Nov 092003
 
Authors: Steve Latuda

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

67-57.

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

honors.

“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

Rakiecki.

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

ankle.

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

year.

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

outside.

In the scrimmage, he looked impressive with his ability to score

from beyond the free-throw line. He totaled 24 points in the

game.

The other key returning players on this year’s team are Ronnie

Clark, Micheal Morris, Derrick Stevens, Shelton Johnson and Freddy

Robinson.

Both Clark and Morris were starters last year, and both look to

be key factors in helping the Rams return to the NCAA Tournament

this year.

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

point guard.

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

points.

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

Lohrey.

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.

 

 

 

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