Pope: Eustachy, Williams have Rams on the rise

Pope
Pope

Ryun Williams and Larry Eustachy both came to Colorado State in the spring of 2012, two very different coaches with two very different stories. But along with University President Tony Frank and Athletic Director Jack Graham, the two coaches shared one very similar goal: put Colorado State basketball back on the map.

Eustachy, a long-time head coach at the Division I level, came to Fort Collins riding a second chance at life. A one-time alcoholic, Eustachy led Iowa State to a Big 12 Conference championship and Elite Eight berth in the late 90’s before eventually resigning as head coach after photos of him drinking at a University of Missouri frat party surfaced. But, after turning around a downtrodden Southern Mississippi program, Eustachy accepted the Colorado State job hoping to find a place to call home — for good.

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On the other end of the spectrum was Williams, an up-and-comer who had just finished his fourth season as the head coach at the University of South Dakota. Before turning around a program that had won just 13 games the year before as he did at USD, and even before he led Wayne State to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, Williams was the head volleyball coach at Sheridan College in Wyoming. Not until three years after he began coaching did Williams finally get a basketball head coaching job, taking over the women’s program.

The rest is history.

Although they shared the same goal, Eustachy and Williams inherited programs that couldn’t have been further apart.

Fresh off their first NCAA tournament appearance in almost a decade, the Colorado State men’s team was loaded. Led by a starting lineup that included five seniors and key reserves Daniel Bejarano and Jon Octeus, the Rams were primed for another NCAA tournament run. Carried by a combination of Eustachy’s fiery coaching and veteran leadership, CSU finished second in the conference behind New Mexico and won their first NCAA tournament game in 24 years before falling to eventual national champion Louisville in the third round.

The women’s squad, however, was a much different story. Following four consecutive losing seasons that saw the team win no more than 14 games in any of those years, Williams faced a similar rebuilding job to the one he faced four years earlier at South Dakota. Coaching a team with just one senior and a handful of players from former head coach Kristin Holt’s tenure, Williams’ Rams struggled to an 11-19 record in his first season.

It seemed as though Colorado State had teams headed in two completely different directions. Then, the 2013-14 college basketball season happened. The men’s team, who had lost 77 percent of its scoring with the graduation of the aforementioned five seniors, finished 16-16 and in ninth place in the MW, two spots below their projected preseason finish. The women’s team shocked almost everyone, including themselves, by going 25-8 and winning the conference regular season title by a full two games.

A role reversal, right? Not quite.

You see, like head football coach Jim McElwain has his Rams “on the rise,” so do Eustachy and Williams. Because despite two polar opposite seasons over the last two years for each, the duo has their teams headed in the same direction — up.

The men’s team returns four of five starters from last season as well as adding a talented group of transfers that includes an experienced trio in Stanton Kidd, Dantiel Daniels, and John Gillon. For the first time in recent memory, there are real expectations of the Mountain West regular-season title finding a home in Fort Collins.

And it seems as though for the first time in more than a decade, there are similar expectations on the women’s side. Like the men’s team, the women’s squad returns four of five starters as well as a handful of key reserves and a duo of talented transfers in Keyora Wharry and Jamie Patrick.

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It’s safe to say the Rams are on the rise. The question is, will you be along for the ride?

Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.