EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of an 11-part series previewing the University of New Mexico’s 10 Mountain West Conference opponents and its nonleague opponents. The order of MWC teams will publish daily in reverse order of the preseason medial poll. To see list of all previews, CLICK HERE.
It was all playing out so smoothly a year ago for the Wyoming Cowboys.
Larry Shyatt’s team started 13-0 start in nonconference play and earned a No. 25 ranking in the USA Today coaches poll.
But leading scorer Luke Martinez was kicked off the team in early January while being investigated for assault charges stemming from a barroom brawl, and over the next couple of months senior power forward Leonard Washington either missed games due to injury or was simply too hurt to be his normally productive self.
The team stumbled down the stretch winning just four of 12 Mountain West Conference games.
“We’re also a reminder that things can be taken away pretty quickly, too – i.e., a fistfight or an injury,” Shyatt said. “That’s why I call it a learning experience.”
The obvious lack of depth needed to overcome the Martinez suspension or Washington injury is what Shyatt hopes he has corrected in recruiting – both with incoming freshman and a pair of transfers.
“The depth is quite a bit better,” said Shyatt, the one-time University of New Mexico assistant. “We’re a little bit different team from three to 13 or three to 14 (on the roster) now. Hopefully that will equate to me not riding – I really rode hard three or four guys two years ago and three or four guys last year, and I think they were worn out.”
Alabama transfer Charles Hankerson, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, and North Florida graduate transfer Jerron Granberry, both 6-foot-4 guards, should see quality minutes early. Of Granberry in particular, the only senior on the roster, Shyatt expects a lot.
“He’s already scored 1,000 points at North Florida,” Shyatt said. “He already has a college degree. He’s a very serious kid. That can help us because we’re somewhat infant-like.”
Some of the growing up of his “infant-like” squad took place during Mountain West play a season ago when Shyatt started then-sophomores Larry Nance Jr. and Riley Grabau and freshman Josh Adams in 47 of a combined 48 league games, each averaging more than 30 minutes per night.
The program will rely mostly on Nance, a versatile 6-8 forward who averaged 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13.
“There’s not a lot of sophomores that averaged 11 and 7 on a pretty good college team,” Shyatt said. “So he starts in the right frame of mind because he doubled his input as a freshman. He’s a lot like his father (former NBA star Larry Nance). He’s very humble. He doesn’t like the attention. But he’s going to need to grow into a leadership role at both ends of the floor for us.”