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New faces look to join Wyoming basketball team

October 4, 2018

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — The good news for Wyoming’s men’s basketball team is the Cowboys have started the Allen Edwards era with the momentum of back-to-back 20-win seasons.

The bad news? Many of the contributors that helped get that going are no longer around. Wyoming opened practice last week having to replace more than half of its scoring and rebounding from last season in Hayden Dalton, Alan Herndon and Cody Kelley, all of whom are out of eligibility.

Eight newcomers highlight just how much roster turnover there’s been for a team that has just two starters back after going 20-13 with a sixth-place finish in the Mountain West a season ago. Yet Edwards isn’t expecting his squad to take a step back despite being relatively green at the Division I level.

“Continue to build,” said Edwards, the only coach in program history to win 20 games in each of his first two seasons. “Coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, I think that’s something to build on. Being a first-time head coach and having the most wins of any coach being put in the position, it’s something to build on. But I feel even better with this group because it’s more hand-picked to my liking.”

The Cowboys got a boost with the return of Justin James, who tested the NBA waters by putting his name in this summer’s draft but ultimately withdrew it to play one last season for the Cowboys. One of the premier players in the Mountain West, the 6-foot-7 James led Wyoming in scoring (18.9 points) and was the Cowboys’ second-leading rebounder from his guard position. He begins his senior season 19th on the school’s all-time scoring list.

But neither James nor fellow guard Hunter Maldonado, who started last season as a freshman, are taking their experience for granted. Senior Nyaires Redding returns to the backcourt after starting nine games last season while forwards Austin Mueller, Jordan Naughton and Hunter Thompson are also back. Naughton was limited by a back injury a season ago while Thompson, a former four-star recruit from Pine Bluffs, was forced to redshirt with an injury, but the 6-10 bigs figure to factor heavily in the frontcourt.

“At the end of the day, nothing is given,” Edwards told the Casper Star-Tribune. “People will say, ‘Obviously J.J. is going to start,’ but he has to earn that at the end of the day. He’s done a great job of continuing to grow as a basketball player. He’s not coming here as a senior and saying, ‘I’ve got it made.’ He’s working just as hard as anybody else if not harder. He’s setting the (tone) right now.”

Add three junior college transfers and five true freshmen to the mix, and there’s plenty of competition to go around for minutes. Wyoming will open its season at Arena-Auditorium on Nov. 6 against UC Santa Barbara.

“Right now, it’s not really about starting positions,” Edwards said. “I’ve always said to guys to be more concerned about how often you’re on the floor rather than if you’re one of the first ones out there.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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