Newcomers to be Heavy Contributors in '07-‘08

Heath Schroyer wasted no time recruiting several top-notch players after arriving in Laramie as the Cowboys' new head coach last spring. Now just days before the Pokes open their 2007-2008 season, those recruits are slated to become regular contributors across the board.

With veteran talent rounding out the Wyoming backcourt and wing positions, the Cowboys will look to their youth to fill in a few holes in the frontcourt this season.

New head coach Heath Schroyer said he is not sure who will end up starting for the Pokes when their season kicks off this Saturday, but he did say several freshman will see time in the post.

"I think that all of them are going to have an opportunity," he said of the team's six newcomers who are eligible for play this season. "One thing I like about them all is that all of them are going to be really, really good players at some point and time in this program."

Perhaps the player who will see the most action early on is seven-footer Mikhail Linskens, a 260-pound freshman from Belgium with a knack for stepping outside and knocking down jump-shots.

"Mikhail…can score on the block and he just keeps getting better and better every day," Schroyer said. "There's no question that he's got a very, very bright future, and we're very fortunate to have a young man of his ability in the program."

Linskens should get some inside help from Wyoming native Adam Waddell, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward from Cody who was originally signed by former head coach Steve McClain's staff.

"He's been a pleasant surprise," said assistant coach Shaun Vandiver. "(He's) athletic, works hard, tough and just a good talent."

The Cowboys will change from McClain's three-out, two-in offense to a four-out, one-in under Schroyer. That will mean returning senior Joseph Taylor and returning sophomore Ryan Dermody will step out on the perimeter to compete for the nod at the four spot, with JUCO transfer Tyson Johnson likely coming off the bench.

A 6-6, 235-pound junior from Long Island New York, Johnson comes to Wyoming from Blinn Community College (Texas), where he was part of a similar offense during the 2006-2007 season.

"It really fits my game," he told the Laramie Boomerang after committing this summer.

Johnson passed up interest from Miami, Oklahoma State and Boise State, among others, to come to Laramie. He had good things to say about the Cowboys' staff.

"It had a lot to do with Coach Schroyer," he told last week of his recruiting. "He made me feel real comfortable. He told me, ‘We're going to be a big family.'

"When I came in for my visits, I met Brandon (Ewing), and come to find out, I played against Brandon a lot in AAU, so that was like an instant connection right there. I liked it a lot. I liked the players."

With Dermody and Taylor already on the roster, the question how much playing time Johnson will log is still up in the air, however.

"We're all working hard," he said. "I don't know how much I'll play. I hope I'll play a lot."

The European Connection…

Linskens and fellow freshman Marios Matalon passed up opportunities to play professional basketball in Europe to come to the United States and compete for the Cowboys. And after losing two seniors to graduation and four other players during the coaching change, the Wyoming staff was more than happy to land the two overseas standouts.

"Mikhail has played against excellent international competition," Schroyer said after the big man committed in June. "He has potential to be a very good player at this level. He is a highly intelligent young man, who speaks three languages—both of his parents are chemists. When he adjusts to the American game, he will be a presence for us over the next four years."

Matalon, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard from Thessaloniki, Greece will likely see time backing up both Ewing and Brad Jones, the Pokes' top two scorers from a year ago.

"When I first got here, I thought this program needed a third ball-handler," Schroyer said, "and we went out and got a guy that is a perfect complement, I believe, to Brandon and Brad. He's a system guy, he's going to come in (with) a steady influence, run our stuff and I think he's going to have a really nice career."

That career could have already begun in Europe and with a sizeable paycheck to boot, but Matalon liked the idea of improving his game in the U.S. first.

"In Europe, if you stay on a big team, which I was…usually you play for just one minute or two minute," he said. "I came here to get bigger, stronger, more athletic. That is what is missing for me."

"I have a high basketball IQ," he added. "I don't know, I don't want to show off, but that is just what the coaches say."

Matalon and Afam Muojeke will probably be the biggest freshman contributors at the Pokes' one, two and three spots this year, though with Ewing, Jones and sophomore Eric Platt likely to get the nod as starters, playing time off the bench at the guard and wing positions should be limited.

After that, it's anyone's call.

"We have to do it by committee," Vandiver said of the team's four and five spots. "We don't have anyone that's just like head and shoulders above the rest."

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and coaches are confident they have enough talent to support a heavy rotation across the board in '07-'08.

"With this scheme, (the team) is more complete, with this coach and this style of offense," Vandiver said.

"I think that we're going to have the ability to play nine, ten, eleven guys, and the way we play, the style we play, all those guys are going to get a chance to play," Schroyer said last Wednesday during Media Day. "But who runs out for the starting lineup, I don't know that yet.

If he still doesn't know, he'll make the decision soon enough. The Pokes face off against Regis at 3:30 this Saturday in the Arena Auditorium.


Speed it up:

Schroyer said he plans on picking up the tempo in Laramie this season, a move that should add even more players into the Pokes' rotation.

"We're going to open the floor up," he said. "Our offense is one that flows. You're going to see the ball getting reversed. You're going to see the ball getting moved. We screen, we cut, we move, we talk about shot selection, which has been very different.

"Obviously there's a lot of different ways to skin a cat. The success that I've had everywhere I've been has been in implementing this style. Our guys like it. Our guys are starting to adjust to the speed and the intensity level that we play.

"I think we have a huge advantage playing at 7,200 feet that we should take advantage of."

The Roster:

In addition to Jones, Ewing, Platt, Dermody and Taylor, the Pokes return seniors Byron Geis (6-3, 195-pound guard) and Bienvenu Songondo (6-10, 220-pound forward) along with sophomore center Travis Nelson (6-11, 235 pounds).

The seven newcomers are:

Waddell, Johnson, Linskens, Matalon, Muojeke, Travis Bunker (a 6-5, 200-pound, G/F transfer from Southern Idaho) and Sean Ogirri (a 6-2, 200-pound guard transfer from Wichita State).

Ogirri, a key part of the Shockers' 2006 Sweet 16 run, is probably the most talented of the seven newcomers, but he'll have to sit out a year of competition because of NCAA transfer rules.

Log on tomorrow for a feature about freshman Afam Muojeke.

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