Fresh off of a Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship
and with a brand new five-year contract extension that runs through
the 2008 season, CSU’s men’s basketball head coach Dale Layer looks
to lead his men back to the NCAA Tournament, where last year the
Rams went toe-to-toe with the Duke Blue Devils before falling
CSU returns three starters and nine letter winners from that
tournament team for the 2003-04 season. The Rams also welcome five
newcomers that form a top 30 prep recruiting class this year.
“We only lost two starters from last year,” junior forward Matt
Williams said. “For two of our starters, this is their third year
in the system. We are very experienced this year.”
Williams will be looked upon to fill the void left by Brian
Green. Last year Green averaged 14 points and six rebounds a game
while being named to both the all-MWC and All-District teams. Green
is the first Ram since Milt Palacio (1999) to earn All-District
“The coaches are looking for me to score more this year, and
help get the ball inside to (Matt) Nelson,” Williams said.
In the teams’ Green-and-White Scrimmage held Thursday at Moby
Arena, Williams did just that in totaling 21 points.
Guard Andy Birley, the other senior lost to graduation, appeared
in 121 career games for the Rams and holds the school record with
235 career three-pointers.
Looking to take Birley’s place is junior guard John
A preseason ankle injury limited Rakiecki to only four games
last season, but in the scrimmage Rakiecki nailed three
three-pointers, totaled 13 points and looked very good on that
How far this team goes this season rests high on the shoulders
of 7-foot center Matt Nelson. Last year Nelson was named MVP of the
conference tournament, where he scored 70 points in three games.
This year, Nelson participated in tryouts for the U.S. Pan American
Games Team and was selected as the preseason MWC player of the
Last season Nelson averaged 17 points and just fewer than six
rebounds a game.
Injuries have always hampered the big junior, but this year he
hopes to avoid those injuries by scoring a bit more from the
In the scrimmage, he looked impressive with his ability to score
from beyond the free-throw line. He totaled 24 points in the
The other key returning players on this year’s team are Ronnie
Clark, Micheal Morris, Derrick Stevens, Shelton Johnson and Freddy
Both Clark and Morris were starters last year, and both look to
be key factors in helping the Rams return to the NCAA Tournament
Clark is a physical player with a soft touch on his shot.
Last year the 6-5 senior averaged 11 points and five rebounds
for the Rams, and with the loss of Green is expected to add even
more to both totals.
Morris, a 6-3 sophomore guard who can jump out of the gym,
scored six points a game last year and set freshman records in
blocked shots with a team-high 44, assists with 121 and games
played with 33. His presence is key since he will be asked to play
both point guard and shooting guard.
The 5-10 Stevens is a defensive stopper who can shoot the three
but always looks to pass first. He will split time with Morris at
Johnson, a 6-3 junior with a solid all-around game, started the
last six games for the Rams last year, and should get solid minutes
again this year.
Robinson was hampered by injuries all year in 2002-03 and was
rewarded with a year of medical-hardship eligibility. The Rams will
count on him to be another threat from downtown. As a freshman two
years ago, Robinson started two games and scored a career-high 12
Rounding out the roster are newcomers Dwight Boatner, Phillip
Thomasson, Stuart Creason, who is injured with an ankle injury,
Stephen Verwers, Nick Ball and last year’s walk-on Brian
One advantage the Rams have this year in the MWC is that the MWC
Tournament will be held at the Pepsi Center in Denver instead of in
Las Vegas – where it has been held for the last four years.
“It will be like we have the home-court advantage this year,”
Clark said. “Teams are going to have to come to us and Air Force,
instead of us having to go to them.”
The season kicks-off at 7 p.m. at Moby Arena when the Rams host
the EA Sports All Stars in an exhibition game.