Psst – Don’t tell anybody but DU has quietly moved into second place in Summit League basketball. They continue to surprise – even if they are the best kept secret in the Summit League and on campus. That’s o.k. – I know almost everyone in my section and I am not good with new names.
Sure DU doesn’t have a super guard tandem like Fort Wayne’s Mo Evans and John Konchar. Denver has an excellent big man in Daniel Amigo but not as good as the league MVP Mike Daum. The Pioneers can’t steal the ball and score points like the UNO Mavericks. They do not have the best record in the conference and best overall winning record- that belongs to the North Dakota State Bison. DU is tied with South Dakota in the league standings for second place – but the Coyotes swept the Crimson and Gold.
The Pioneers are an up team in a down league. But the historically beleaguered basketball program is moving ever closer to a new era of round ball respect. And Rodney Billups has no patience for a 5 year plan.
League coaches picked Denver 8th out of 9 teams in the Summit League Preseason Poll. Stunned Oral Roberts fans opined following a recent loss to Denver on ORU Sports Forum, “A 24 point loss at home to Denver U…..yes….this truly is rock bottom……Denver is really good at hockey but mediocre at basketball.” Other ORU faithful still think DU plays Princeton style basketball, as one Golden Eagle fan said, “To surrender 93 points at home – 59 in the second half – to a deliberate, motion team that is trying to run clock, not score in bunches, is beyond explanation.”
DU is somewhat of a mystery in a league where some fans value their snow mobiles more highly than their first-born and opening day begins with hunting season.
That’s o.k. … not many people even know who coaches DU – and the player’s are having fun with it.
Billups sees the strength of this year’s team as the depth – a no quit attitude to this year’s squad carries into every game. It sounds corny when Billups says, “The strength of the team is the team” – but it is true.
This years squad starts with the character, skill, and experience of their coaching staff – the best in the Summit League. Led by an unflappable coach who wields a velvet hammer and has experience on the floor and bench beyond his 34 years. He surrounds himself with successful veteran teachers on the bench. Not afraid of strong personalities, he added Ricardo Patton, the second winningest coach in CU history – behind Russell ‘Sox’ Willseth 40+ years ago. Not enough experience, yet? Add another bench guru Steve Snell to the mix. Snell is yet another successful coach with years of successful assistant coaching stops, most recently at Santa Clara. Retain Dan Ficke from the Joe Scott staff who adds continuity along with Loyola and Wake Forest coaching stints and a youthful connection to the players.
So what have they done?
Bring Junior Daniel Amigo off the scrap heap and develop him into one of the best big men in the Summit League. Turn a team that can’t rebound into one of the most efficient rebounding teams in the country and transform a plodding offense into a go-fast top 25 shooting percentage team. Retain key pieces – like Joe Rosga who was offered a scholarship by the University of Minnesota when Joe Scott left. Unleash Jake Pemberton, the second most improved player behind Daniel Amigo, who has added an offensive arsenal to his already rock solid defensive game. Get the players in the best shape of their lives and send them in waves off the bench.
They probably won’t go dancing this year – but they are earning a look come league tournament time. Compared to some of the blemishes and warts on their league peers, they look pretty good sitting on steel folding chairs along the gym wall.
All of this in Billups first year.
DU hoops takes on preseason league favorite Fort Wayne Saturday at 4:00 pm MT @ Magness Arena.