3A/4A State Basketball, Saturday

Riverton players celebrate their victory over Worland in the title game of the Wyoming State High School Class 3A Boys Basketball Championship in March at the Casper Events Center.

File, Star-Tribune

Huddling his team together for the last time, Stu Mullins told the 2016-17 Riverton boys basketball team the news he had received just minutes earlier.

He had led that same Wolverines team to the program's first state championship in March. His players, which included three all-state selections, looked back at him with the pride of a 28-1 season still beaming.

That's when he broke the news that he would not be returning as Riverton head coach, but instead would step down and accept the head coaching vacancy in Lander to be closer to his family.

Mullins confirmed the news with the Star-Tribune in a phone call on Monday, hours after he accepted the job and informed his final team at Riverton.

"We just had our second boy in May so we have two little kids and my wife works in the Lander school district," Mullins said. "The opportunity was there and I took a chance."

Mullins was the head coach at Riverton for two years but has lived in Lander since moving to Wyoming seven years ago.

One of the big concerns for Mullins during the transition was leaving Riverton depleted after a championship team, but he's confident in the future of the program. Five players off last year's championship team are scheduled to return.

"The Riverton program is in as good of shape as I've seen a program," Mullins said. "The cupboard is definitely not empty. (Soloman) VanDellen and Ridge (McCoy) will come back from injury. And then Treyton Paxton, he'll turn into probably one of the best players in the state.

"They're going to be good and that gives me some comfort knowing that I'm not leaving and they're going to struggle right away."

The growing youth basketball teams in Riverton were also cited as a promising glimpse into the program's future.

Mullins insisted that he contacted Lander first, seeing a possible opportunity to be closer to his wife and children. He emphasized the proximity to the school and how it made more sense for him with a growing family at home.

"I'm, honestly, a 5-minute walk from the high school," Mullins said. "I pass it everyday on my way to work."

This move provides a shake-up to the standing Fremont County rivalry. Lander, a three-time state championship program, has posted losing season in the last two years and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010 last year.

Mike Ragan, the head coach for the Tigers the previous three seasons, retired from coaching in April after a 40-year career. Mullins planned on meeting with the Lander boys basketball team on Tuesday.

"They have the infrastructure to be good for a long time," Mullins said of the Lander program. "It's exciting for me just to kind of take a look under the hood and see if we can transfer some of the stuff that we were able to do in Riverton over to Lander."

The decision came to him for strictly family reasons and he expressed a sadness for leaving the program that he headed for the previous two seasons.

Outgoing seniors on the basketball team, who he also met with on Monday, voiced their support for the former head coach on social media.

"I am appreciative of everything the Riverton school district has done for me and allowed me to grow in my position," Mullins said. "They basically gave me a clean slate to do exactly what I wanted to do and get the programs that I wanted to do and supported me 100 percent along the way.

"I will forever be grateful to Riverton and will always 100 percent, always, have great things to say about not only the district but the community itself."

A replacement for the coaching vacancy in Riverton has not been announced.

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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