LARAMIE — Jeff Linder’s first commitment at Wyoming is a familiar one.
Xavier Dusell, a guard out of AZ Compass Prep in Gilbert, Arizona, gave his verbal pledge to the Cowboys on Tuesday. Dusell was previously recruited by Linder to Northern Colorado, where Linder spent the previous four seasons as head coach before being hired as Allen Edwards’ replacement at UW on March 17.
“He’s definitely locked in this next season as far as trying to turn Wyoming back around into the program that it should be,” Dusell told the Star-Tribune in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m just excited and ready to get on board and start the journey with everybody else, too.”
Dusell said Linder called him before officially accepting the job at UW and told him he wanted Dusell to follow him to UW, but for Dusell, it wasn’t that simple. Dusell signed with UNC during November’s early signing period, officially binding him to a program that was trending in the opposite direction of UW. The Bears were coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, including a program-record 26 wins during the 2017-18 campaign, and followed that up with a 22-9 showing and a runner-up finish in the Big Sky Conference this season.
Meanwhile, UW had a second straight single-digit win season that included the program’s first outright last-place finish in the Mountain West since joining the league in 1999 and resulted in Edwards’ firing. Once Linder officially accepted the job at UW, contact between he and Dusell stopped since Dusell was a UNC signee.
“To be honest with you, I was fully bought into UNC,” Dusell said. “Him getting offered the job at Wyoming kind of caught everybody off guard I guess. I wasn’t really expecting it, and it wasn’t a part of my plan at all. I was ready to go to UNC.”
It gave Dusell time to ponder his next move. He thought about the conversations he had with Linder before Linder officially made the move, and Dusell eventually asked UNC to release him from his National Letter of Intent. Dusell said UNC released him from his scholarship “a couple of days ago,” which was confirmed by a UNC spokesman Wednesday.
“Definitely in the beginning it was a little bit of a concern, but as I thought about it and everything, every program has to start from somewhere,” Dusell added. “My mentality was why not come and help turn the program around into a winning program like it was back in the day? I’m just excited for the challenge and to bring some Ws to Wyoming.”
Linder’s style of play is also appealing to Dusell given how friendly it is for guards. Linder’s teams have been among the top 3-point shooting squads in the country the last couple of seasons when it comes to attempts and efficiency. UNC, which has shot the second-most 3s of any team in the Big Sky the last two years, finished 10th nationally this season in percentage (38.4).
A 6-foot-4, 190-pound shooting guard, Dusell played his last two high school seasons at AZ Compass Prep and averaged 14 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a junior. Dusell, ranked a three-star recruit by Rivals, played his AAU ball for Team Harden on the Arizona circuit and was also recruited by Colorado State, New Mexico, Boise State and Montana among others.
“I think he definitely builds confidence in his players, and I feel like he makes it a player-coached team where he kind of trusts us to kind of run the ship a little bit,” Dusell said. “Play through mistakes, play fast, get up a lot of 3s and play in some ways that maybe other coaches kind of don’t like playing like. He likes playing fast, locking down on (defense), stop other people from shooting 3s and then we get up 3s on the other end. And 3s are worth more than 2s.
“He just kind of showed me more about the program and everything like that. I love Coach Linder as a coach and as a person, so I just felt like it was the right fit for me to continue to grow as a person and a basketball player.”
For Dusell, there’s also familiarity with the coaching staff Linder has put together. Linder’s staff, which he completed Wednesday with the addition of Wyoming native Sundance Wicks, will include Ken DeWeese, who was also part of the staff that recruited Dusell to UNC.
“I’m excited to play for those guys,” Dusell said. “Coach DeWeese is a really cool dude. I got along with him really well when I had my time at UNC, and I’m excited to build a relationship with the other assistant coaches as well.”
The first day of basketball’s spring signing period is scheduled for April 15. Whether that’s affected by the coronavirus outbreak remains to be seen. For now, Dusell said he’s waiting things out at home in Arizona and doing what he can to stay in shape.
“With all these gyms being closed down, I’m just going to the park and doing my own thing or having my dad help me with workouts and stuff like that,” Dusell said. “Watching YouTube videos. Doing anything I can to stay ready so I don’t have to get ready.
“I’m not in too much of a rush because all of this corona stuff has been kind of slowing everything down, but I’m excited to come to Wyoming. So whenever I can sign the dotted line, I’m more than ready.”
As for the type of player UW will be getting once his signature makes it official, Dusell had a simple description.
“I consider myself just an all-around basketball player and playmaker,” he said. “I can create for myself and also my teammates and make my teammates better, and in turn, they make me look better, too. I’m a team player that likes to do whatever it takes to win.”
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.