a program, and he got better and more confident as a player. He’s changed his body and has lost 30 pounds since he arrived on campus.
“He’s worked a lot in the off-season on his post moves.”
Waddell is an in-state product from Cody High School and showed great tenacity and aggressiveness on the boards early last season before a stress fracture in his foot cut his year short.
Although they won’t play this season, Schroyer was elated to bring in two other Division I transfers in his most recent recruiting class — 7-2, 275-pound center Boubacar Sylla from Auburn and 5-9 point guard JayDee Luster out of New Mexico State. Both will practice with the team this season and be eligible in 2009-10.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Things should improve for the Cowboys in the second year under Schroyer, but the way he and his staff have gone about their business, the third and fourth years should be the ones where the most progress is shown.
Still, if Ewing and Ogirri play well and provide some scoring punch, Wyoming will be competitive in a lot of games. UW was last in the MWC last season in three-point shooting (31.8 percent).
Johnson needs to continue to be a consistent scorer in the post, and do a better job of finishing. But more scoring and a defensive presence in the post are must-haves for the Cowboys. They were one of only two teams in the league (Colorado State) to allow more than 72 points per game last season.
Off the court, Schroyer is getting the academic shortcomings in line and his bosses have told him that is just as important as winning games right now.
But Schroyer knows that ultimately he will be judged by how many games he wins.
“I’m excited about year two,” Schroyer said. “I think we’ll definitely take a step forward. I think we’ll be better on the basketball floor and we’ll continue to recruit and develop good, young players. I think the foundation is set for a real bright future.”