Jeff Linder: A Front Range Guy, Looking to Get Wyoming Basketball Back to the Front of the Mountain West
Jeff Linder's initial focus after becoming the head coach of Wyoming basketball in the spring was to "re-recruit" a hand full of players on the roster from Wyoming and Colorado.
And in filling out the roster for 2020-21, Linder brought in Ike Graham from Aurora, Colo., on a full ride and added Jon Grisby, a native of Loveland, Colo., as a preferred walk-on.
Then, with one scholarship available for next year's recruiting class -- barring a premature departure of a member of the 2020-21 team -- Linder already has received a commitment from Ben Bowen, a senior to be from Mountain High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Notice a trend?
A native of Colorado, who initially attended what is now known as Colorado Mesa College in Grand Junction, and then transferred for his final three years Western State in Gunnison, Colo., Linder knows the value to having a core of players from along the Front Range. It was a foundation for his success at Northern Colorado, where the Bears won 20-plus games in each of the last three years of his four years as the Northern Colorado head coach.
Given Wyoming's proximity to Colorado, he knows there is no sense changing the approach in Laramie.
"We knew the kind of guys that would be a good fit (in Greeley) with how we wanted to play and also fit from a character standpoint," Linder said during an appearance on the Basketball Colorado podcast. "We also had more information than people from out of state. We knew it was going to be hard to beat the University of Colorado for kids, especially being at Northern Colorado. Now, I have a better chance at Wyoming."
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Now don't get the wrong idea. Linder sees athletes from the Front Range as a foundation for a roster, but he and his staff also are active outside of the Rocky Mountains in his search for talent as well.
After getting re-commitments from holdovers Hunter Thompson (Pine Bluffs), Kenny Foster (Aurora, Co.), Hunter Maldonado (Colorado Springs), Kwane Marble (Denver), and Austin Mueller (Highlands Ranch, Co.), he showed his far-reaching vision.
As well as Graham and Grisby, the Class of 2020-21 includes freshman Xavier DuSell, one of the top 10 players out of Arizona, Marcus Williams, rated the third best player in the Houston area, and Jeremiah Oden, a native of Chicago who spent his senior year at Sunrise Chrstian in Wichita, Ks.
And then came junior college transfers Eoin Nelson, a native of Ireland who played a freshman season at Otero (Co.) Junior College, Drake Jeffries, a native of Mattoon, Ill, from Indian Hills Community College, and Drew Lamont, a native of Plantation, Fla., who attended Indian River State College.
"You have to find some dudes," he said. "You can't just roll into the Mountain West with a bunch of Joes, you have to have a few pros. But then you have to have the right pieces of the puzzle after that."
While Linder feels moving to Wyoming will open a few more doors for himself and his staff in the recruiting world, he also is aware that the landscape has changed in recent year.
"It was a bit easier when Larry Eustachy was at Colorado State because Larry didn't want to recruit high school kids and people can fault Larry for that, but Larry knew who he wanted and Larry has won a lot of games," Linder said.
Eustachy, however, is no longer at Colorado State. Niko Medved, a former CSU assistant, returned to CSU from Drake, where he was the head coach, to replace Eustacy.
"Niko and his staff like the same type of guys we like so that probably makes it a little more difficult, but Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region is going to be a priority for us," said Linder. "We just have to go in there and find the right guys, the guys that fit what we're going to do from an offensive standpoint, and from a character standpoint."
And when they come to Wyoming, Linder said, they know where they stand.
There's no false narrative, and that is apparent during the recruiting process.
"There's a reason why when I was an assistant at Weber State, (current Portland Trailblazer) Damian Lillard liked coach Linder," Linder said. "When he was 16, 17 years old he could read through the B.S.
"I'm not a country music guy but a buddy of mine sent me a Garth Brooks song called Rodeo, and you sit there and listen to it, and you want guys like that. Garth sings about the mud and the dust. Those are the type of guys I want.
"I don't want the guys who are delusional. I want guys who want to work, who want to be in the cold weather. ... At the end of the day, if you really focus on basketball the cold weather doesn't matter because you are going to be in the gym or in the classroom. So if you are worried about the cold weather, guess what -- we're not the place for you."
Wyoming, however, is the place for Linder.
His upfront, no B.S., approach fits perfectly in Laramie.