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
“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
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