A year ago, the CSU men’s basketball team started their season with only two familiar names in 7-footers Stuart Creason and Ronnie Aguilar. There were a couple of promising junior college transfers and freshman recruits, but the roster still wasn’t full, so first year head coach Tim Miles held open walk-on tryouts where the Rams added three more players, two of which would play on a nightly basis.
It quickly became obvious that it would be a rebuilding year and a 7-25 season with no conference wins helped prove that.
But even in a season when the Rams were 18 games below .500, they showed promise, especially with the play of then junior Marcus Walker and freshman Andre McFarland. Walker was the Mountain West Conference’s second leading scorer with 17.1 points per game, which included a 43 point performance against Tennessee State.
McFarland played a variety of positions on the court, averaging 8.3 points per game and leading the Rams in three-point percentage at 43.
Now it’s a new season, one where CSU is already 1-0 and where Miles announced to the crowd at the CSU-BYU football game that the Rams would win the MWC this season.
“Well, the guys told me we were winning the conference championship and that’s what I wanted to relay to the crowd, that’s their goal,” said Miles, now in his second year at CSU. “I also want us to be as good as we can, find a way to compete at the upper level, find a way to get to the post season; that’s our goal every year, regardless of the kind of season we came off of . That’s our goal, we have to work hard. Goals need to be ambitious.”
The Rams were picked to finish eighth in the MWC this season.
Once again this year, the Rams have a few newer faces who will help them reach their MWC championship goal.
Sophomores Andy Ogide and Dan Vandervieren were on the roster a year ago, but had to sit out due to NCAA regulations regarding transfers. Both had good coming-out parties in their CSU debuts on Friday night as the Rams topped Montana 85-55.
Ogide, a transfer from Ole Miss who stands at 6-foot-9, had a double-double, leading all scorers with 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Vandervieren, a 6-foot-10 center who transferred from Purdue, had six points off the bench, connecting on all three shots he attempted.
Other key newcomers include Jesse Carr, a freshman point guard from Ainsworth, Neb., who has the Nebraska state record for three-pointers made in a career at 303. Also, two junior college transfers from the College of Southern Idaho in Harvey Perry and Mame Bocar Ba will help the Rams round out their roster.
Miles likes what the new players bring to the Rams.
“They’ll all contribute, but how much in the beginning? It depends,” said Miles. “They’ll find a rhythm in our offense and defense and really play well when they stop thinking and start playing aggressively.”
CSU’s next home game is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Northern Colorado.
Last season, the women’s basketball team had a worse year than the men’s ending with a record of 4-28, with their only MWC wins coming in the conference tournament, pulling out upsets against UNLV and No. 12 Utah.
For a team that lost 20 consecutive games, fans would have to look to the future of the program if they wanted to get truly excited about the program and it looked as if there was a silver lining with how young the team was.
But when Elle Smith, Lauren Young and Emily Neal, three of the five young stars for the Rams transferred to Dayton, Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively, it became visible that CSU may be in for their third consecutive season of rebuilding.
This year, the Rams do have a new feel, however. First year head coach Kristen Holt is determined to get CSU women’s basketball back to the top of the MWC and brings in a new style of play. CSU will be running more fast breaks and man defense than fans have seen in the past.
“I think they like [man-to-man] because it’s more active. They know their responsibilities a little bit better than a zone,” said Holt. “I think it allows us to get out in the passing lanes, it allows us to create havoc for the opponent and then, hopefully, cause us to get out on our break and get layups, which is what were trying to do.”
This season, six key players — three guards and three forwards — lead CSU.
The main guards for the Rams this season are senior Kandy Beemer, who led the junior college ranks in three point percentage as a sophomore; Bonnie Barbee, who was called off the bench last season to get quick points for CSU late in games; and Zoi Simmons, who backed up All-MWC honorable mention Sara Hunter at point guard a year ago.
At the forward spots, CSU is led by seniors Brittany Minor and Amaka Uzomah, who were both teammates in junior college at Blinn College, and junior Juanise Cornell. Combined, the three averaged 16.9 points and 18.1 rebounds per game.
The Rams lost their season opener in overtime to Wichita State 76-69 on Saturday and will head to Boulder to play CU Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Sports writer Matt Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.