Down the road (actually, a few roads and highways) in Laramie, Wyo., there’s plenty of excitement on the University of Wyoming campus and in the state with the UW men’s basketball program.
For the first time in 27 years, the Cowboys are ranked among the top 25 teams in the country. Wyoming, 15-2 overall, moved into the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 25 on Monday for the first time since 1988 (No. 13) with Mountain West Conference wins last week over Colorado State (in Fort Collins, Colo.) and Boise State (in Laramie).
To take a trip down memory lane (if you’re old enough, like me), you’ll remember the 1987-1988 Wyoming team was led by Fennis Dembo, who graced the Sport Illustrated college basketball edition cover that year as, “A Dazzlin’ Dude.” Dembo and Eric Leckner both went on to play in the National Basketball Association.
Yours truly remembers that team well as a sports writer for the Laramie Boomerang, which ironically is apparently one of two newspapers in the world named Boomerang. Naturally, the other is in Australia.
Wyoming finished 26-6 that season, falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 119-115, to a Loyola Marymount team that was coached by Paul Westhead and led by Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers. You might remember them.
The previous year the Cowboys advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAAs, upsetting Virginia and UCLA, which was led by a pretty good player named Reggie Miller. You better remember him. Dembo had 42 points in that game against Miller. The Cowboys would go on to lose to eventual national champion UNLV, 92-78.
This year’s Wyoming team is led by Larry Nance, Jr., of Larry Nance, Sr., fame (his dad was the first NBA All-Star Game slam dunk champion). This group of Cowboys rely on defense and high-percentage shooting. Otherwise, they dunk the basketball a lot, often resulting in ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays highlights (they've had three so far this season).
"My initial reaction as a coach: We've only had 17 games. There's a long way to go," coach Larry Shyatt told the AP. "And then my reaction on behalf of the people of the great state of Wyoming and the fans would be: At least it's a step in the right direction."
It’s still early for Wyoming and the key will be to stay consistent and avoid any serious injury (such was the case last year when Nance went down with a knee injury). Just as they were finally ranked, they’ll test that ranking against a very good San Diego State program on Wednesday in Laramie.
The Aztecs have been ranked as high as the top 10 under veteran head coach Steve Fischer in recent years and was ranked for a good portion of this season before dropping out.
FYI, Laramie is the closest Division I program from Rapid City in case you have a hankering to see some live D-1 college basketball.
FYI-2. Just for fun, fans will be treated to a pregame concert by Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band in the AA prior to the game, which begins at 9 p.m.