Early moves by new men’s basketball head coach Jeff Wulbrun give us insight into his plans to rebuild Denver hoops. His approach starts with familiarity in his selection of young, proven assistants who have worked together on turn-around staffs at Nevada as well as Cal State Fullerton and the University of Alabama Birmingham. By bringing in familiar assistants, Wulbrun avoids a lengthy introductory period while rebuilding the program. Together for only three weeks, this Denver staff is late to the party for many of the transfer portal targets while most of the high-end school recruiting is already done for the 2021-22 season. That leaves the coaches with limited options and a narrow path to follow. However, the staff has made some interesting pick-ups in a short amount of time in an effort to put a competitive team on the floor in their first season.
Wulbrun’s associate head coach, Brandon Dunston, comes from Cal State Fullerton and played for Wulbrun in high school and coached along Wulbrun at Stanford. Under Armour named him one of the top up-and-coming coaches under 30 several years ago. Dunston was at Nevada the same time one of DU’s other new assistant, Rob Zewe, was there under head coach Eric Musselman who turned around the Wolfpack fortunes, going 100-30 and making the NCAA tournament.
Like Dunston, Zewe worked at Nevada, started his coaching career during the 2018-19 season as a graduate assistant. Zewe was also an assistant from Cal State Fullerton where he coached with Dunston on the staff. Wulbrun sees Zewe as a teacher, skill developer, on-the-floor coach who will play a strong role in translating Wilbrun’s system to his players. And look for the assistant duo to bring over some of the tricks they learned under Eric Musselman at Nevada.
A third assistant, Rob Williams, was hired from the University of Alabama Birmingham. Williams spent three seasons as the director of player relations and his fourth season on staff after serving as the team’s graduate manager for two years before coming to Denver. Wulbrun coached Williams in college at UAB and later work with him on the coaching staff there so there is a level of common understanding of what Wulbrun wants to accomplish on and off the court.
No director of basketball operations has been named yet.
It appears that Wulbrun’s first recruit may have been DU junior Taelyr Gatlin who is no longer in the transfer portal. Gatlin averaged 25 minutes per game, 5.3 points, and led the team in shooting percentage from beyond the arc at .453. While not a big stat generator, Gatlin can eat up minutes at the point with only 27 turnovers in 528 minutes on the floor this past season. Wulbrun, a self-professed lover of assists, will want to see his 1.8 assists per game go up.
When it comes to recruiting, the new Denver staff is late to the party for portal transfers and high school graduates. They are filling several holes with upperclassmen transfers and snagged an interesting freshman to fill the portal departures of former Pioneers Jase Townsend, Sam Hines Jr., and Robert Jones.
Junior guard Payton Moore, a former 3-star recruit from Rice, is making a senior transfer move to Denver. An underperformer at Rice who never achieved huge statistical success commensurate with his lofty rating will have an easier time of it in the Summit League compared to Conference USA. The 6’4″ Moore averaged 5.2 points and 3.4 assists in limited minutes for the Owls last season. Rice offers a challenging academic environment that aligns with Wulbrun’s desire to recruit smart players who will fit in well on the Denver campus.
Kevin Hunt, Jr. a red-shirt junior this season from Morehead State in the Ohio Valley Conference is transferring to Denver. The 6’3″ guard played 24 minutes a game and scored 6.9 points. with 2.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the Eagles. Hunt will be a 1-year experienced fill-in for Denver while the staff puts together high school targets for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Mikey Henn, a 6’8″ redshirt senior is a stretch four coming to Denver for a one-season layover. The well-traveled journeyman is making his fourth college stop in the Mile High City following a year at Portland. Henn scored 7.8 points. and gathered 3.5 rebounds per contest. A starter for the Pilots, Henn played 25 minutes per game last season. Denver gains size and experience inside.
Perhaps the most interesting recruit is a late-blooming 2-star 6’3″ freshman guard Coban Porter. He comes to Denver as a freshman while his older Michael Porter, Jr. plays for the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively. Always compared to his superstar brothers Jontay and Michael, Coban has taken time to develop his own game, taking an extra year at Link Year Prep before college basketball. He played well in a small high school division in Missouri averaging double figures, was named MVP at several notable tournaments, and had his ups and downs in AAU ball before taking a year at Link Year Prep to hone his game.
Michael Porter, Sr. says that Coban is the hardest worker of any of his basketball-playing offspring and that fits ideally with Wulbrun’s vision of the Pioneers under his direction. Porter will be a high-effort work in progress for Wulbrun’s young assistant coaches to develop into a finished Division I product.
Look for the Pioneer hoops staff to be in the market for another big man as well as a forward or two to add front-line depth to round out the 21-22 squad.
Top photo of Payton Moore: Rice Athletics