Josh Adams is the lone remnant of the starting lineup that led Wyoming to the NCAA Tournament last season.
Larry Nance Jr. is gone, as are Derek Cooke Jr., Riley Grabau and Charles Hankerson Jr.
Adams, the Cowboys’ only senior, owns 92 of the 99 career starts this youthful UW team boasts.
Yet, soft-spoken and humble as usual, Adams won’t take ownership of this Pokes squad.
He insists, no matter how much weight lands on his shoulders, it’s a collective effort.
“But basketball is played with five players, so you can’t look at me and say, ‘It’s Josh Adams’ team,' because any time five guys go against just me I’m going to lose,” the senior guard says. “All I can ask is that these guys join me, follow what I know — what it takes to win — and I know they can.”
Adams certainly knows that — what it takes to win.
He helped carry UW to the Mountain West Conference Tournament title last year, garnering most valuable player honors.
As a prep senior, he lifted Chaparral High School to the Colorado Class 5A state title with a heroic, historic, high-flying and buzzer-beating tip-in at the end of overtime.
But this season — with 12 underclassmen, not to mention 62.2 percent of UW’s scoring gone — this is a new challenge for him.
It’s one he’s facing head on.
“Last year, it’s very easy to lead a group of six seniors that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “You don’t have to do much. With these guys, it’s kind of hard to decide what you need to do or what you need to say. I think we’ve got it down pretty close.”
Inside the Arena-Auditorium, Adams shoots, and shoots.
One after another, after another.
“I really couldn’t tell you the answer to that question because I’m just in there focusing on what it takes to make that next shot go in,” he says.
The answer is simply enough.
Enough to make his shooting ability on par with the rest of his game. Enough to live up to his preseason All-Mountain West dubbing.
Enough to become great.
“We’ve been drilling my shooting nonstop, working off the move, from spots, everything,” said Adams, from Parker, Colorado.
As a sophomore, he averaged 12.7 points per game, shot 48.3 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from 3-point range.
Those numbers didn’t budge much last year, when he garnered third-team all-conference honors. He scored 12.8 points per game, while making 43.7 percent of field-goal attempts and 32.4 percent from downtown.
Those numbers need to rise, and he hopes that his offseason work — countless shot after countless shot — will pay off.
“I was a decent shooter, very inconsistent shooter,” Adams said, “so we’ve been making some tweaks to the release and really drilled that shot to make it more fluid, more consistent.”
Added junior guard Jason McManamen: “He’s improved every aspect of his game. We all know he can jump, but he can shoot with the best of them now.”
As McManamen said, Adams can undoubtedly jump.
Though only 6-foot-2, he seems to soar above the tall trees in the paint en route to monster slams.
“That’s probably the last thing I need to work on at this point,” Adams said, laughing. “I do that pretty well.”
Perhaps Adams’ best trait is his dunking ability.
Of the 23 flushes he recorded last year, the vast majority were highlight-reel caliber.
A quick YouTube search for “Josh Adams dunk” yields more than a dozen rim-rattling results, with some that landed him on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10.
“I mean, he’s had so many dunks,” McManamen said. “I don’t know if I have a favorite one of his. Probably one that was on the (SportsCenter) top 10. I think he had one against (Colorado State) that was top 10 that was pretty cool, where he drove baseline.”
In March of 2014, Adams received a bounce pass in transition, took one dribble and rose up for a left-handed tomahawk slam against the Rams that landed him the No. 4 play of the night on SportsCenter.
Last season against Southern, a similar left-handed flush from the middle of the lane locked down the No. 3 spot on ESPN’s marquee show.
“I’m sure this next coming year he’ll have some more,” McManamen said. “He’ll be back on SportsCenter a few more times.”
When his career is over, Adams will be regarded as one of the key cogs in Wyoming’s basketball turnaround.
Nance and the rest of UW’s seniors from last season went out on top — as Mountain West Tournament champions.
The final chapter of Adams’ story is unwritten.
“Josh has a heck of a challenge,” UW coach Larry Shyatt said. “Josh led a group of seniors. Now Josh is leading a group of youngsters, and he’s going to have to have — as his coach will — a level of compassion, a level of discipline, and really a level of patience."
“Probably neither one of us are great on the patience side,” Shyatt added with a laugh.
The shooting percentages and other statistics will fade over time, but Adams knows that banners will always hang and NCAA Tournament runs aren’t forgotten around Laramie.
“I just want to win games,” Adams said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this team that’s won 20 games each and every year. That’s all I want to do is do whatever it takes to win.
“If that showcases some of my abilities, then awesome. But I’ve never been one to worry about what people are saying about me or what I can or can’t do, I just go out and play the game that I love and I play it to the best of my ability and the rest takes care of itself.”
Adams has high ambitions for the future, like reaching the NBA one day like his good buddy Nance has done.
But right now, he’s focused on the present.
And whether he says it or not, this Wyoming team is his.
“The scene is set for him, but I can’t tell you it’s going to be easy,” Shyatt said. “He can’t look for any individual statistics to be his lightning rod. He just needs to leave a legacy of development and hard work.”