Time for DU Hoops to Step Up – It’s Been Done Before

Two Denver teams take to the pitch and court this week, one as a collegiate soccer force and the other on the basketball fringes.

Seven years ago, there was no reason to expect DU men’s soccer to be a national power. Based on geography and history, they had no reason for high expectations – or a tradition of success to follow. But, in short order, led by head coaches Bobby Muuss and Jamie Franks, DU men’s soccer has emerged as a consistent national power. With a mind-set to play anybody, anywhere, anytime using a ‘fighting soccer’ mentality – they have established a solid culture of winning.

Men’s basketball tips off their season against Maine at Magness Arena tonight – Can Denver basketball flip the switch in year three under head coach Rodney Billups and become relevant?

The Pioneers will roll out what many are calling one of their deepest and most talented squads ever. However, with two excellent graduate transfers (Tory Stewart-Miller & Ronnie Harrell, Jr.) and a senior first-team Summit League guard (Joe Rosga), there are no guarantees that next season will be better, either.

And, yes, DU basketball have all the built-in excuses. Men’s basketball plays in front of a two thirds empty hockey arena – far away from rich basketball recruiting grounds. The student body is disinterested. They play second fiddle during the winter in the same arena of Denver’s flagship sport, hockey. Their academic requirements put them at a disadvantage versus many of their peers – both in recruiting and in-season focus. There is no culture of winning championships to drive the program forward. And, they are in a conference with a prohibitive favorite (South Dakota State University), with the best player in the league (Mike Daum) and have to play on the road in South Dakota (Sioux Falls) to win their first-ever conference title.

No doubt, the list of reasons for ‘falling short’ are even longer if you want to dig deeper and dredge up more excuses to explain Denver’s basketball futility. All this while mediocre regular season records leave Denver fans rooting for an unlikely miracle NCAA run from a low conference tournament seed. Luck has been tried – and it doesn’t work.

Jamie Franks talked about bending DU’s soccer history in the Paterson Blog where he discusses how he developed a winning soccer culture at DU. The same effort level will be needed by coaches and players this season for DU hoops to take the next step. And yet another program at Denver has broken the paradigm – DU lacrosse regularly fights geographic and historical disadvantages against East coast programs to land on the national stage come Memorial Weekend.

It has been done before.

The time to win is now – it has been long enough.

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Game Notes: The Pioneers new graduate transfer center Tory Miller-Steward will miss the first 3-4 weeks due to a wrist injury. Expect Abby Akintola and Donoven Carlisle to fill-in in his absence. The first-season Maine hoops coach, Richard Barron, was hired by DU’s current athletic director Karlton Creech. Barron coached Maine’s women’s team and employed the Princeton offense. Expect to see the slow-down and Princeton elements tonight. The Black Bears also feature one of the few female assistant coaches on the men’s side in former WNBA player and NBA administrator, Edniesha Curry. The Black Bears have 11 players from outside the United States and only one Maine native. Maine finished last season’s campaign 6-26.