Retiring Type: Dembo Becomes 2nd Cowboy Hoopster to Have Number Retired

Tracy Ringolsby

LARAMIE -- Jim Brandenburg had coached at the high school level in San Antonio before becoming the head coach at Wyoming. It provided Brandenburg a good pipeline to San Antonio between his coaching friends in the city and the fact his daughter was living there, too.

How good? So good that during the 1983-84 season he kept getting feedback on the athletic abilities of a high school basketball player in San Antonio, who had a reputation of being uncoachable and emotional, but extremely talented.

Brandenburg took a look at the kid, and decided Fennis Dembo was talented enough it was worth the gamble.

Wyoming hit the jackpot.

On Saturday afternoon, as a part of the Cowboys basketball team hosting New Mexico, Dembo will have his number 34 officially retired, and hung from the rafters of the Auditorium-Arena, along side of another former Wyoming hardwood great -- the late Kenny Sailors, who created the modern-day jump shot and led the Cowboys to a National Championship.

Not too bad for someone who had only one school other than Wyoming offer him a scholarship -- New Mexico State

“I had a bad reputation coming out of high school (that I was) uncoachable,” Dembo has explained more than once over time. “I was a very emotional player. It scared a lot of schools away.”

Not the Cowboys.

Dembo was an All-American for the Cowboys in 1988, and the next year he added an NBA title ring as a member of the Detroit Pistons.

Bradenburg had a bit of a smile on his face when he remembers Dembro's visit to the Wyoming campus.

"I didn't think he'd come back," said Brandenburg. "Here's a kid from San Antonio, and he shows up in Laramie, where it's cold and snowing and windy."

Three strikes? Nope. The Cowboys weren't out of the pursuit of Dembro, In fact, it was that visit that sold Dembro on the idea he belonged in Wyoming.

“I went snowmobiling,” Dembo has explained over the years. “(Wyoming) was everything that I wanted. I wanted to be as far away from Texas as possible. They rolled the red carpet out. I met the governor at the time. And, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m something to them.’”

And he was. He was a three-time first team All-Western Athletic Conference selection (1986-87-88); the WAC player of the year in 1987; a Wyoming Hall of Fame Inductee in 1993, and on Saturday the second basketball player to have his number retired.

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 forward led the 12th-seeded Cowboys on a memorable run to the NCAA Tournament, knocking off UCLA to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Dembo averaged a tournament-best 27.8 points per game to help Wyoming finish 24-10.

That national exposure prompted Sports Illustrated magazine to make Dembo the first Wyoming basketball player to appear on its cover. Dressed in full cowboy garb, Dembo graced the 1987-88 college preseason preview accompanied by the headline: “A Dazzling Dude: Wyoming’s Fabulous Fennis Dembo.”

“They made it very fun,” said Dembo. “It was a very tiring thing, though. Don’t think it was just a couple of pictures. It was work.”

Dembo remains Wyoming’s all-time career scoring leader (2,311 points from 1985-88) and ranks third in rebounds (954) and fifth in assists (410)

And on Saturday afternoon he will be No. 2 among basketball players in having his number retired.

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