Allen Edwards knows his University of Wyoming men’s basketball team must improve upon the eight wins it mustered during a topsy-turvy 2018-19 campaign.
He knew it even before UW athletics director Tom Burman told WyoSports the Cowboys must make significant improvement.
“We had a very good dialogue, and I believe he has a plan to get this thing turned around,” Burman said in March. “But we have to be significantly better, not marginally better.”
Burman didn’t specify a win total Edwards must reach to return as the Cowboys coach beyond this season. For his part, Edwards said he doesn’t feel any more pressure than usual heading into his fourth season at the helm.
“I don’t buy into this pressure thing,” said Edwards, who is 51-52 at UW. “I think that’s a storyline for the chat rooms and everybody else. It’s no different than watching TV. One week you’re great, the next week you’re horrible.
“At some point, you just have to go and play basketball.”
The Cowboys were besieged by injuries during their 8-24 season.
Sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado – who was expected to be one of UW’s top two players – suffered a season-ending back injury when he was undercut by a University of Denver player Dec. 11. Maldonado also dealt with a left ankle injury that put him in a protective boot. He was averaging 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in eight games.
Sophomore forward Austin Mueller also was lost for the season after eight games because of a right knee injury. Senior guard Jake Hendricks was sidelined for an extended stretch because of a right knee injury. Tariq Johnson played nine games before he was forced to the bench with what was later diagnosed as a career-ending heart condition.
Forwards Hunter Thompson and Jordan Naughton also missed time because of injury.
If that wasn’t enough adversity, junior college transfer Lwal Dung opted to return to his native Australia to start his professional career. Senior point guard Nyaires Redding was suspended after being charged with assault after he was accused of striking a woman at a Laramie bar. Redding was later acquitted.
There were times the Cowboys were so shorthanded they couldn’t practice five-on-five. Team manager K.C. Henry of Lingle was added to the roster. So was Pine Bluffs product Haize Fornstrom, who started his career as a preferred walk-on with the UW football team. Fornstrom opted to stay with the Cowboys basketball team, while Henry has returned to his post as a team manager.
“The win-loss ratio is not good enough, and (Edwards) knows that,” Burman told WyoSports. “But we’re not going to put all of the burden of this season on him.
“There were things beyond his control. He handled all of the off-the-court issues extremely well.”
Edwards is confident last season was an aberration in many ways. He knows that his body of work – which includes two 20-win seasons and a College Basketball Invitational championship – bought him some goodwill.
“Our guys never quit,” Edwards said. “They always came out with the mindset of playing hard and competing, regardless of what the score was. If you talk to our kids within the program, they’re committed to what we’re doing here.”
The Cowboys know this is a pivotal season for Edwards, but they’re not focused on it, Maldonado said.
“It doesn’t really cross our mind,” he said. “We’re going to be the best team we can day in and day out, and we’re going to play as hard as we can. That’s the culture we have around here.
“If we continue to grow and improve in little areas, the results will speak for themselves.”
The rash of injuries UW dealt with forced several players into roles they didn’t expect to play, and got them playing time they likely wouldn’t have had. That could be a good thing, Thompson said.
“Last year could end up being a blessing in disguise,” said the redshirt sophomore, who averaged 8.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 27 games. “Being thrown into the fire sucks in the moment, but everything makes a lot more sense now.
“We’re more comfortable heading into this season. I don’t feel any pressure, and I don’t think the other guys feel any pressure. We’re starting with a fresh slate, and we’re ready to go play ball.”