Mar 262003
 
Authors: Jason Graziadei

The Rams’ run into the NCAA Tournament this season has given the CSU men’s basketball team the equivalent of a blank check.

The exposure, money and prestige that comes with the berth into the Big Dance will allow the Rams to cash that check to improve the program from top to bottom.

As the players walked off the court at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City after the Rams’ 67-57 loss to Duke last week, they may or may not have known what their gutsy performances did for Ram basketball.

When Dale Layer and his assistant coaches go out on their recruiting trips this off-season, no longer will they have to find new and creative ways to sell a program that had finished near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference standings in recent years.

This year Layer and his staff will be able to tell recruits all the reasons why they should come to Fort Collins and be part of a program on the rise. A program that won the MWC Tournament and pushed Duke to the brink in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A young program that loses only two seniors this season, and had freshmen and sophomores making major contributions at the end of the year.

The Rams’ leading scorer this season, center Matt Nelson at 17 points per game, was only a sophomore this season. And better yet, Nelson excelled this year despite nagging knee and ankle injuries. The guy didn’t even practice for most of this season, so the Rams are expecting more dominance when he’s healthy and practicing with the team.

Another young standout that should bring good things for the Rams is sophomore-to-be Micheal Morris. Morris is the son of former NBA player Chris Morris, and this season broke the CSU freshman record for blocks (44), assists (121) and games played (33). Besides that, those who have been to at least one game this season know the kid can jump out of the gym. He’s given Ram fans some the most exciting moments this year between his tomahawk jams and monster blocks.

But for the Rams to make a successful run next season, they will have to find new leaders among the returning players. The obvious choice is forward Ronnie Clark, the only junior that was a real force for the Rams this year. Clark averaged 10.6 points per game and 4.5 rebounds, but struggled during the conference schedule when he averaged only 7.6 points per game.

Clark will be the one that will have to pick up the leadership role left vacant by departing-seniors Andy Birley and Brian Greene, a role he is surely capable of filling.

Clark, along with Derrick Stevens, the only other senior on next year’s team, will have to lead a group of talented but inexperienced players.

And the icing on the cake is the fact that the Rams’ incoming freshmen include 7-foot center Stuart Creason, 6-10 center Steven Verwers and 6-7 forward Phillip Thomasson, all from Texas. GregSwaim.com, a recruiting website, listed this incoming class at No. 26 in the nation.

So, it appears the best is yet to come for the CSU men’s basketball team, and the sky is the limit. Now it’s just a matter of how much it can cash in on its new-found success.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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