LARAMIE — The Wyoming basketball team expects something out of its big men that not every college basketball team does: They need to be able to run.
“I think it was (a challenge),” junior Jordan Naughton said. “But I feel like in practice, our strength and conditioning coaches kept us in pretty good shape, and (head coach Allen) Edwards was always on us and trying to make sure we push through fatigue every practice, and things like that.”
Naughton started 26 games for Wyoming at center last season, but averaged just 12.5 minutes per game, 12th on the team.
Wyoming’s center position could have a different look this season. For one, Naughton won’t necessarily be getting the ball on the first possession of every game, like he did as a starter last year. Also, Jonathan Barnes, who started a number of games at center, transferred after the season. Andrew Moemeka was available off the bench last year, but is expected to see an increased role this season. And UTEP transfer Buddha Jones is now available for Wyoming in the paint as well.
Plus, Edwards hopes Naughton will look different this season, too. He wants the 6-10 Rancho Cucamonga, California, native to be able to run the floor more this season — something that has been complicated by back problems since midway through last year.
“I think he’s our best back-to-the-basket player in the program, and I think at the end of the day, he could really be one of the best centers in this league,” Edwards said of Naughton. “But we’ve just got to figure it out as a staff, but my thing last year, and like I told the … staff, and even if the other coach would have called me, I would have told them: The first play was coming to him. No matter what we were running, it was coming, and people kind of picked up on that. But as we go forward, it’s not more so about the first play coming to him, rather than him continuing to develop and just getting him touches.”
Moemeka started in the College Basketball Invitational until he fell and suffered a back injury that he said has since subsided. Edwards said he intended to use the CBI starting lineups to look toward the 2017-18 season.
“I think it was really valuable, because it gave me a chance to see what I could do, affecting the game and changing the momentum in the first two minutes of the game,” Moemeka, a sophomore, said of starting. “I just feel like if I can keep being that spark plug, then that will be really good for the team.”
Moemeka brings an above-the-rim athleticism that is unmatched on Wyoming’s roster, and he worked on being more productive offensively in the offseason.
“I think he’s just going to be a great energy, whether he starts or comes off the bench,” senior Hayden Dalton said. “He just brings energy, especially defensively, blocking shots, rebounding, just being an athletic guy out there on the court. He developed his offensive game in the post, mainly, this offseason, too, so he’ll be a threat offensively, too.”
Edwards considers Dalton and Alan Herndon “stretch 4s,” but they could also figure into the center rotation, as well.
“My expectation is to start when we’re playing against teams that have a bigger big-man lineup,” Moemeka said, “but when we’re playing more skill-related set teams that are just shooting, then I’m pretty much expecting Al or H.D. to be in there at the five.”
Jones, meanwhile, fits in between players like Dalton and Herndon and more post-centric players like Naughton and Moemeka.
“He’s got to get more confident pushing the ball like Al and H,” Edwards said. “It’s not there yet. But what he is is he’s like Vinnie ‘Microwave’ (Johnson). He can score it in bunches and then he and Andrew Moemeka probably have the best feet for bigs, in a sense of being able to guard smaller guys using their feet and their length.
“So he adds something there. The only thing Buddha (needs to do), he’s just got to get better cardio. Better cardio and being able to probably fight through a little bit more. But talent wise, the talent is there.”