LARAMIE — Allen Edwards is no stranger to championships. As a player at Kentucky, he won two, under Rick Pitino in 1996 and under Tubby Smith in 1998.
As an assistant coach, he helped Wyoming to a Mountain West tournament championship in 2015.
And in his first year as a head coach, he joined a select group of coaches in leading the Cowboys to a CBI championship.
Edwards is one of seven coaches to win a postseason invitational championship in their first year as a head coach. He is the third to do so in the CBI, following VCU’s Shaka Smart in and Nevada’s Eric Musselman in 2016 — though Musselman had been an NBA head coach before taking over the Wolf Pack.
Edwards’ team finished the year at 23-15. He is the second Wyoming coach to ever win 20 games in his first year as the Cowboys’ head coach. (Benny Dees won 26 his first year as Wyoming’s coach.) Among first-year Division-I head coaches the season, Edwards’ 23 wins trailed only New Mexico State’s Paul Weir (28) and Valparaiso’s Matt Lottich (24).
“I feel like he had a good first season for his first year as a head coach,” said sophomore guard Justin James, named the CBI’s MVP. “The coaching staff and the players back him up through the whole year. So yeah, for us to finish our season off with a win, like I said, not a lot of teams do that.”
Edwards’ transition was aided by Larry Shyatt, under whom Edwards had been an assistant for five seasons. Shyatt chose to stay at Wyoming another year following the Cowboys’ 2015 NCAA Tournament appearance, in part to give an inexperienced group of players a chance to develop before handing them over to one of his assistants.
“It’s a really good thing, to be honest with you,” Edwards said of winning the CBI. “But I don’t put it back on myself as a first-year head coach. I think us as a staff (did it together). But when you look throughout the country, and you see first-year head coaches, I just have to commend (athletics director) Tom Burman and his staff for just giving me this opportunity.
“I mean, I don’t know how many situations happen like that to where you get promoted from within. Especially at this level. So (I’m) just grateful for the opportunity and grateful that I was able to keep a staff but also put one together that I believe complemented myself.”
Nine players who played on Wyoming’s 2015-16 team returned for Edwards’ first season, but there was one notable departure: Josh Adams, named the Mountain West player of the year his senior season.
“With this team, after losing Josh, and then obviously (me) being appointed head coach, from Day One (came) in with a vision of having that mindset of doing whatever we needed to do to compete for a championship,” Edwards said. “I think our guys, staff, everybody bought in from Day One, worked their tails off and obviously put ourselves in position to get here and to obviously win it at home in front of your crowd, which I thought was tremendous tonight.
“It’s a great feeling, but again, just got to compliment the staff and the young men that I was put in charge to lead. They were great, and it was a complete team effort all around.”
With Adams and Shyatt gone, Wyoming was predicted to finish 10th in the 11-team Mountain West. The Cowboys finished seventh and brought Wyoming its second men’s basketball postseason invitational title (1943 NCAA Tournament).
After Friday’s CBI championship win over Coastal Carolina, Edwards highlighted James and Jason McManamen as two players who had to buy into a team-first mentality. James was Wyoming’s leading scorer this year, but never started until the beginning of the CBI tournament, which Edwards decided to use as a chance to look to the future. That approach, however, meant that McManamen, Wyoming’s only four-year senior, would see a reduced role.
Both players put aside their egos and accepted their roles, Edwards said.
“To have the group of kids in the locker room that, again, didn’t fight division,” Edwards said, “just was all bought into, ‘Whatever you want us to do, Coach.’ It really ain’t about myself and my first year (as a head coach). Again, I just think it was a complete team effort from the start.”