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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!

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