No team self-destructed last season the way Wyoming did. The Cowboys were a good story for the first two months of the year, opening their campaign 13-0, becoming one of the final undefeated clubs in the country as the calendar turned to 2013.
But after that hot start, the collapse came. Wyoming went 5-12 the rest of the regular season, failed to make the NCAA tournament and finished 20-14.
It was no coincidence that a portion of the downturn coincided with an arrest. Luke Martinez, one of the best players on the team, was charged with aggravated battery and assault following an ugly incident at a Wyoming bar on Dec. 30, 2012. That incident has led to Martinez being sued $150,000 for damages by a victim in the incident.
With this drama from last season still fresh in the minds of the players, the program and the community in Laramie, Wyo., a new approach and culture has taken afoot with the team. Instead of going out, most players stay in. And they keep their circle tight.
The Casper Star-Tribune detailed the changes late last week, which include a new night club for Pokes players: 624. There's a strict curfew, a very small guest list and a new way of getting in their fun.
It's not what you think.
Wyoming teammates and roommates Derek Cooke Jr. and Charles Hankerson Jr. decided that perhaps downtown Laramie was not the best place to spend weekend nights. ... They transformed their apartment into something greater — a symbol. "624" was born.
"Me and (Hankerson) Jr. kind of started it. It's not always good for us to go downtown, so we figured we'd have our own fun," Cooke said. "So we invite our teammates and friends over to our apartment, make sure it's before quiet hours and just have a good time."
This is a pretty good idea by Cooke Jr. and Hankerson Jr. because it wasn't a necessary step in rebuilding team bonding, but it's certainly a positive one, right? And for those reading this who are/were in college, remember all the fun times, some of the best times? They came in your dorm room or a friend's off-campus apartment. Those filthy-yet-warm quarters are where bonding so easily incubates.
For Wyoming, keeping the freshmen in line and open to the new ways of socializing is key; they're being initiated into a revamped culture around the team, so the story notes how frequently they spend their time at 624. Things reportedly close up every night at midnight.
Not everyone on the team apparently is making sure to stop by, but this is the start. School isn't even back in session yet, but Larry Shyatt's players apparently are taking no chances with any trouble going into next year. This kind of leadership could mean the Cowboys end up closer -- and better -- next year than last despite losing Martinez, Leonard Washington and Derrious Gilmore, who combined to average more than 39 points and 10 rebounds.