Over the last two seasons, the Colorado State men’s basketball team has faced adversity at every turn, but with six games remaining in the 2016-17 season, the Rams, led by a battle tested senior duo, are within a single game of first place.
Emmanuel Omogbo and Gian Clavell have been performing at increasingly high levels on the court all season, but it was never a smooth ride getting here, as the senior leaders have had to grow up fast after dealing issues much bigger than basketball.
“Everybody went through it all here, especially me and Gian (Clavell),” Omogbo said. “When he got hurt, for him to even take the chance and come back was a blessing for everybody. Me, Larry (Eustachy) and Gian (Clavell) all share an unbreakable bond.”
The bond that these three share is evident both on and off the floor. Between battling injuries, the Omogbo family tragedy and Clavell’s off-court domestic violence incidents, these three have been through a multitude of difficult situations. So when news came in that the team would be losing Che Bob, Devocio Butler and Kimani Jackson for the season for failing to meet academic requirements, Omogbo was not worried about his team’s ability to handle the tough situation.
“The seven players that are here, we work,” Omogbo said. “It ain’t like we have seven scrubs. We have seven real players. Most teams only play eight and Larry only really plays seven guys anyway. We were just worried about what was going on in our locker room.”
Clavell echoed similar statements and even thinks Eustachy is more comfortable managing the current total of seven players on the roster. The fifth-year guard explained that the two-man rotation allows Eustachy to focus on what’s going on the court rather than who needs to be substituted and when.
Confident in their own abilities and deaf to what the outside world had to say about their team, the Rams have felt all along that they would be able to compete for a Mountain West Championship and with a half dozen games left, CSU is in position to do exactly that.
“It would be really special if we won the Mountain West Tournament or regular season title because of the fact that everybody went through stuff in their life but we were able to overcome it,” Omogbo said.
Although the senior did emphasize that the team is much more concerned with winning the Mountain West Tournament and getting a shot in the NCAA Tournament, even winning the regular season title would be be a big deal for the program, considering the circumstances.
Similarly to Omogbo, Clavell wants a chance to close out his collegiate career with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament and believes that strong team chemistry will give them that opportunity.
“This is the closest team,” Clavell said.“I’m confident in all eight players. I am even including Juan (Sabino). I am never doubting any of my players or coaches.”
There is much basketball to be played still, but after everything this team has been through, it is evident that this team cares about each other on and off the floor and that bond may just be their strongest asset.
Through thick and thin, this group has been there for each other and continued to battle. With six games left, their path to a Mountain West championship continues this Saturday with Fresno State (14-10, 6-6 MW).
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael