EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth 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 media poll. To see list of all previews, CLICK HERE.
With 428 career victories under his belt, including 26 a season ago leading the Colorado State Rams to one of their best seasons in program history, there aren’t many who would suggest Larry Eustachy can’t coach.
And there are even fewer who would suggest he’s afraid to speak his mind.
So while it’s understandable for Rams fans to think the future is bright in Fort Collins, Eustachy will be the first to shoot down anyone with inflated expectations for the season ahead. The Rams, after all, lost all five starters from a team that lost in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament to eventual national champion Louisville. They also lost sixth-year senior guard Jesse Carr to a second ACL tear in the past year.
“Some people are like, ‘We’re going to be better than last year, right coach?'” Eustachy said. “I’m going, ‘They did legalize weed here (in Colorado). It is legal because I don’t know – and it must be strong weed, too, if you’re saying those things.’ ”
Gone are first-team, All-Mountain West center Colton Iverson, who New Mexico head coach Craig Neal said earlier this month might be one of the best big men the league “has had in many years.” Gone is star guard Dorian Green and physical rebounding machine Pierce Hornung.
“We have one player – Dwight Smith – left from the old regime,” Eustachy said. “That is really unusual after just one year. That’s OK, though. That’s OK.
“I almost feel like I’m starting at Colorado State.”
That said, thanks in large part to the respect Eustachy commands as a head coach, the media of the Mountain West Conference selected the Rams to finish a respectable sixth in the 11-team league.
While depth isn’t in the equation for the Rams this season, talent is.
Daniel Bejarano, the former Arizona transfer, was the league’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago and is a highly athletic guard who can defend and attack the rim.
“He’s come so far,” Eustachy said of Bejarano’s leadership. “He’s changing his game. He took 200 shots, and 100 were 3’s. That’s not the way he should play. I picked my battles last year with how we should play, but he’s going to get fouled this year because he’s going to drive it.”
Starting alongside Bejarano in the Rams backcourt will be point guard John Octeus, a junior who averaged 4.7 points per game last season.
Rounding out the expected starting rotation for CSU will likely be 6-foot-4 guard Dwight Smith, 6-7 forward J.J. Avila and 6-9 center Gerson Santo.
Three Rams scholarships will be riding the bench this season due to NCAA transfer rules, while another was lost when Carr was injured, leaving CSU with just nine scholarship players available to play this season.
“The future’s bright,” Eustachy says, “but we’re not just going to throw in the towel this year. I think we can beat some people. I think we can beat some people (that) people don’t think we can beat.”