Wyoming got some welcome good news today with ex-USC player Leonard Washington announcing that he'll use his final two seasons of eligibility at Wyoming. Washington is, unfortunately, best known for delivering a punch to Blake Griffin nearly two years ago. Not surprisingly he's known as a tough player who will do a good job of anchoring Wyoming against the far more talented teams they'll be playing in the Mountain West.
Wyoming is an interesting basketball situation right now. Most casual fans have no idea that they're in the Mountain West because of how irrelevant they've been in recent seasons (they haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2002). This coming year, as was the case last season, the top four Mountain West teams (BYU, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State) will be worlds better than any other team in the conference.
That said, I actually talked a bit about Wyoming in my 2010-11 Mountain West Conference preview. I talked about how young the team was, with freshmen and sophomores making up three of their top four scorers. They had only one junior and only one senior in their regular rotation. I projected them to only move up from 8th place to 7th place in the conference, which doesn't seem like much. But after going only 3-13 in 2009-10, I expected them to be a pesky team in 2010-11, with a real chance to finish in the middle of the pack in 2011-12. Leonard Washington should make that 2011-12 team even better.
But before we get too optimistic, it's important to point out that Wyoming fans actually very much disagree with me on the program's direction. Two weeks ago ESPN talked about how unpopular Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer is on campus and among fans. Fans have been frustrated with the seeming lack of progress over the past few years, as well as specific roster moves. That said, I do think the team has made progress. They haven't made progress in the standings, but they've gotten younger and more talented. In my opinion, the most exciting player on the team was a freshman in 2009-10, Desmar Jackson. He didn't put up great overall stats because he was sloppy with the ball and had a high turnover-to-assist ratio, but that's typical of freshmen. He's very active, and creates a lot of offense and is a pest on defense. When he cleans up his turnover problems he'll be one of the best guards in the Mountain West.
To be honest, I don't know much about Wyoming head coach Heath Schroyer. He has only been a head coach for three years, and spent most of his time as an assistant learning under Steve Cleveland, who is a relatively mediocre coach. So just because he has talent doesn't mean he'll develop it. But he has a young core going forward, particularly with Leonard Washington, to have his team up to at least .500 in the Mountain West by the 2011-12 season. If they don't show improvement over the next two years then I'll agree with Wyoming's fans that he should go. Just because a coach can put pieces in place doesn't mean he can coach them. Some coaches are such good recruiters that they can get away with being mediocre in-game coaches simply because of overwhelming talent (the "Go out there and play basketball, boys" style of coaching, as I like to say). The talent at Wyoming is good, but not that good. Schroyer has to coach them. We'll see how he does.