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Now is the time to get excited about Rams basketball

October 19, 2009

The University of Kansas has Late Night at the Phog, the University of Memphis has Memphis Madness and the CSU Rams have 7 O’Clock Rock. While it might not be as epic as the events hosted by some of the major college basketball programs around the country, it’s is a fun opportunity for fans to see what exactly they can expect on the courts of Moby Arena for the 2009-2010 season, and they can do so on Thursday evening.

Even though it might be scheduled a full week after NCAA basketball teams were allowed to hold their first official practices, that shouldn’t take away from what 7 O’Clock Rock brings to the CSU campus – one of the few times during the year fans are truly excited about Rams basketball. Harsh? Maybe. But if CSU basketball could get the kind of support that football and volleyball had, I honestly feel that both teams’ wins in the past two years would be doubled.

Take a look at any of the top basketball programs across the country; aside from the obvious in elite coaching and talent, what do they all have in common? Amazing basketball environments, buildings where you can barely hear what the person standing next to you is saying because the noise is so deafening.

CSU doesn’t have that, and while the finger usually points toward winning (or the lack there of), in Fort Collins that argument is moot. Granted, this is more of a football town than basketball, but from 2006-2007 the CSU football team won only seven of their 24 games – which in terms of success, that’s not winning at all. But when Steve Fairchild showed up, so did the crowds – they weren’t great last year, but people came.

Tim Miles didn’t get that same welcome. His first year was highlighted with a team full of walk-on’s, a 7-26 record (none of which came against MWC opponents), Stuart Creason’s injury and everyone covering their eyes when 7-footer Ronnie Aguilar entered the game.

Year two was a little better, the Rams picked up two additional wins, four in conference, saw sparks of greatness with Harvey Perry and Andy Ogide and a new star was born in freshman Jesse Carr. But a first round exit from the MWC Championships and an embarrassing home attendance rate topped by the lack of dedication from fans – outside of former suspended forward Josh Simmons – to make the one hour drive to Laramie for the Border War negated all of that.

Now it’s year three and expectations are high. The CSU community wants a 15-win season with victories over Wyoming and CU-Boulder. Unlike last year, the Athletic Department didn’t fail miserably in their home scheduling with big opponents over winter break. Fans won’t tolerate a loss to Northern Colorado in Greeley this year. New uniforms in tact, it’s time to shine.

While the men have slowly gotten the ball rolling over the past two seasons, there isn’t a coach I’ve been more impressed with at CSU than Kristin Holt of the women’s program. In her first year at the helm, she took the Rams to a 10-21 record with five victories in conference.

Think that’s no big deal? Tell that to a more talented 2007-2008 team who won only two regular season games and at one point had a 20-game losing streak. That was a team which faltered under Jen Warden’s “I don’t wanna make adjustments,” “zone” defense.

Because of Warden, two of the Rams’ three most talented freshmen, young women who looked like they would eventually carry this team, decided to transfer along with promising sophomore Emily Neal. Those losses, along with graduation of junior Kelly Rae Finley, put new interim head coach Kristin Holt into what looked to be a no-win situation. Nevertheless, Holt uses assistant coach Dick Lien’s sources and knowledge of overseas talent for recruiting, and turns in arguably the most impressive women’s basketball season in the MWC.

For the CSU women, who were picked to finish eighth in the MWC this year (so were the men), this is the first season since 2006-2007 that the Rams won’t be having to rebuild off of a mass exodus of players for reasons other than graduation. This team has a lot of good talent and coaching and are without a senior on roster. While some might see that as a negative, juniors Bonnie Barbee and Zoi Simmons are the leaders that this squad needs.

I know men’s basketball is what receives most of the media attention, but I, a male student, am suggesting that fans keep an eye on the CSU women this year for a possible breakthrough performance.

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