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Wyoming Cowboys to mix youth with experience in 2018-19

Posted at 10:12 PM, Oct 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-30 00:12:40-04

(UW Athletics release)

LARAMIE – The Wyoming Cowboys arecoming off back-to-back 20 win seasons and have three more days to prepare for their exhibition contest against Colorado Christian in Laramie on Thursday.

“We were very excited to get this group out on the floor for the first practice,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “I thought we really used the eight weeks in the preseason to get better. Our guys are excited to get to work in preparation for the season.”

Wyoming returns two starters and five letterwinners from last season. The Pokes welcomed nine new players to the lineup this season. That group includes a redshirt, three junior college players and five prep school freshmen.

“This group is very balanced on both sides of the ball,” Edwards said. “When I look at our size, length and ability we have players that are capable scorers, but also have ability and athleticism on the defensive end. As we prepare for the season is to take advantage of the opportunities to season themselves at this level of basketball.”

Edwards became the only coach in Cowboy history to win at least 20 games in his first two seasons as head coach. Wyoming was once again a potent offense last season averaging 79.8 points per game, as UW hit 304 three pointers for the third-most in school history. Wyoming also tied an NCAA record a season ago going 6-0 in overtime joining Chattanooga (1989) to go 6-0 in overtime in a single season.

James and Returners Set Tone
Wyoming returns two starters in senior guard Justin James and sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado. James was a First Team All-Mountain West selection last season averaging 18.9 points per game to go along with 6.0 rebounds per night and 3.1 assists per game. In conference play, James averaged 20.8 points per game ranking second in the MW. James scored 20 or more points 15 times this season including a career-high 33 points on two occasions. Maldonado averaged 5.3 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per night.

“I think we have a good mixture of veterans and new players entering the program,” Edwards said. “I thought the veterans did a good job of setting the tone and leading. The new guys did a good job of understanding that they needed to learn our philosophy and culture.”

Other returners include senior guard Nyaires Redding (3.7 PPG, 1.3 APG), senior forward Jordan Naughton (2.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG) and sophomore forward Austin Mueller (1.1 PPG, 0.5 RGP). Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson earned valuable experience last season redshirting for the Cowboys.

“With having Justin James back, he leads this team with what we have developed. I’m very excited about the development of Hunter Maldonado and having guys like Nyaires (Redding) and a healthy Jordan Naughton and a glue guy like Austin Mueller. The excitement of Hunter Thompson, just excited with what this team is capable of doing.”

Eight newcomers
Edwards added eight newcomers to the 2018-19 roster in the off-season.

Wyoming added three junior college players: A.J. Banks (Pratt CC, Kan.); He averaged 11.2 points per game last season in 25 games. Banks added three rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. Jake Hendricks (College of Southern Idaho); He set the CSI school record in career three pointers with 191. This past season, Hendricks averaged 12.7 points per game adding 3.8 rebounds per night. Lwal Dung (Neosho CC, Kan.); He averaged 12.1 points per game last season at Neosho County. He averaged 7.0 rebounds per game to rank fourth in the Jayhawk Conference.

Five Prep School Players are Featured on Roster: Wyoming added five prep school players to the roster. Bradley Belt (Washington Academy); . Belt is ranked as a three-star recruit by Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports. Tariq Johnson (Mt. Zion Prep); He received scholarship offers from East Tennessee State, Siena, Wagner and James Madison. Brandon Porter (Washington Academy); At Washington Academy, Porter added 23 points per game to go along with 8.7 rebounds per night this past season. Trevon “TJ” Taylor (Hillcrest Prep); He was also recruited by Utah State, New Mexico, Weber State and San Francisco. Trace Young (MT. Zion Prep) Coming out of high school, Young had recruiting interest from DePaul, Kansas State, UMass, South Florida, Texas Tech and USC.

“It was a calculated decision by our staff to get players that were removed from high school,” Edwards said. “We have guys that are older by age. They understand that the competition and the speed of the game is faster and they are adjusting well.”

The Schedule
Wyoming will host seven non-conference home contests paired up with nine home conference match ups. The Pokes will also play non-conference tournaments at the Fort Myers Tip-Off and the Sun Bowl Invitational hosted by UTEP.

“Every year as we approach scheduling we want it to be competitive and I think that it can only help a program long term,” Edwards said. “I think one of the things we look for in the schedule is a chance for our guys to get better. We are excited for the non-conference schedule to get us ready for the tough conference slate.”

The non-conference schedule is highlighted by South Carolina visiting the Arena-Auditorium on Wednesday, Dec. 5. South Carolina made the Final Four in 2017. In fact, the Gamecocks were the last team from the Southeastern Conference to play in the Arena-Auditorium, as Wyoming defeated South Carolina 77-63 on Dec. 19, 2002.

“To be able to have South Carolina come here into our building is something special,” Edwards said. “Coach Martin is a mentor of mine and for him to come out here and give our fans an opportunity to come out and support against a team of that quality is special.”

Other non-conference home contests include the season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 6 against UC Santa Barbara. The Pokes will also host Grambling State on Wednesday, Nov. 14 and Niagara on Friday, Nov. 16. In the month on December, Wyoming welcomes regional foes Northern Colorado on Saturday, Dec. 1 and Denver on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Wyoming closes the non-conference schedule with Dixie State on Saturday, Dec. 29.

The Pokes will visit Oregon State for the second-straight season on Saturday, Nov. 10. Wyoming will play at Evansville as a part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge on Nov. 28. The Cowboys will play in the Sun Bowl Invitational from Dec. 21-22. Teams at the invitational include: UTEP, East Tennessee State and Norfolk State. Wyoming is also slated to play in a tournament Thanksgiving week with a site, opponent and time to be announced.

Wyoming will also take part in the Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans Fort Myers Tip-Off from Nov. 19-21. The Pokes will face Boston College in the opener and face either Final Four participant Loyola-Chicago or Richmond in the second game.

The Pokes open the conference schedule by hosting Boise State on Wednesday, Jan. 2. Key contests in the Arena-Auditorium in conference play include Saturday match ups against Utah State (Jan. 12), Colorado State (Feb. 9) and MW Regular Season Champion and Sweet 16 participants Nevada (Feb. 16). The Pokes only face the Wolf Pack once this season. Wyoming closes out the home schedule with back-to-back Saturday home games against Air Force on March 2 and New Mexico on March 9.

The Cowboy road slate opens at UNLV on Saturday, Jan. 5 and follows with the Pokes’ only meeting with San Diego State on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Other road highlights include a Saturday match up at New Mexico on Jan. 19. The Pokes follow that trip up the following Saturday (Jan. 26) at Boise State. The Cowboys will also play a Saturday contest at Colorado State for the final “Border War” match up of the season on Feb. 23.

Wyoming will make a run at a MW tournament title on March 13-16 at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The first round will be contested on Wednesday, March 13, followed by the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 14, the semifinals on Friday, March 15 and the title game on Saturday.

The players according to Edwards
The following is Coach Edwards’ player-by-player analysis of the 2018-19 lineup:

Justin James ∙ Guard
“Justin (James) was great this summer and has really worked on his body. He did a great job being a leader with coaching up the new guys. He has taken steps as a leader and continued to develop his skills.”

Jordan Naughton ∙ Forward
“Jordan (Naughton) has taken a step from his junior to senior year. He has been very vocal in sense of helping his teammates. We are looking forward to him having an impressive year as a senior.”

Nyaires Redding ∙ Guard
“Nyaires (Redding) energy and effort has been unbelievable. His ability to lead this team has also been impressive. He has bought in to being a leader at the point guard position, whether it is on offense or defense. He really leads by example.

A.J. Banks ∙ Guard
“”A.J. Banks is blessed with athleticism and speed. He can really effect other teams from a defensive standpoint. He can be a guy that helps our offense with his ability to shoot and play above the rim.”

Lwal Dung ∙ Forward/Guard
“Lwal (Dung) can run up and down the court very effectively. I don’t know if I have been around a player that can cover so much ground in so little time. He plays with great energy and passion for the game. Lwal can play multiple positions. We are looking forward to what he can do for us.”

Jake Hendricks ∙ Guard
“Jake (Hendricks) has been a pleasant surprise. He did a great job this summer. He can move and run and is a great athlete. He reminds me of some Cowboy greats that had the ability to shoot the basketball and play above the rim.”

Hunter Maldonado ∙ Guard
“Hunter (Maldonado) has worked on his body. He has also really worked on skills. Hunter has been named our team captain, as he exemplifies what we talk about here at Wyoming. I’m looking forward to the next three years for him.”

Austin Mueller ∙ Forward/Guard
“Austin (Mueller) has been a part of the program for three years. He had a great summer and preseason. He is the utility guy for us. He is very vocal and hardworking, as he does the little things.”

Redshirt Freshman
Hunter Thompson ∙ Forward
“Hunter (Thompson) did a great job of taking advantage of his redshirting year. He put on great weight and has really toned up. He is very mobile and has the ability to stretch the defense. He is working on his rhythm as a basketball player.”

Bradley Belt ∙ Guard
“Bradley (Belt) will redshirt this year. He is a tough kid and whether on offense or defense, he is a fighter. He has multiple tools to his game. Bradley will use this season to fine tune his game.”

Tariq Johnson ∙ Guard
“Tariq (Johnson) is a model citizen and does a great job going about his business on the floor. He is a big guard that can get his shot. He can play above the rim and can consistently make the three point shot. Tariq will be a fine player for us.”

Brandon Porter ∙ Forward
“Brandon (Porter) is a very talented and skilled player that has a knack for scoring the basketball. He probably has the best feet, as he is able to guard multiple position. He has a bright future ahead of him.”

Trevon “TJ” Taylor ∙ Guard/Forward
“Trevon (Taylor) has made some very big strides. He has done a great job of getting himself in shape during the summer. What I love about him is being able to play with pace. He really understands the game of basketball.”

Trace Young ∙ Guard/Forward
“Trace (Young) has a lot of versatility in his game. He can play point, on the wing or forward. He has a great basketball IQ. He is long, athletic and can handle and shoot the basketball.”