Mar 212004
 
Authors: Vince Blaser

Next season looks good on paper, but so did this year.

The CSU men’s basketball team will only lose two seniors to

graduation and will have a wealth of talent, youth and experience

heading into next season.

But in Dale Layer’s four seasons coaching the Rams, CSU has yet

to post a regular season-conference record above .500. The last two

seasons have been marked by injuries, inconsistent play,

regular-season disappointments and post-season successes.

“We need to work on being more consistent,” shooting guard Jon

Rakiecki said after the Rams’ season-ending 80-73 loss to

Nevada-Las Vegas in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference

tournament March 12. “Even if we play mediocre, we’re talented

enough to win games.”

The Rams won the MWC tournament and gave Duke a run in the NCAA

Tournament in 2003 after finishing sixth in the conference during

the regular season.

Expectations were high to start this season, but injuries and

poor fundamentals once again did in the Rams and they finished

13-16 and in the Mountain West basement. However, CSU generated

post-season success again this year, knocking off regular-season

MWC champion Air Force in the first round of the MWC

tournament.

“We didn’t quite have the magic that we had a year ago,” Layer

said. “(We) overcame great obstacles all year. We were trying to

think of another team who struggled with injuries as consistently

as we did and nobody in the room could think of one.”

No Ram has struggled more with injuries in the past two seasons

than 7-foot center Matt Nelson. The Preseason Player of the Year in

the Mountain West and CSU’s leading scorer missed all or part of

eight games due to a sprained right knee this season.

“My main focus is to try and stay injury free,” Nelson said. “I

keep saying that every year and the injury bug keeps biting me. (I

need to) get stronger and get my body in better shape and hopefully

these injuries won’t happen as frequently as they (have).”

The Rams will return 12 players from their roster next season.

Forward Ronnie Clark and guard Derrick Stevens will graduate, but

Stevens averaged only 2.4 points in 12.1 minutes per game.

The absence of Clark’s leadership, however, could hurt the Rams

early in the season. The senior played better than any Ram in the

Mountain West Tournament and averaged 10 points and 5.4 rebounds a

game this season.

The leadership role will be passed to Nelson and forward Matt

Williams, CSU’s top scorers this season. Nelson could be one of the

top centers in the country if healthy. Williams has shown flashes

of great shooting and all-around play but had many poor games and

ran into foul trouble this season. Freshman forward Philip

Thomasson also showed flashes of being a pure shooter this season

and should get more time next season.

CSU will return plenty of athleticism and talent. High-flying

shooting guard Micheal Morris could be the school’s all-time leader

in blocked shots by the time he finishes at CSU, but he has

struggled with his shot and turnovers. Swingman Freddy Robinson

showed he could be a big-time scorer with a 31-point effort against

UNLV this season but will have to be more consistent for the Rams

next season.

Up front, CSU will feature four players who could play center,

three of whom are 7 feet tall. Nelson and Steven Verwers return,

Stuart Creason will see time after red-shirting this season, and

the Rams will pick up Colorado high school Class 3A Player of the

Year Jason Smith, a 7-footer from Kersey.

Freshman point guard Dwight Boatner struggled a little in the

Mountain West Tournament, but he showed great promise with his play

in the second half of the season and will likely start for the Rams

at the point next season.

CSU also will have Morris’ brother Sean and teammate Charlie

Jones to add to the Rams’ depth in the backcourt.

Given the injury problems of Micheal Morris, swingman Shelton

Johnson and Nelson this season, CSU will need all the depth it can

get.

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