LARAMIE — The Wyoming men’s basketball team opens its second season under head coach Allen Edwards on Friday against Chattanooga. If you don’t know much about the Mocs, don’t feel too bad about it. Neither does Wyoming.
Chattanooga enters the season with a head coach in Lamont Paris who has never been a head coach before in his career.
“It will probably be the first time that I’ve experienced this as a head coach,” Edwards said, “in the sense of a new coach to the program and not having any film to break down what they do. So this game, which is actually probably good for us, will be a game based off personnel and our defensive principles, and then just understanding that the coach is from the Wisconsin family tree and probably is a pack line defensive team. But our ability to move the basketball will still be good.
“Excited to be back out there and play our first regular-season game in our process of going to another successful year.”
The Cowboys are coming off a seventh-place finish in the Mountain West and a College Basketball Invitational championship in Edwards’ first season as a head coach. The Cowboys were 23-15 overall, going 8-10 in conference play.
The Mocs finished 19-12 last season and fourth in the Southern Conference. Only five letter-winners return from that team, something they share with just 13 other teams nationwide, and none of those five are starters. At an average of 19.31 years, the Mocs are the youngest team in the country. Only five teams in the country don’t have a senior on their roster. Chattanooga is one of them.
Paris was an assistant at Wisconsin from 2010-2017, and spent time as an assistant at Akron, IUP, DePauw and Wooster before that.
Preseason all-conference guard Justin James has been limited throughout much of the preseason with a left ankle injury, but will return for Friday’s game.
“I’ll probably be a little bit tired, but I’m always ready,” James said. “I stay ready so I don’t have to get ready.”
James has had ankle problems throughout his basketball career.
“I mean, it’s a phenomenon for him, I guess, at the end of the day,” Edwards said. “... But when they happen, sometimes it’s a freak tweaking of the ankle or sometimes he comes down on somebody’s foot. So I can’t, in a sense, plan for it.”
James said he has his ankles double-taped and is currently on his sixth or seventh pair of shoes, the Kyrie 3.
“It’s kind of just been bad luck, especially with the timing,” James said. “Because I had the same problem my freshman year. I couldn’t play the first couple games because of my ankle. It’s definitely frustrating, but I just take it day by day and try to get better.
“... I have treatment every day. I’m recovering and building my ankles up. So they’re getting stronger every day. I definitely feel the difference now. When I tweak them, they’re not as bad as how they were, because I have those strong ligaments, et cetera, so I’m definitely improving.”
James and Lou Adams both missed Wyoming’s 75-65 scrimmage win over Division-II Regis last week. Adams was out for academic reasons. The two are Wyoming’s best players at driving to the hoop and creating their own shots.
“That definitely benefits our team,” James said of Wyoming playing without him and Adams. “God forbid one of us goes down in conference or something, and they can’t play with us. So those are the type of plays that we need to make. So, for us being out and in my opinion, we didn’t play good last weekend, but for us being out and seeing the things that we need to improve on and having done that already is definitely good for our team.”
Perhaps James missing time with his ankle injury wasn’t all bad.
“To be honest with you, I think him being out in the preseason is more of a blessing in disguise, because of the wear and tear,” Edwards said. “I think he’s a talented kid. He knows our system very well. He’s actually done a great job stepping into a leadership role and being, to be honest with you, another coach, while he’s been recovering from the ankle injury.”
The only players Edwards expects to miss Friday are freshman Hunter Thompson, who is expected to redshirt after having ankle surgery, and potentially Anthony Mack, another true freshman who is day-to-day with a concussion.