Colorado State men’s basketball has entered a new era.
After an 18 win campaign ended in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament a season ago, unfamiliar faces fill the roster for the Rams.
One familiar face belongs to guard Gian Clavell, who has been granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA. After averaging 20.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game through 10 contests, Clavell’s 2015-2016 campaign was cut short by a season-ending hand injury.
Clavell should do the heavy lifting, but he obviously needs some help around him. Antwan Scott, John Gillon, Joe De Ciman, and Tiel Daniels have all departed, so the Rams will be without their four leading scorers from last season, not counting Clavell.
Returning role players from last year’s team battling for playing time include: Prentiss Nixon, J.D. Paige, Anthony Bonner and Nico Carvacho. However, in addition to that, head coach Larry Eustachy has added a trio of junior-college transfers who have a chance to immediately impact the team.
Devocio Butler, Che Bob and Braden Koelliker all did significant damage at their respective junior colleges last season.
Che Bob averaged 15.5 points per game last year at South Plains College while also averaging in 7.9 rebounds. For Eustachy, adding a forward who dominated at South Plains College is very familiar.
Before last season, the Rams signed Emmanuel Omogbo from the same school. While rebounding at the Division-I level may be tougher than in junior college, if Bob can put up similar numbers at CSU he will be a major asset to the Rams in the paint. Omogbo doesn’t see why the transition would cause Bob any trouble.
“Our coach at South Plains would always preach rebounding, so that’s in our blood already,” Omogbo said. “Even though he’s only (6-feet 6-inches), he’s athletic and pretty strong too.”
Bob exhibited division-I talent at the junior-college level. Some players need to attend junior college in order to step their game up, but it was a different story for Bob.
“I definitely could have went Division-I, but I found out I wasn’t eligible my junior year in high school,” Bob said. “After that I thought it was the end of the world, honestly. My coaches just told me it’s not, and you can go the JUCO route and see what happens. Luckily it worked out.”
The South Plains product is confident that he will be able to translate his junior-college success to Mountain West basketball. Over the offseason, he’s focused on improving his defense.
“The transition for me is going to be pretty easy,” Bob said. “I think the biggest thing to focus on is defensive positioning, being in the right spots.”
Bob is one of two versatile forwards the Rams have brought in from junior college. The other is Braden Koelliker.
Though Koelliker was an All-State honorable mention in high school, he had no division-I offers. Instead of immediately taking the junior-college route, he served a two-year mission trip through his church in Tennessee.
“It was a great experience for me,” Koelliker said. “Those two years out of high school from 18 years old to 20 years old is such a huge period of time in a man’s life to grow up and figure out who they are. For me it was a big, big maturity process. Just growing up and being on my own was huge.”
Braden wasn’t able to play basketball much in Tennessee, but he never lost interest in the game. As soon as the trip was completed, he went to play junior-college ball at Snow College in Utah. He averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for Snow in the 2015-2016 season.
“I think I was able to stretch out the defense and shoot,” Koelliker said. “But I was also able to put it on the floor too, so I created a kind of a hard matchup.”
Braden also played football and lacrosse throughout high school. He believes that enhanced his skills on the court.
“I think just being an all-around player and being able to adjust no matter what the sport throws at you is huge,” Koelliker said. “Those other sports translate into each other. When you’re good at one thing you’re going to be good at another thing in a different sport.”
It can be seen in Koelliker’s diverse play that he has an extremely high athletic IQ. Nonetheless, he will also have a transition to division-I basketball.
“Coming from JUCO to D-1, the biggest thing is just learning to catch up with the speed and physicality, so I think that will probably be my biggest challenge,” he said. “As well as learning the game up here.”
To round out the Rams junior-college signees, 6-foot 5-inch guard Devocio Butler has been added to the mix. Similar to Bob, it wasn’t a matter of talent that stopped Butler out of high school.
“I had D-1 capability, but it was my grades that stopped me,” Butler said. “I messed up. JUCO was my second chance, and I’m glad that I got a second chance because a lot of people don’t even get a second chance.”
Butler scored 10.8 points and racked up 3.9 rebounds per game his first year playing for Hill College in Texas. He also lit it up from beyond the arc, shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range. Due to the success many of Butler’s teammates also had at Hill, he gained a lot of exposure from scouts.
“I had Tyrell Green that’s at UNLV now and Marcus Johnson that’s at Little Rock on my team,” Butler said. “They brought schools in, so schools saw me. I had schools talking to me.”
Butler ultimately chose CSU because of how different Fort Collins was to his hometown of Atlanta.
“I had other options, but it’s the fact that I came on my visit and there was just nothing like it,” Butler said. “I’m from Atlanta, and it’s so different from here. I just got tired of being in my comfort zone, so I got out of my comfort zone and decided to come here. And I love it.”
Butler also had some pretty close connections with the Colorado State coaching staff.
“My coach at Hill played for Eustachy, so I knew about Eustachy already,” Butler said. “I knew what I was getting into. I was ready for it. I knew Eustachy was an aggressive coach, and I liked that.”
Player wise, the Rams have a much different team than last year. Regardless, Butler believes his team has major chemistry that can carry it throughout the season.
“Chemistry starts off the floor not on the court,” Butler said. “Everyone hangs out outside, and that’s key. That’s the start of it, and then it comes to the court. The fact that we’re so close off the court is great. I love it, everybody loves each other. You can’t go wrong when everybody loves each other.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz