Oft-heckled coach Larry Eustachy and his Rams enjoying journey as they vie for MWC title
Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy is enjoying the ride.
And why not?
It’s easy to enjoy Act 2 when you turn around one program (Southern Miss) from basketball purgatory to Conference USA contender, then take over an NCAA Tournament team in the Mountain West loaded with five starting seniors who are arguably the best collection of rebounders in the nation.
No. 16 New Mexico at No. 22 Colorado State, 2 p.m.TV: NBC Sports NetworkRadio: 770 AM
In the closing minute of Saturday’s road win at Air Force, the first-year CSU coach who has been very open about the alcoholism that cost him Act 1 as a promising coach at Iowa State a decade ago, had enough of the “Section 8″ student section full of cadets. That group had been making very personal taunts at his players, senior forward Greg Smith in particular, throughout the game.
So Eustachy did what any highly paid, highly regarded leader of a nationally ranked college basketball program would do.
“My history has been pretty well documented unless you’ve been living in a cave,” Eustachy said. “This time around, I am enjoying it. I can handle anything (referring mainly to the repetitive heckles about him being an alcoholic that he hears from fans at every arena, including last month in the Pit), but when they start going after our players personally. … If you dish it out, you better be able to take it.”
His less-than-graceful victory jig at Air Force, which was accompanied by laughs and pure enjoyment from his players, was a sign of just how good things are going for him and for this Rams team that, despite a Wednesday road loss at UNLV, hosts No. 16 New Mexico (22-4, 9-2 MWC) on Saturday afternoon in a sold-out Moby Arena with a share of first place in the Mountain West on the line.
How quickly No. 22 Colorado State (21-5, 8-3 MWC) has come together and risen to its new heights – the Rams cracked the AP Top 25 last week for the first time since 1954 – has been remarkable considering they lost head coach Tim Miles to Nebraska after last year’s run to the NCAA Tournament.
Steve Alford, who has known Eustachy well since Alford coached the Iowa Hawkeyes and Eustachy the Iowa State Cyclones, says the blueprint from those teams seems to be one Eustachy has carried with him to Fort Collins.
“His teams are always very well-prepared,” Alford said. “They always guard you. They don’t beat themselves. They take good shots. That was his stamp of his teams in Iowa when he was at Iowa State, and I think that’s what he’s gotten into this team already early in his career at Colorado State.”
Alford thinks CSU is clearly one of, if not the best team his Lobos have faced this season and knows full well that Saturday will have a championship feel to it.
“We’ve got a locker room full of guys that have won it and understand a championship run,” Alford said. “They’ve got a group in their locker room that’s trying to break through again. They broke through last year and got in the (NCAA) Tournament. They know their next breakthrough is winning a league championship.”
Eustachy has often said his only fear about this team not reaching its potential is time – as in, there may not be enough of it for a group five seniors on their way out the door and a first-year coach who has been on campus still less than a year, to truly jell.
To try to make that happen, Eustachy said he has just tried to be himself and let the players around him do the same.
“They’re as enjoyable a group off the court as I’ve had,” Eustachy said.
LEFT BEHIND: As the UNM Lobos players and most of the staff flew to Denver on Thursday night for Saturday afternoon’s game, Steve Alford stayed behind to attend Bryce Alford’s Senior Night ceremony at La Cueva High School as the Bears basketball team hosted Manzano.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal