McClain: Wyoming better than predictions suggest

Updated: October 21, 2003, 8:13 PM ET

LARAMIE, Wyo. -- With seven new players and the loss of four key veterans, Wyoming coach Steve McClain knows his Cowboys will be a work in progress this season.

But the sixth-year coach also knows his team is better than a fifth place finish predicted in the Mountain West Conference.

"I don't think anybody, including our fans and you as media, think we'll be fifth," McClain said Tuesday at UW's Media Day. "I know we won't. We're going to be higher, there's no question in my mind, because the expectations of our players have changed."

Wyoming (21-11, 8-6) has made steady progress under McClain, who won a national junior college title at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas in 1994, and has Wyoming's second highest career winning percentage (.658) -- second only to Willard Witte's .724 percent from 1930-39.

The Cowboys tied for third in the conference last season and reached the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, losing 90-74 to North Carolina. It was Wyoming's fourth postseason appearance in McClain's five years as coach.

But Wyoming lost senior forward Marcus Bailey, center Uche Nsonwu, guard Donta Richardson and reserve guard Chris McMillian -- a powerful foursome that combined for more than half the team's offense last season.

McClain, however, he likes the eight players who returned this year -- including starters Jay Straight, Joe Ries and David Rottinghaus -- and has been impressed by the newcomers.

"With this group, I think we will get back to playing quicker," McClain said. "As a group our big guys are faster than we've been. I see us getting back to a much faster tempo."

Straight, an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection last year, has filled in admirably when McMillian and Bailey went down with injuries the past two seasons and says he's now ready to play a leadership role.

"I trained really hard and worked hard this summer because I knew I was going to be in the position to have to be a leader this year so I worked really hard and am ready to get going," he said.

Straight -- like McClain -- said he likes this team's speed and feels the Cowboys' perimeter game will improve with the addition of strong shooters like junior college transfer Dion Sherrell.

McClain's big concern, though, is rebounding.

"They have to show me they can rebound," he said. "From a defensive point of view, we have to have some guys step up and hit the boards. Uche averaged almost 10 rebounds a game. We have to find someone to replace that.

"We are capable, there's no doubt, but it will be interesting to see who decides to do it."

The Wyoming Cowgirls also met with reporters Tuesday, and first-year coach Joe Legerski said he, too, has some rebuilding to do.

The Cowgirls (18-12, 7-7) are coming off their most victories since the 1989-90 season, but lost two of their top three scorers in Carrie Bacon and Ann McColl. Guard Ashley Elliott, who averaged 11.3 points, returns, along with point guard Brenda Pickup.

"We have a huge challenge ahead of us," Legerski said. "The inexperience factor shows up the first day and we have to stop just about every drill and go through it step by step to get things done. ... Right now over half of our team are first-year players, and the challenge is alone to try to get them up to speed and to understand how difficult it is to play at Division One."

Two players -- sophomore Dafina Tucker and freshman Angiah Harris -- will redshirt this season due to injuries.

The Cowgirls open exhibition play Nov. 6 against Adams State, while the Cowboys play EA Sports in the first of two exhibition games Nov. 1.

Sherrell, a junior guard from Schoolcraft Community College, said he wished the season started Tuesday.

"Everything is so positive," he said. "I've told everyone I've never been on any team where I've felt this positive .... I'm ready to go."

Sherrell entered last season as the No. 4 junior college shooting guard in the country, but was limited by a broken toe. He hopes to improve on that performance this year, jokingly saying he would like to break Wyoming's individual scoring record in the next two years.

"I'm known for putting the ball in the basket. That's what coach recruited me here for," Sherrell said.


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