LARAMIE — Jordan Naughton will be out a while, and it has nothing to do with his back issues.
Wyoming’s senior forward will miss Tuesday’s season opener against UC Santa Barbara with a partially torn lateral collateral ligament. Head coach Allen Edwards said Naughton will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks but will likely be out six weeks.
Naughton missed all but nine games last season with a back injury and recently underwent a rhizotomy procedure to sever nerve roots in his spinal cord. The 6-foot-10, 234-pounder said his back felt fine after scoring 10 points on 5 of 5 shooting in just eight minutes in the Cowboys’ 72-69 exhibition win over Colorado Christian on Thursday but that he tweaked his knee.
Edwards said Naughton “heard something pop” in his knee while stretching out his back during the game.
“Even with that news, it didn’t break his spirits,” Edwards said. “I think he’s going down the right road of staying positive about it and being ready. Hopefully by the conference season he’ll be back for us.”
With Naughton unavailable for at least the first month, Edwards said redshirt freshman and Pine Bluffs native Hunter Thompson will log more minutes at center. Sophomore forward Austin Mueller could also play some there depending on matchups.
The 6-10, 235-pound Thompson had eight points and three rebounds in 11 minutes Thursday in his collegiate debut.
“Even with Naught, (Thompson) was going to have to play. It depended on Naught’s body that day,” Edwards said. “I think he’s been physically and mentally preparing for it.”
Hendricks ready to go
Junior college transfer Jake Hendricks will make his debut for the Cowboys in Tuesday’s opener after being held out of the exhibition following a recent procedure on his wrist.
Hendricks, who’s expected to get significant minutes this season, has been practicing with the team but wasn’t cleared to play in the exhibition. Hendricks gives the Cowboys the ability to space the floor after setting the career 3-point record at the College of Southern Idaho the last two seasons (191), but Edwards said the 6-foot-5, 170-pounder has also surprised with sneaky athleticism.
“JJ (Justin James) is just longer, but (Hendricks) gets up there just as good,” Edwards said.
Like Wyoming, UCSB returns its top returning scorer from last season in junior guard Max Heidegger, whose long-range acumen has the Cowboys’ attention.
Heidegger averaged 19.1 points last season on his way to first-team All-Big West honors. The 6-3, 180-pounder set a UCSB sophomore record with 612 points as well as a program record with 95 3-pointers last season.
“Our guys have to understand that he’s going to take a lot of 3s, so we have to limit his number of 3s,” Edwards said. “But at the same time, he’s capable of doing other things as well. Playing team defense is going to be a huge emphasis as well and understanding personnel. Who’s out on the floor and where can we help the guy that’s guarding (Heidegger)?”