What Wyoming basketball coach Allen Edwards is anxious to see in Thursday night’s exhibition game against Colorado Christian is how the team reacts to game situations.
“I want to watch our intensity,” said Edwards. “I feel this group has an ability to be a really good defensive team. That is what our focus has been on. I want to see how it carries over from practice to a game.”
What Edwards doesn’t need to see on Thursday is Justin James, who he feels has made the transformation to a complete player in the last seven months. He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. But as a known factor, Edwards said, he would rather use the game time on Thursday to get a better look at the rest of the roster, although Jordan Naughton’s time will be limited to “five or 10 minutes” in his continuing battle to deal with back problems, and transfer Jake Hendricks remains sidelined with a wrist injury.
“I already know what we have with Justin,” said Edwards. “He doesn’t need to show me anything.
“Justin James has done a great job stepping up as a leader and setting a tone. He has really bought into the concept of being an all-around basketball player. He has done a good job extending, rebounding, and not just scoring. He likes what he sees in other guys’ ability. He is not feeling the pressure of, `I have to do it by myself.’”
The growth in James’ approach to the game came in part because he decided to test the NBA draft waters last summer, which gave him a chance to play against elite talent, and get a handle on the more complete game.
“I think (the NBA camps) helped,” said Edwards. “I thought it helped his confidence. He felt just as talented as the guys he was competing against, but understood it is not going to be his offensive power that helps his long-term goal or his team’s long-term goal.
“We had a great time talking one-on-one about his prospects and how he can be successful with what we are doing, him being a complete player. How he is passing has been great. The way he has been extending has been great. The way he has been rounding has been great. He is even to the point where I told him now he is too passive when he makes passes instead of scoring. I am excited because having the best player doing those things can only trickle down.”
And his skills will be on full display Tuesday night when the Cowboys open the non-conference season by hosting California-Santa Barbara (8 p.m., AT&T Rocky Mountain).
Thursday is more about an introduction of the holdovers from last year’s roster – Austin Mueller, Nyaires Redding, Hunter Maldanado and the limited exposure of Naughton – along with redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson, whose time even in practice last year was limited by a broken foot – with the influx of first-year talent.
While Bradley Belt will be an academic redshirt, and Jake Hendricks (6-5, guard ) is recovering from a broken hand, the Cowboys will feature junior college transfers A.J. Banks (6-2 point guard), forward Lwal Dung, (6-7 forward), and prep school freshman Tariq Johnson (6-5, guard), Brandon Porter (6-8, forward), Trevon Taylor (6-6, guard/forward) and Trace Young (6-9, forward/guard).
“I am really comfortable with an eight-man rotation right now, and with a ninth and 10th player to be the guys who can come in and spell (other players) at time. But I will be very comfortable with eight, as well.”
The eight-man rotation is built around the five holdovers from a year ago – James, Maldanado, Mueller, Redding and Naughton – along with Hendricks, Banks and Dung. Thompson, the 6-foot-10 redshirt from Pine Bluffs, is showing signs of being over the foot injury, which puts him very much in the mix as a big-man with a soft touch from outside, as well as the inside game, and a comfort with passing.
Just how the pieces fit into the puzzle is still being sorted out.
Edwards, however, is encouraged by the abilities he sees in the options available to him and the rest of the staff.