Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Men’s basketball team to be a different animal this season

The first dozen opponents the Pioneers men’s basketball team will come up against this season are ducks, rams, bison, broncos, cowboys, gauchos, gaels, braves, aggies, matadors, pilots and bears.

No cream puffs, marshmallows or teddy bears. No walk-overs, push-overs or turn-overs. Ducks the size of elephants, braves tough as Geronimo, bison big as Winnebagos, rams breathing fire, matadors waving swords and bears angry that you interrupted their nap.

That’s the first dozen games. Last season, two of these opponents made the NCAA tournament and one, the Gaels of Saint Mary’s, battled their way to the Sweet 16. Their 2009–10 records could make you pale.

“We put together that schedule to challenge our guys,” says head coach Joe Scott, trail boss of the 2010–11 Pioneer Twelve. “We have a golden opportunity to show who we are and how we’ve improved.”

That was apparently the plan when the 19–13 Pioneers peaked at the end of last season, finishing as one of the best shooting teams in the nation, notching a 15–1 home court record and returning all but one starter, all-conference forward Nate Rohnert.

Coaches assigned their players skills to work on over the summer, then convened 10 days of boot-camp-style, preseason practices before flying to Spain for a six-game tour against professionals. The result was a quick return to end-of-season form, four coalescing wins and a piñata full of experience for newcomers Chris Udofia, a 6-foot-6-inch forward, and Trevor Noonan, a 6-foot-9-inch transfer center.

“We’re definitely playing better at this point than we have in the past two years,” says 6-foot-4-inch junior guard Brian Stafford. “Trevor is a really skilled big man. And Udofia is an outstanding athlete who’s coming along pretty fast. We know we can be good and we’re not intimidated by playing really good teams.”

Easy to say, but Stafford will have to be in the top form Scott says he’s in when the Pioneers go to Oregon for a Nov. 12–14 tournament against the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos, Oregon Ducks and North Dakota State Bison. The home opener comes four days later, against in-state rival Colorado State.

Scott says Stafford and 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Chase Hallam are showing in practice the kind of solid, consistent, high-level play that he says is essential to elevating teammates and guiding newcomers Noonan and Udofia past their first-year “wall.”

“I worked pretty hard in the off-season to improve my skills,” Stafford says. “I feel good. I’m shooting with confidence and I’ve worked on my ball-handling and scoring off the dribble.”

The coaches are keeping the guys loose and focused, Stafford says, and there’s good chemistry among the players, whom he describes as “close-knit” and hard-working.

“We have all the pieces to be a good team,” he says. “We have a good system and we trust it — five guys working with each other to get the right shot.”

Which means Scott yells less in practice? “I wouldn’t say that. But he knows he can always get more out of us. He’s got an attention to detail that’s pretty incredible.”

Scott also has his eyes peeled on the part of the season that counts most — the 16 Sun Belt Conference games that begin Dec. 30 and don’t let up until tournament time in March. Winning the Sun Belt, where DU is picked preseason to finish third, is the prize that lies at the heart of advancing to the NCAA tournament.

“It’s not about the first four games, it’s not about the first 10 games. It’s about concentrating one game at a time and making sure that we get better and better and better,” Scott says. “We’re in this to have people at the end of the year talking about the University of Denver, not in the beginning of the year.”

For ticket information and scheduling, go to or call 303–871–2336.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *