My apologies to Matt Brown, but this team is gearing up for next year. But while the lone senior on the CSU men’s basketball team will be missed, he will not be forgotten. Brown doesn’t log the most minutes on the team, or score the most points. But if hustle points were tracked, Brown would surely lead the team.
Not just in Thursday’s game against Utah, but all season Brown has taken charges, jumped on the floor for loose balls, and taken elbows to the nose. And the rest of the team has followed suit.
With CSU trailing late in the second half Thursday night, it was Brown waving towels and jumping up and down on the bench before anyone else. After junior forward Brian Greene was knocked to the ground after making a layup, Brown was the first to help him up. During timeouts, Brown is the first to offer a high-five.
This sort of emotion, coupled with the talent this CSU team already has, instead of CSU versus Utah being worst versus first, it could determine who gets the Mountain West Conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament next year. Brown, Greene and junior guard Andy Birley are the only Rams who received significant playing time last year. Brown is the only player the Rams will lose this year.
CSU has its scoring threat in Greene, who has been in double figures in 26 of 28 games this year. All the while, he has led the team in rebounding as well.
Birley provides a deep ball, mainly because that’s about all he shoots. But he is the most consistent 3-point shooter the Rams have. Once he develops a quicker release and can create his own shots, he’ll lead this team in scoring.
Freshman guard Jon Rakiecki can also shoot the three for CSU; he just needs some more confidence in the rest of his game, which is what this year is all about. Before Thursday’s game, the freshmen combined for 32 starts this year. Three freshmen – Rakiecki, Matt Williams and Matt Nelson – started against Utah.
And next year, look for Nelson to be the centerpiece for this squad. The 7-foot center has the skill, and he gets the shots. He’s just in the process of developing some more toughness to dominate around the rim. He dropped 22 points against the league’s best defense in Utah and had a career-high of 32 earlier in the year.
Now Nelson’s even following Brown’s pass-first, shoot-second mentality. Earlier in the year, whenever Nelson got the ball down low, he thought he had to shoot.
It was apparent Thursday night that now, when he gets the ball on the post, he tends to find an open shooter somewhere behind the arc.
But don’t get the notion CSU will play a shoot-it-deep or lay-it-in game next year. Kobe Bryant look-alike Freddie Robinson, another freshman, resembles Bryant in his game of slashing to the hoop. If there’s not a shot, he dishes it out. But like Kobe, Robinson’s quickness allows him to pull up and shoot anywhere on the court.
People say moral wins mean nothing. But CSU taking Wyoming into overtime and playing relatively close against Utah are signs of what’s to come. The Rams may be 2-11 in MWC play this year, but that can be reversed next year.
This year has been all about experience. God has given this team talent. And although Brown will be gone, next year’s team will have his emotion.
Jon is a junior journalism major.