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Lets Get This Show on the Road!

October 17, 2018

I’m back.

But that isnt the story.

The story is that Niko Medved is back. Back to Fort Collins after spending the last five years in head coaching positions, first at Furman University then Drake University. Back after CSU Athletic Director Joe Parker pulled the trigger on Larry Eustachy.

A move that I believe came two years too late.

But then again, maybe the timing was right because it meant having an opportunity to bring in a more seasoned Medved along with a powerhouse coaching staff whom he had assembled only for that one year at Drake.

He had built Furman from a 300 RPI program to a Top 100 program in three years. And at Drake he had inherited a once proud program hat had become a 300+ RPI bottom feeder in the MVC. In his one year in Des Moines, Grace had ascended into the top half of the MVC and had received a bid to a lower level post-season tournament.

I had gotten to know Niko in his previous stint in Fort Collins as an assistant under first Tim Miles and then for that one glorious year under Larry Eustachy. Young, bright, personable. And had followed his career closely after he left Fort Collins. As a fan, he was always on my radar. My hope was that CSU would be on his radar if an opportunity ever arose.

And then the 2017-18 season happened.

A struggling team during the MWC season along with a climate assessment. Late leads blown at home leading to some pretty unhappy fans in Moby Arena.

After one of those blown leads ( I think it was Air Force), one particular fan while walking up the aisle turned to me and said “I’ve got Niko on speed dial.”

We laughed.

At that point we were both hoping for change but completely powerless in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward to March 2018.

Joe Parker announced that he had reached a settlement with Larry Eustachy on his contract and a new coach would be hired.

At the same time I saw that Medved’s Drake squad was scheduled to play their CIT post-season game in Greeley against UNC on a Sunday afternoon. I turned to my wife and said “Hey do you want to go say hi to Niko over in Greeley and watch his team play.” She said “Yes” and off we went.

We purchased a couple of seats in the section behind the Drake bench. And then we noticed that we weren’t the only CSU fans there to say hello to Niko. There were in fact quite a few and we all said hello to each other. The entire Hornung family was there, whom Robin and I have gotten to know over the years. My wife would gladly adopt Pierce Hornung as her second son.

As we were chatting with Pierce about things, Drake came onto the floor and Niko gazed into the crowd behind the bench. His eye caught a glimpse of Pierce, Robin,and me and we waved at each other.

After the game, after he finished his radio interview, Niko wandered over to chat with Robin and I. We hadn’t seen each other in five years but it felt more like only a week or two. Of course I point-blank asked him a question he couldn’t answer (I think you know what that was) .

But he had taken the time to seek Robin and I out to talk to us as old friends. Because thats who he is.

So you can bet I was ecstatic when Joe Parker introduced Niko Medved as the next Head Coach of the CSU Mens Basketball team.

And you can bet I was ecstatic when I saw he was bringing assistants JR Blount, Ali Faroukmanesh, and Dave Thorson from Drake. And keeping Pierce Hornung on the staff. And then bringing back Joe De Ciman as a graduate assistant. Three great assistants and two GREAT Rams!

I met the new staff and their families (sans Joe) over the at an event in Moby. I played a round of golf with Niko at the new TPC course in Berthoud. I ran into center Nico Carvacho while sitting outdoors eating dinner in downtown Fort Collins.

So when CSU announced that they would be holding an intra-squad scrimmage at Moby on the morning of the CSU-UNM Homecoming football game, I was there.

Its always fun being back in Moby in anticipation of the new season. Fun catching up with old friends and fans.

And there the players were warming up. Guards and wings on one end and bigs on the other. I was on the side of halfcourt with the wings and guards and watched closely to see if they actually could make shots. Last year when I watched pre-game warmups it wasnt unusual to see 10 misses in a row. Not this time. I swear JD Paige made pretty much every three-ball he shot. And the other guys were consistently making them too.

Then it was time to start the scrimmage.

I immediately recognized two of the three referees because they have been members at Ptarmigan CC. One was long-time booster Cody Fullmer, who referees in the RMAC. The other was a guy named Paul Szelc. More on Paul later.

The cast of usual suspects took the floor. Nico Carvacho, JD Paige, Anthony Bonner, Doobie Jenkins, Robbie Berwick, Logan Ryan. Deion James sat this one out. I have seen them play and I know what they have been capable of. I was more interested in watching the newcomers. Specifically Hyron Edwards and Kris Martin who transferred to CSU last season. And freshmen Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore.

I really liked what I saw with both Edwards and Martin. Edwards is a quick guard with explosive scoring abilities both from the perimeter and at the rim. Martin can score from a variety of spots and is especially good pulling up in the mid-range. They will easily make up for the lost scoring of Prentiss Nixon who transferred to Iowa State.

Thistlewood is listed at 6’6″ but I think he’s closer to 6’8″. He moves well, shoots well, and has lots of court sense. He makes smart plays. Moore is a quick point guard with scoring skills. He may get bounced around a bit but he plays hard and fast.

In short, there are plenty of pieces for this year’s CSU team to improve over last season. I do wish they had a wider bodied big to help out Carvacho in the paint. An Andy Ogide or Will Bell type of body. Whether James can serve that role this season will be something to watch. The backcourt has depth and experience. And enough skill to compete in the MWC.

The bigger issue is learning how to play together the right way. And this team has a lot to learn about playing the right way.

I was amazed as I watched the scrimmage how much several of the players whined and gesticulated when they disagreed with a call by the refs of didn’t get a call when there was contact.

At one point, Niko stopped the scrimmage to have referee Paul Szelc explain why a call was made. It went something like this:

Niko: Paul can you explain why you made that call. I have tried to explain to them that its a foul but they don’t seem to want to listen to me. Maybe they’ll listen to you. And oh, by the way team, Paul is an NCAA Final Four caliber referee. You might want to listen and learn.

Niko wasnt lying.

Paul Szelc is a Final Four caliber official who works primarily in the Big Ten and Big East, where he’s worked plenty of big regular season and conference tournament game. He’s worked NCAA Tournament games.

Then later in the scrimmage, Niko once again stopped it when there was another official’s call that was questionable but he didn’t like the way his players reacted. It went something like this.

Niko: Paul, can you explain the call there and can you explain to the players if it helps their cause when they wave their arms around because they didn’t like it.

The players gathered around to listen. All except one player (Robbie Berwick) who decided it wasn’t that important and chose to yack it up with boosters on the other side of the court. Medved noticed it and yelled something like “Robbie, why don’t you join the rest of the team and learn something.”

And that right there was a definitive moment for where this team is at.

Skilled yes.

But immature when it comes to what it takes to be a winning program at the high D-1 level. More than once Niko had to turn to a player and tell them to focus on the next play after something happened where they felt wronged.

When I talked to Niko afterward, I specifically brought up the factual expressions and behaviors. He basically said that he tells his players this:

“There are Coaches, Players, and Referees. You’re not the coach. I’m the coach. You’re not a Referee. So don’t ref. You’re a player. So be a player.”

And that’s where I’m at right now as a fan. My eyes are on these players to see how they develop individually and collectively as a team.

I’ll be watching to see them develop as players.

And watching Niko Medved and staff develop as well.

I can’t wait!


San Diego State 77 – Colorado State 68

January 3, 2018

I think that was the final score. I do remember it being a 9-point loss for the home team. And the reason I remember that is because a buddy of mine asked what it would take for the Rams to cover the 7.5 points they were getting at home vs a decent Aztec team. I told him it would take a 40% shooting night from the Rams.


Thats a good night for this year’s team.

And there were the Rams trailing by 7 with 15 seconds left and me looking at the stats board and seeing that the Rams were shooting exactly 40%!

The Rams were going to cover the 7.5!

Until CSU’s Che Bob decided to foul an Aztec intentionally. Two free throws later the deficit was 9.

No worries. A simple inbound followed by an uncontested layup and the Rams would still cover the 7.5.

The ball came to Bob and he dribbled the clock out at midcourt.

Which begs the question…


My other lasting memory of this game was watching Coach Larry Eustachy work the team during a late timeout and grab Raquan Mitchell to get into the game for Prentiss Nixon. Mitchell enthusiastically ran to the scorer’s table. Later in the timeout, Eustachy changed his mind and had Nixon report to the scorer’s table for Mitchell. Mitchell’s head was dropped as he headed to sit following the timeout.

Bad body language is a 40-minute effort for these guys.

This team has tanked.

Colorado State 66 – Texas State 58

December 18, 2017

Yes the Rams won. Yes they played a solid first half, shooting 56% from the field. Anthony Bonner got the start in a 4-gaurd lineup and shot 4-4 including 3-3 from beyond the arc. Lorenzo “Doobie” Jenkins lit it up from the perimeter, scoring 7 on 3-3 shooting. The Rams defended well and had only 3 turnovers with a minute remaining in the half as they built a 42-29 lead. But they were to finish off the half sloppily with a pair of turnovers and a breakaway layup by the Bobcats and the lead was 42-31 at the break.

At the second half under 16 timeout, the Rams had yet to score a field goal. At the under 12 timeout, the Rams had yet to score a field goal.

And then it happened.

My wife fell asleep.

She has been attending games with me for nearly 40 years since our grad school days at the University of Arizona. It was the first time she had ever fallen asleep at a game. While she isnt into a lot of the technical things that happen she truly does love and appreciate the game. But the awkwardness, the slow speed and the generally sloppy play put her to sleep.

When she awakened, the Ram lead was down to 3 and she wondered what had happened to allow a team as bad as Texas State to get back into the game. I told her that the Rams didnt make their first shot until over 10 minutes had elapsed (a Deion James short banker) and didnt make their second shot of the half until about 5 minutes remained in the game (another layup by James).

Fortunately the Rams held on as Bonner drained a 3-ball from the corner with about 30 seconds to push the game out of reach. Bonner would finish with a game high (and tied a career high) of 17 points.

But a first half of progress was quickly erased by a second half of offensive incompetence as the Rams missed open looks, threw the ball away, and generally struggled with a 1-3-1 halfcourt trapping defense of their opponent. On top of it there was pretty lousy body language, especially when players were substituted out of the game. A first half that featured 10 assists turned to a second half of only 3 assists.

Me ball instead of we ball.

Sometimes you’ll hear a team described as a sleeper and its a compliment.

This CSU team right now is a sleeper.

And no, that is not a compliment.

Colorado State 55 – Northern Colorado 44

December 11, 2017

The monkey is off my back!

I was late for the start of the first game of the year and the Lady Rams were summarily and comprehensively trounced by thr Vandals of Idaho. I took responsibility for the loss because I want there to cheer them on for the entire 40 minutes.

Fast forward to the road game in Greeley against a very solid Northern Colorado Bears squad. I had to work and hustled over to Butler-Hancock Arena (sorry, I cant call it the Bank of Colorado Arena). I arrived in time except for the fact there was a long line to get tickets. I stood in line and by the time I found a seat right behind the CSU bench, the game was about 6 minutes old. I feared that I was going to cause another Ram loss.

Not to worry.

The Rams proceeded to deliver a halfcourt clinic on both ends of the floor as they repeatedly pounded shots from the post on the offensive end and defended the Bears completely out of their offensive rhythm with a 2-3 zone and then stifling man-to-man. It was a simple game plan but required a high level of focus.

The Bears had opened the season with wins over very good programs, beating Big East power DePaul on the road and SEC power LSU in their gym. The Bears play 4 guards, pass the ball well, and shoot it well from the perimeter and the free throw line. The key for the Rams defensively was to guard the three-point line effectively and then not foul the Bears as they tried to penetrate the paint off the dribble.

How well did the Rams do?

They held UNC to 3-21 shooting from behind the arc. And only committed 8 fouls over 40 minutes, resulting in only 7 free throws by their opponents.

Offensively, the Rams knew that UNC defended the perimeter well and that their best chance was to do damage inside. CSU used 5 different players in the post, all of whom offered differing challenges to the UNC interior defense.

First there was Annie Brady, a newcomer this year from Salt Lake CC who was getting her first start. Brady attacked the rim but shot pull-ups when her progress to the rim was thwarted. Shoe scored a career high 20 points on 10-14 shooting. Then there was point guard Grace Colaivalu, a freshman with a variety of slick moves from down low. Then freshman Liah Davis, a traditional back-to-the-basket player with the ability to put a defender on her hip and score with both hands. Then freshman Lena Svanholm who attacked with a variety of jump hooks, And finally freshman Lore Devos, a guard with the ability to put the floor and score facing up near the basket. All told, these five players took 40 of the Rams’ 48 shots and made half of them.

The Rams went into halftime with a 27-18 lead after holding the Bears to only 2 points in the second quarter but the second half brought on a different challenge. UNC made adjustments to how they were attacking the Rams 2-3 zone and began to find holes near the free throw line. Midway through the 3rd quarter they had cut the Rams’ lead to 2 as they started burying open jumpers and scoring at the rim.

A timeout ensued and change was coming.

At the sideline Coach Ryun Williams looked at his team and asked them “Are you ready to man up?” The players lit up and man-to-man assignments were made. The Rams returned to the floor and proceeded to take UNC completely out of their man offense by going over and under ball screens and preventing any kind of consistent looks. CSU pulled away steadily though the fourth quarter as Brady, Davis, and Devos all scored attacking the rim.

It was a comprehensive win accomplished with a high level of preparation by the coaching staff and execution by the players. And easily the best game the Rams had played all season. There are still some issues to work out in terms of smarter ballhandling but the win provided lots of positive energy going forward.

Other thoughts…

Sitting so close to the bench allowed several of us to hear instructions given during timeouts. It also allowed us to witness some very strong communication between coach and player after some bad mistakes were made.

In one instance, Devos stole the ball at one end and came down the court 1 against 3. Rather than pulling up and waiting for teammates, she chose to attack and turned the ball over which led to a breakaway layup for UNC. Ryun Williams had seen enough loose ballhandling down the stretch in recent games and really let Devos hear about it. The person I was sitting next to figured that was it for her for the rest of the contest. It wasnt. A minute later, Devos was back in the game and she did her thing effectively down the stretch.

In the final minute with the game pretty much decided, Colaivalu tried to split a pair of UNC defenders rather than making a simple play. She lost the ball. After a UNC miss, she had the ball again and tried to make pretty much the same play. She fell to the ground with the ball in her possession and Williams called a timeout. The players started to sit on the bench and Williams told them to stand up as he read Colaivalu the riot act over her loose play. Colaivalu is a bouncy and creative player but needs to learn how to tone down some of the fancy stuff and make fundamental basketball plays when called for.

It was behavior very much out of character for Williams but important communication nonetheless. He has put much of the success of the team in the hands of these talented freshmen and he has championship expectations.

One final thought…

Senior Hannah Tvrdy is the most experienced played on the team and she played all 40 minutes, scoring 12 points on 4-5 shooting and providing the steady hand required of a leader. Williams describes her as the heartbeat of the team. I like to think of her as the rock proving the foundation for which the rest of the players can build upon.

Colorado 70 – Colorado State 67

December 7, 2017

First let me apologize for not blogging the CSU Women’s victory over BYU on Saturday. I was tired after working early and attending two games. The Rams scored a 56-54 win after holding a 16-point lead midway through the 3rd quarter. A top shelf performance for 25 minutes was sallied by some poor shooting decisions and careless ballhandling and it took a great defensive effort by senior Hannah Tvrdy on BYU’s leading scorer Cassie Broadhead (married name I cant spell) on the final possession to keep the Rams on the good side of the score.

Fast forward to Wednesday night and a visit to Moby by the Mighty Buffs of Boulder, a young and inexperienced squad off to a 6-1 start. Big on the front line but led by an All Pac-12 stalwart point guard named Kennedy Leonard.

The Rams began well as they scored easy layups at the rim on their first two possessions. But then they uncharacteristically began to turn the ball over and the Buffs took full advantage of the gifts as they stampeded down the court to score easy layups. It was CSU being a bit jumpy and sloppy and it was also it the speed of the Buffs forcing them. A Rams team used to turning the all over less than 11 times per game had 11 turnovers in the 1st quarter and trailed 24-13. A blowout was in the cards.

CSU was throwing a solid 2-3 zone defense at the Buffs causing them issues in the halfcourt but it wasnt going to be enough if the Rams didnt get better with the ball. But with all the starters on the bench other than Hannah Tvrdy, CSU settled in and began chipping away at the deficit. The main instigator was senior guard Stine Austgulen who shot 3-3 from beyond the arc and junior Annie Brady who was scoring at the rim. With Jordyn Edwards and Callie Kaiser providing energy along with the steady hand of Tvrdy, the Rams found a way back into a 3-point lead until the Buffs scored twice in the final minute to lead by 1 at the half.

The second half began much the same as the first as the Rams spurted early into a small lead and then the Buffs started to put down the hammer by crashing the paint and drawing fouls. Leonard was flailing her way into foul calls and the Buffs pushed their lead back into double-digits. The Buffs’ size was causing the smaller Rams fits on the boards and once again things looked bleak.

And then Buff frosh Annika Jank nailed a three-ball early in the 4th quarter to push the Buff lead to 64-49.

It was fight or flee for the Rams at that point and fight they did!

They ratcheted up the defense and scrapped for every loose ball and rebound. A three-ball by Austgulen and 3 free throws from Sofie Tryggedsson got the lead down to single digits and there was hope. The defense was keeping the Rams in the game but then they followed with three empty offensive possessions. A pair of free throws by CU big Zoe “Three Seconds” Correal (whose nickname has to be Three Seconds because thats what the crowd shouts every time she’s on the offensive end) had the Buffs leading 66-55 at the 3:00 mark.

The Rams chose to go down swinging as freshman guard Grace Colaivalu took the game into her hands, scoring on a variety of short jumpers and layups and feeding others for hoops. Next thing you know the Rams had the lead down to 4 and the ball. They ran a play to get Callie Kaiser a three-ball from the corner and when Kaiser drained the high-arcing shot it was down to 1. An immediate foul and a pair of free throws from Leonard pushed the Buff lead back to 3 but there were still 8 seconds.

Colaivalu hustled the ball down the floor and calmly surveyed the situation. When she saw no Rams open, she stepped back and launched a three-ball that looked like it had a chance. Unfortunately it glanced off the front of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

70-67 Buffs. A nice rivalry win for the visitors and heartbreak for the Rams.

But it was a game where both teams can feel like they took some steps forward. Leonard had led her team and Jank had scored a game and career high 22 to go with 13 rebounds. For the Rams, Colaivalu would finish with 13, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. Austgulen and Tvrdy delivered 12 each and it was their hard-nosed efforts on the defensive end that had given the Rams a chance.

Some goods and some not so goods from both teams but everything you’d expect from a rivalry game in terms of effort and scrap.

It was a darn good show from my seat.

Colorado State 72 – Colorado 63

December 3, 2017

I’m going to keep this simple because there wasn’t a lot of rocket science in this one. Rivalry games are meant to be street fights, not chess matches.

Colorado State came into this game struggling. Part of it was caused by a difficult road schedule but the real issue had been a lack of effort of the defensive end of the floor and rather average efforts on the glass. Spurts of really good play but 5 minutes here and there instead of all 40 minutes. Not a formula for success. And so this game posed an important question for the Rams.

Could they get excited enough about their undefeated in-state rival coming into their house to play hard on both ends of the floor for an entire game?

And the Rams answered “Yes” as they pummeled the Buffs on the glass, took the rhythm of the Buffs dribble drive attack away with intelligent switching D, and aggressively attacked the rim on the offensive end.

The instigator was redshirt junior JD Paige who played with passion it takes to lead a team to a big win. Paige scored from the perimeter, the midrange and the paint on his way to a 16-point night. But it was his effort on the defensive end that set him above the rest as he drew the assignment of guarding the speedy, bouncy and talented McKinley Wright. Paige took Wright out of the flow and the rest of the Rams followed the leader by repeatedly denying the Buffs in the paint.

The Rams opened up a first half lead but it melted with Paige getting a blow. They expanded their lead to 17 in the second half fueled by a thunderous Paige dunk to finish a 3 on 2 break. But a CU press with Paige once again getting a blow brought the Buffs quickly back within 6 at the 5-minute mark and the game was very much in the balance.

The final 5 minutes weren’t pretty but the Rams scratched and clawed and fought like a team committed and they did enough at the free throw line to keep the Buffs at bay.

A big rivalry win for sure but more importantly, it was a game where the Rams finally began to unlock their potential. If it took a rival to open it up, so be it. I have no problem if they want to envision every opponent wearing a big, black Buffalo on their jersey if it inspires them to play at that level for all 40 minutes. Because if they do, chances are that we’ll continue to see the same outcome.

Other thoughts…

Sometimes all you have to do is take a glance at the stats boards in the Moby corners to see what’s really going on. The R column for the Rams was filled with crooked numbers. As a team they were committed to grabbing every carom. Deion James led the way with 10 but the rest of the starters read 9,7,6,5. The Buffs starters read 8,7,2,2,0. In a nutshell, that was the game.

Not a lot of Rook to Q4.

Im not going to harp on a smallish crowd. I was there as were plenty of my fellow empassioned fans. Those in attendance were loud and involved through the entire game. Even when it’s not filled, Moby can rock!

Colorado State 85 – North Carolina Central 48

November 27, 2017

A chance to relax and watch a game after a long week of work.

The game looked very much like a mismatch on paper. The visitors from that other school in Durham, NC are what one would consider a cupcake. So the game was really more about whether Colorado State could take a step forward after suffering a blowout loss at home to the Oklahoma Sooners.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time recapping the game as the Rams led from start to finish. The big picture is more important for this team right now. Developing a personality, a rhythm, a team. Sure there were a few individual performances worth noting. Freshman Lore Devos with 15 points and 8 rebounds. Junior Callie Kaiser off the bench with 13 and 8.

But it was the collective of players 1 through 12 all of whom played decent minutes that were the story. Defensively the Rams unveiled a first look at a 2-3 zone which they played effectively, holding the visitors to 25% shooting, while creating turnovers and rebounding effectively.

Offensively, the Rams spread out their opponents and attacked the rim off the bounce or via post-ups. They didn’t shoot a particularly high percentage but they got to the free throw line and relentlessly went after their misses. And it didn’t matter who was on the floor. Player 1 through 12 executed their stuff. To the tune of 85 points.

Its hard to imagine 12 players in a rotation as the season moves forward. As they progress, the hope is that players will emerge and clear roles will too. The challenge for the coaching staff is to keep the team marching forward. The challenge for the players is to learn how to play more efficiently while going all out. There probably isn’t an all- conference performer on the roster but collectively they have a chance to compete at the top of the MWC.

Big steps, baby steps. All that matters is that they keep moving forward.