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Mountain West Summer Update

August 13, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook – Summer 2003

by Bob Thurman

College basketball may not be the first thing that comes to mind during summer, but that does not mean there is nothing happening. With the spring signing period, the NBA Draft, and finalizing rosters for the upcoming season, there is plenty of news to report.

Unfortunately, the biggest news of the summer revolves around the tragic death of former New Mexico Lobo Patrick Dennehy. There has been plenty written on this story, so why delve into it any more. Instead, I’ll focus a bit on this past season’s stars, and then look at some future stars in the Mountain West Conference.

The Next Step For Many

Some fans of the Mountain West may not realize this, but last season there was an abundance of talented players in the league. Unfortunately, many of them were seniors and have moved on to bigger challenges.

One of the league’s most talented and exciting players, Marcus Banks, was one of the hottest prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. The UNLV point guard vaulted into the lottery, surpassing many of the more-hyped prospects at that position. He was later traded to the Celtics, where he will play a pivotal role in getting them to the next step.

In the second round, BYU’s Travis Hansen got taken early by Atlanta. Despite being one of the older prospects at 25, the Hawks felt he could come in and contribute right away. With his surfer boy looks, and high energy on the court, Hansen should become a fan favorite there fairly quickly.

Other former MWC stars, such as Uche Nsonwu-Amadi and the nation’s leading scorer Ruben Douglas, are trying to land with teams via the free agent route.

In addition to all the seniors that have graduated, a couple of rising stars will not be suiting up this season. Utah’s spark plug off the bench, Marc Jackson is transferring to another school. Meanwhile, talented freshman Evan Burns of San Diego State has been dismissed from the team for academic reasons. Burns was nursing an injury, but was one the Mountain West’s rising stars and a probable future NBA draft pick.

Top Five Newcomers for 2003-2004

With all this talent leaving, the Mountain West will need to find some new stars to fill the void. Luckily, most teams have solid recruiting classes coming in and will probably rely on many youngsters to step in and make an impact. Below I’ve compiled a list of the top five newcomers that should provide the biggest impact for their teams this season.

Andrew Bogut, Utah

The 6’11” Australian has become the talk of summer with his outstanding play at the World Junior Championship in Greece. A virtual unknown outside of Australia, the eighteen year old quickly caught the eye of numerous NBA scouts as he led his country to its first ever junior men’s championship. His 35 point, 14 rebound performance against a strong Lithuanian squad was one of several impressive games for the tournament’s MVP.

The Utes are anxious for him to suit up, but they will have to wait until December when Andrew becomes eligible. However, look for him to quickly become one of the best big men in the conference. Besides his deft outside shooting touch, he is also a tenacious rebounder with great hands, which sets him apart from other foreign players. He will be one of the leading contenders for Newcomer of the Year in the Mountain West Conference, and if he stays beyond his freshman year, look for him to be one of college basketball’s best players.

Danny Granger, New Mexico

The 6’8″ transfer from Bradley was one of the brightest young stars in the Missouri Valley last season, as he began the season scoring 19 points per game and grabbing 8 rebounds per game, including a 37 point performance in his last game before transferring. Unfortunately, his recruitment by the Lobos has been marred by claims of tampering by ex-Bradley assistant Duane Broussard. However, the NCAA recently upheld the case and Granger will be eligible following the 2003 fall semester.

The talented Granger will start at power forward for the Lobos from day one. He’s already working on adding another 20 pounds to his frame in order to compete with the hefty big men that are already in the Mountain West. If he does that without jeopardizing his speed and explosiveness, then look for him to be one the top players in the league for years to come. Look for Bogut and Granger to battle it out for Newcomer of the Year this season.

Odartey Blankson, UNLV

The former Marquette Warrior may have missed his shot at a Final Four, but he will have a prominent role on this season’s UNLV team. With Marcus Banks and Dalron Johnson moving on, the 6’7″ swingman will get plenty of opportunity to score from both inside and outside. He will probably play a lot at small forward, but is flexible enough to slide down to the power spot.

Blankson brings a large amount of experience and leadership to a relatively young Rebel club. He’ll also play defense with a tenacity that’s been lacking at UNLV for some time. He may not become the star he dreams of, but he’s an excellent fit into Charlie Spoonhaur’s system and will provide an immediate impact to the success of their team.

Wesley Stokes, San Diego State

After two solid yet turbulent seasons at Missouri, the exciting point guard with the wild hair is hoping San Diego State is the right fit for him. Stokes gives the Aztecs a solid playmaker to replace Tony Bland and Deandre Moore in the backcourt. Despite losing his starting spot for the Tigers, he still was eighth in assists in the Big Twelve two seasons ago. Look for him to be one of the top assist men in the Mountain West this season.

Stokes still needs to improve his outside shooting, but that never prevents him from taking the big shot at crunch time. He won a few games for Missouri at the buzzer, so look for him down the stretch. Despite some flaws, I expect Wesley to be a fan favorite in San Diego this season and next.

Stephen Verwers, Colorado State

The loss of Brian Greene left a big hole at power forward for Coach Layer. Luckily, he landed one of the top big men from Texas to help fill the void. The 6’10” freshman didn’t receive much publicity due to one minor detail: he didn’t play high school ball. Stephen is home-schooled and thus wasn’t discovered until last summer’s Nike Peach Jam where he exceeded expectations against some of the top high school talent in the nation.

Verwers still needs to add some weight and build some muscle, but with Matt Nelson clogging up the middle, that should allow him to roam more freely on the baseline. He, along with fellow recruits Phillip Thomasson and Stuart Creason, will form one of the top frontcourts in the Mountain West for years to come.


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