Adam Waddell, who started every game for Wyoming as a senior center last year, spoke with me this week to help preview the Mountain West. Here's his scouting report on the league next season:
1. With UNLV and San Diego State ranked in the top 25, New Mexico and Colorado State returning a lot of talent and Nevada coming aboard, could the Mountain West be even better than the last couple of years?
AW: Since first got to Wyoming, I'd say it's gotten better every year. We're consistently getting three, four teams in the NCAA tournament. That's pretty good for your conference. San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, they're always up there, but I think it's good to have these new teams coming in too. Nevada's always been good. So I would say this league will be one of the best in the country this year and probably one of the best in the history of the Mountain West.
2. The consensus around the league is that UNLV and San Diego State are co-favorites entering the season. If you had to choose between them, who would you take?
AW: Oh man, to me, it's almost a coin flip. To me, I think UNLV edges San Diego State a little bit in my mind. Having a guy like Mike Moser on your team who's an all-around player is huge. You have Anthony Marshall, who's a great guard, and you have all the newcomers. I'm definitely going to mark the date on the calendar when those two teams play each other because it will be interesting.
3. Your Wyoming team lost a couple starters from last year's 21-win team, but Leonard Washington is among the returners. Can the Cowboys be a dark horse again this season?
AW: I think so. I think this team is a little more prepared as far as knowing the offense and defense and what Coach Shyatt wants. They got to go to Canada this summer, and I know that helped out a lot. I think a lot of people sleep on Wyoming. Of course, I'm biased, but I think Leonard Washington is going to be one of the best players in the league this year. The way Coach Shyatt coaches and the way he motivates his players, I do think Wyoming could be a dark horse. I don't know if they can be quite as good defensively losing the seniors that we had, but I think they'll still be a stingy team and a scrappy team. I know Coach Shyatt will have them prepared.
4. Do you have a preseason pick for player of the year in the Mountain West?
AW: I definitely think Jamaal Franklin and Mike Moser are the front runners. Playing against Mike Moser last year, he's not only one of the best players in the league. He's one of the best in the nation. I haven't seen Deonte Burton from Nevada, but I've talked to the staff here at Wyoming and I've heard he's a really good player. But of the guys I've seen, it would be Jamaal and Mike. The thing that impressed me most about Jamaal Franklin is his ability to create space on guys and get his shot off. He's just an all-around good player. I think Mike Moser edges him out a little bit on athletic ability, feel for the game and rebounding. He was definitely a tough player to play against.
5. Which Mountain West arena do you think is the most difficult on opposing teams?
AW: Playing in this league, it was definitely a cool experience. When we first started playing at San Diego State, the Show was not there. It was not that type of atmosphere. But what they've done in the five years since I've been here, it's amazing. That's one of the best that I've played in. But atmosphere-wise, the best venue is probably New Mexico. I remember walking off the court at the Pit and my ears were ringing because it was so loud. The whole feel of that arena, it doesn't hold a ton of people, but the people that it does hold, it feels like they're right on top of you, which is an intimidating feeling definitely.
6. If you could go back in time, what Mountain West coach would you most like to play for?
AW: I'd definitely pick Coach Shyatt over everyone, but I do think Steve Fisher would be a really cool coach to play for. He has an ability to get the best out of his players and I'd like to see how that would go. But I'm biased. I've only been around Coach Shyatt, but he really is one of the best coaches in the nation, I feel. He knows how to manage players and he's not only a good coach but a good guy too.
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