Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Why the Pios of Denver Think They’ll Dance at the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Men’s basketball competition.

At 4:30 am you find out who your friends are. you find out who you are Brothers It’s 4:30 in the morning and you’re underwater.

“The second time I went back to change my sweaters, man, I went underwater and I just froze,” recalled University of Denver guard KJ Hunt, and not proudly.

Program-building gets awkward sometimes. and wet. It is never a straight line, linear process. One of the funniest chapters in the rebirth of the Pioneers men’s basketball program took a detour through the Al Pomar Natatorium over the first weekend of October, a few hours before dawn.

The second bonding exercise of two days for the Pioneers began before 5 a.m. on Saturday and closed them by the side of the pool. As part of the curriculum designed and administered by the program, a team-building and leadership training service used by athletic departments such as Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida State, DU’s men’s basketball players are invited to partner for communication drills. was assigned the task. Challenge: Put on a sweatshirt, take it off, exchange it, and then put the changed shirt – 13 feet in the water.

“I panicked out of nowhere as I was taking off the hoodie,” Hunt, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Morehead State, continued. “And the next thing I knew, I heard this whoosh And this water started going in and I was like, ‘Oh, brother.’ I just got stuck. I had nothing in my head. my hands were up This …”

Hunt suddenly shot both hands, as if to signal a Broncos touchdown.

“…and my guy Tyler (Gatlin, another Pios guard) pulled me over.

“And what happened it really showed me, like, these are actually my brothers. I already knew that, but it reinforced it… you don’t get that kind of love — I’ve been on teams where You don’t get that. And I told him I appreciated it. Little does he know that he honestly probably saved my life.”

Hunt is on his fourth separate college basketball roster in five years. He only knows his DU teammates for a few months. He’s already convinced that this is the closest collegiate locker room he’s ever been part of, sinking or on dry land.

“We care about each other,” said Hunt, who averaged 6.9 points per game at Morehead last winter. “I’ve been part of the teams that made the (NCAA) tournament. What set those teams apart from other teams was our brotherhood and our brotherhood. We held each other accountable.”

“always felt proud”

Accountability is one of those words engraved in gold and hanging on a wall inside Pios’s locker room, not too far from the words INVESTMENT and DISCIPLINE. A list of core values ​​rests within the Xbox’s iShots and couches in the players’ lounge—one mission and one spell.

“I think you’re a ‘builder’ or a ‘sustainer’ as a coach,” explained first-year Pios coach Jeff Valbrunn, who spent the last five seasons as an assistant at Stanford with Rodney last March. Billups were replaced. “In my coaching career, it has happened that the places I went to and where I coached, where we had to make schedules… I am always proud to be able to do that. That’s what I do (about DU). I liked it.”

The bio of Wolbrun, 61, at Macro is no different from that of Broncos coach Vic Fangio: Decades logged as a respected, trusted assistant, only to land his first major head-coaching gig after age 60. Big -time baseball junkie (the Dodgers, in this case, as opposed to Fangio’s Phillies). A mentor and teacher who sweats the inches — and details — of who can beat you.

As a lieutenant at Cal (1986–93), Illinois State (’93–97), UAB (’12–16) and Stanford (’16–21), the season prior to the arrival of Wolbrun was posted by the program The average record was 15-14. Within two years, those teams won an average of 19 games.

Along Jewel Avenue, the bar is low. canvas, a blank. Wulbrun is the men’s basketball coach at a hockey school, which is the best and worst thing about the gig. Win or lose, the puck still drops on Friday nights.

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The DU45 is one of 45 Division I hoops programs that have not yet entered the NCAA Tournament, a small fish swimming anonymously in one-spoke ponds.

Since all Pios sports, including men’s basketball, moved to Division I in 1999, DU has produced just four seasons of 18 wins or more, and three of them (2009-10, ’11-12, ’12-13). ) have come to one. A four-year stretch under former coach Joe Scott. In their last 18 seasons, DU set a record of 248-290 (.461) in men’s hoops, a clip that is just below TCU (.462) and LaSalle (.462) and from UT-San Antonio (.456). Right ahead. and Eastern Michigan (.456).

“I would love to be in talks for the best program in the country this year,” said Walbrun. “If this were to happen, we have done our bit in terms of installing and implementing the components that are essential tools for a championship-level program. I don’t think I have used the word ‘rebuild’ once since I got here. have used.”

MPJ’s younger brother joins the party

But it is definitely a refresher. Amid the pandemic and relocation portals, college basketball rosters now cost a penny. Of the 15 players who opened pre-season camp with Pios, nine have only been with the program for a few months, and eight of them have committed without even visiting campus.

Moved to five new Pios, including Hunt. DU returns only 21.2 points per game from last season’s 2–19 roster.

“A melting pot,” called freshman guard Koban Porter, younger brother of Nuggets star Michael Porter Jr., to the newly revamped Pios lineup.

Wulbrun threw in that pot players who come from 10 states and four countries, including Italy, Spain and Finland. It’s when you start shaking louder that sometimes a little glee comes to the surface.

“However, I’m getting used to the accent,” laughed Hunt. “I think (further) Touko (Tainamo) is abusing me sometimes, and he didn’t really tell me (maybe). I might need to learn (Finnish).”

Like Fangio, Wolbrun’s longstanding ties within the business allowed him to hit the ground running, at least on the recruiting front. Porter, a 6-foot-4 combo guard with MPJ’s effortless strokes from long distance and MPJ’s smile, came on the recommendation of former Washington coach Lorenzo Romer, a longtime confidant of both the Woolbrun and the Porter family.

Quiet and reflective, young Porter becomes fast friends with classmate and teammate Tevin Smith, a charming, shrewd and talented 6-4 guard from Danville, Ill., where he is ranked number 8 prospect in state 247Sports. was ranked by of Illinois for the class of ’21.

An athletic wing substitute that weighed down on offers from DePaul and UT-Martin, Smith dropped from Cal State Fullerton before moving to DU to play under new Pios assistant Brandon Dunson. More than a decade before leaving Illinois State, Woolbrun coached Dunson back at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, Ill.

“Everybody came from everywhere,” Smith said. “And we clicked right away … we’re like brothers.”

Brother with caviar dreams. Last March, Hunt was locking horns with West Virginia and Bob Huggins in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He thinks that Pios – these brothers – can bring him there again.

“When I spoke to (Coach) via Zoom, they were very real,” Hunt said. “He really had a plan and a vision. And I believed in that vision.”

What was the plan? point of view?

“To join the (NCAA) tournament this coming season,” replied Hunt. “They want to turn this program around.”

this session?

“This coming season. Yes sir.”

In a bidding summit league? ask hard.

“It is. Most certainly,” said Hunt. Having said so, he chuckled. The grin of a survivor. “But it’s not impossible. Absolutely.”


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