Face time: Wyoming Basketball Coach Jeff Linder Finally Gets to Look His Recruits in the Eye

Tracy Ringolsby

After a whirlwind welcome to Wyoming that saw new basketball coach Jeff Linder put together what was ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in the Mountain West and tied for No. 43 nationally, in which he did not even have a chance to get started until mid-March, the real challenge started this week.

With Wyoming having authorized the arrival of members of football, men's basketball and women's basketball to start reporting to campus on Monday, the actual creation of a team has begun.

The first wave for men's basketball are the six returnees -- all from either Wyoming and Colorado. Linder's initial effort after he was hired was to re-recruit the six -- Hunter Thompson and Haize Fornstorm, both of whom are from Pine Bluffs, Wyo., and the Colorado quartet of Hunter Maldonado, Austin Mueller, Kwane Marble II and Kenny Foster.

They began their 14-day isolation upon their arrival, with the workouts to come, along with the eventual arrival of the eight new faces -- freshmen Xavier DuSell, Ike Graham, John Grigsby, Jeremiah Oden and Marcus Williams, sophomore Eoin Nelson, and juniors Drake Jeffries and Drew Lamont.

Linder is excited about what lies ahead.

"You have to do a good job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and I thought we did a good job of doing that in a short period of time under trying circumstances," Linder said during an appearance on a BasketballColorado.com podcast, referring to the fact all recruiting was done from afar with a travel ban because of the coronavirus. 

To listen to the basketballcolorado.com podcast click: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/basketball-colorado/id1495118178?i=1000472291038

And it started with the holdovers.

"The first priority for me was to make sure I kept the guys we needed to keep," said Linder. "Luckily for me all those guys were local Rocky Mountain region guys."

Then came the challenge. Linder knew he needed to add at least six more players -- he wound up with seven.

"We tried to put together the right pieces of the puzzle," said Linder. "That's what recruiting is all about. It's not where you are at the so-called `Blue Blood' school and you can just go out and pick your guys. Wyoming is not one of those players you are going to get five-star guys out of high school. 

"You have to get guys other people overlooked or didn't see something you saw in them, and then you have to keep them and development them. In this day and age with the transfer thing, (the players) have to know what you are doing. ... It's one of the seasons we were really good at Northern Colorado."

Good? Northern Colorado had only two 20-win seasons in its history before Linder arrived, and after a sub-.500 debut, Linder coached Northern Colorado to three consecutive seasons of 20-plus victories.

Linder arrived confident that his philosophy would fit at Wyoming.

"At Northern Colorado we didn't have the resources or facilities Wyoming has," he said. "I felt in taking the job I didn't have to do anything different from a recruiting standpoint or style of play at Wyoming."

 His approach sure looks like it paid off. 

It started with two players Linder recruited to Northern Colorado changing their mind and following Linder to Wyoming -- even though they had never been to Laramie.

Freshmen guards Williams, the No. 3 rated player in the Houston area, and DuSell, a top 10 ranked player in Arizona, are eye openers.  

The class also includes three other freshman:

-- Oden, a 6-8 forward from Chicago who went to Sunrise Christian in Wichita; 

-- Grigsby, a 6-9 walk-on forward from Loveland, Colo., who spent his senior year at Park Central High School in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

--And Ike, a 6-9, 245-pound forward from Overland High School in Aurora, Colo., who will redshirt as a freshman, recovering from January knee surgery.

Then then came a focus on the junior college ranks with an eye on immediate impact on size and shooting:

-- Drake Jefferies, a 6-5 junior guard from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa;

-- Eoin Nelson, a 6-10 sophomore forward from Irleand, who played his freshman year at Otero Junior College in southern Colorado.

-- and Drew Lamont, a 6-8 junior forward from Indian River State College in Florida.

"The big thing (about recruiting at the junior college level) is to make sure you get the good player," said Linder. "There are either good players or bad plays, no in between."

Bringing in Jefferies and Lamont, who like holdovers Thompson, Maldonado, Mueller and Fornstrom, will be juniors are a key to the Cowboys making a quick move back to being competitive.

"Knowing the Mountain West (from six years as an assistant at Boise State), it's an old league," he said in referencing the type of team that is a factor in battle for the MW title. "We felt add a few older players with our returning guys and mixing in a few younger guys we have our classes somewhat balanced without having a senior class. 

"Every roster is a puzzle. We were trying to put the right pieces in the puzzle and fit it together."

On paper, all signs are positive.

The challenge is maintaining that feeling on the court.

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