Oct. 26, 2015
The men’s basketball team is waking up the morning after a crazy Friday night. Only their Friday night was last season, which was the best in school history as the Mountain Lions won the RMAC Championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But the 2015-16 Mountain Lions think they can be as good, if not better, than their 2014-15 version. Senior forward Alex Welsh said the team can lean on their experience from last year.
“We played a lot of high level Division II basketball last year and having that experience and playing 20-some-odd games at that level and at that speed and that intensity, we know what we have to get to in practice every day to get better,” Welsh said.
Guard Derrick White, leading scorer from 2014-15, transferred to CU-Boulder. The Mountain Lions, defending RMAC champions, were picked to finish fifth in the RMAC preseason poll.
“People are judging us on the players that are not with the program more than they are with the players that are with the program,” said head coach Jeff Culver.
“Derrick did a lot of good things for us last year but we’re still a good team without him,” said Welsh.
Culver signed five players in this year’s class, including Ryan VanPelt, a transfer from Division I Weber State. Those five help create a good balance of youth and experience, said Welsh, which helps get everyone on the same page.
“These young guys are really talented, really smart players, so the transition is not as hard for them as it has been for some other freshman classes,” Welsh, named to the RMAC All-Preseason team, said.
The team has three seniors and seven upperclassmen of the 16 players on the roster.
“The older guys do a good job of leading the younger guys,” said junior guard TreShawn Wilford.
Four players are coming off a redshirt year, and they can now be fully integrated into the team.
“All of them will be contributors for us,” Culver said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys returning off of these past two successful seasons and yet we’ve got the new wave that’s starting to come through.”
The team will start this season two weeks earlier than last year, due in part to two out-of-state tournaments to start the year. This includes the Disney Tip-Off Classic in Anaheim, Calif. and the Tarleton State Classic in Stephenville, Texas.
Of the five teams UCCS will play in these two tournaments, three are ranked in the top 25 nationally in the Division II Bulletin Preseason Ranking.
Culver likes to play a competitive non-conference schedule, and this year he’ll have an idea how his team stacks up on the national stage within the first month of the season.
“I think it’s going to be one of the toughest schedules in Division II,” he said.
That difficulty level doesn’t change when RMAC play begins. The Mountain Lions will travel to Metro State, Colorado Mesa and Westminster to start their conference schedule.
Metro State was picked first in the preseason poll and finished second in the conference last year, while Colorado Mesa was picked fourth and made the RMAC tournament last year.
“Come Christmas time we’re going to need that week to collect ourselves,” Culver said. “But I think that’s great for our program, we’re not afraid to play anybody, anywhere, anytime.”
Culver is excited about the success his team could have this year.
“Our main focus isn’t on can we get better than last season, it’s can we get better today than we were yesterday,” Culver said. “I think we’ve got an excellent opportunity to be very good this year.”
The Mountain Lions fi rst game in Colorado Springs is the Downtown Classic, held at the City Auditorium on Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. when UCCS takes on Northern New Mexico.
The first games at the Gallogly Events Center will be Nov. 28 at 3:30 p.m. against Ottawa and Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m. against Sterling.