Amidst a frustrating season, extended minutes for young players provide hope for the future of Cowboy Basketball

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 12:34 AM CST
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - It’s been a rough go this season for the Pokes. They’ve dealt with a myriad of injuries all throughout the year, and their star Graham Ike still has not seen the floor thus far.

However, coach Jeff Linder said in his presser Monday that Ike has still made an impact on the sidelines. He’s used his previous experience to help some of the younger players during their games.

“[Ike] knows that he can help those guys, because he sees things that maybe they don’t see. He’s been in situations that they haven’t been in. So in a lot of ways right now he’s like an assistant coach on the bench. He’s done a really good job in terms of just-- sometimes when guys get hurt, guys just go back and fall by the wayside-- but he’s done a really good job of staying engaged and continuing to provide energy in different ways,” Linder said.

Ike is far from the only Cowboy to be bitten by the injury bug. Upperclassmen Hunter Maldonado, Hunter Thompson, Kenny Foster, Brendan Wenzel, and Max Agbonkpolo have all missed over five games this year due to injury-- some considerably more.

That’s led to minutes bumps for some of the younger players on the team. Most notably, sophomore Noah Reynolds has become a star for the Pokes; he is Wyoming’s leading scorer this season at 15.6 points per game. More recently, freshmen Caden Powell and Nate Barnhart have seen extended run the floor as well.

These underclassmen getting so much playing time certainly has its benefits and drawbacks; defense is often one of the most difficult adjustments at the college level, and the Cowboys have seen a significant downturn on that side of the ball. Right now they are are 310th in the country in effective field goal percentage defense, and 278th in defensive efficiency.

While this season has been a struggle, Linder said the experience these young players are getting is exciting for the future. That excitement is magnified especially when considering that the Pokes will likely be returning the majority of their impact players next year.

”The minutes that [the young players are] getting, hopefully that will allow them to get better on the defensive end, and hopefully in the long run. Maybe it’ll be this season, but as we move forward into the future those minutes, the only thing they’ll do is help those guys,” Linder said.

It may be too late for a turnaround this season, but there is still plenty to look forward to for the program.