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CSU men’s basketball ranked highest in AP, Coaches polls in program history

Colorado+State+University+mens+basketball+Head+Coach+Niko+Medved+walks+towards+the+Ram%E2%80%99s+locker+room+at+halftime+before+being+stopped+for+an+interview
Collegian | Lucy Morantz
Colorado State University men’s basketball coach Niko Medved walks toward the Rams’ locker room at halftime before being stopped for an interview Jan. 12, 2022.

They achieved a feat never before accomplished, yet it’s still business as usual for Colorado State men’s basketball.

Slotting in at No. 13 in the AP Poll and No. 12 in the Coaches Poll, CSU is ranked higher than it has ever been before.

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It hasn’t been a walk in the park either. Eight games into the season, the Rams have dealt with a ton of adversity.

So far, they have won games despite injuries to Jalen Lake and Patrick Cartier and against Washington, when Isaiah Stevens was hit with three quick first-half fouls and Nique Clifford was ejected. Now Josiah Strong is out for four to six weeks, but the next-man-up mentality for the Rams isn’t wavering.

“They’re a resilient group,” coach Niko Medved said. “I think we’ve got fighters, and that’s what they’ll do. And other guys I know will get opportunities to play more minutes, and we’ve responded every time we’ve been challenged, and this just can’t be any different — I don’t expect it to be any different.”

Respond in the face of adversity: That’s what it takes to be one of the top teams in the nation.

Medved expects his guys to respond, and that next-man-up mentality has not been lost in translation to his players.

“That’s what’s special about this team is our ability to handle adversity — our resilience, just our depth,” Clifford said. “We have guys who aren’t even playing big minutes who could be starting for a lot of teams. That’s the special thing about this team is the depth that we have, and we know that the next guy that’s going to get in the game is going to go out there and produce.”

The ability to continue chugging like a well-oiled machine is just one characteristic of a great team. The Rams clearly have that ability this season, and Medved’s mechanic shop will need to work overtime to continue winning.

“His ability to relate to his players,” Clifford said about what makes Medved special. “He cares about us as people just outside of basketball. He checks in on how you’re doing as a man, and I really respect that about him.”

Medved is obviously doing something right — what the Rams have accomplished is historical.

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But with 23 games left, it’s not about the number that comes before their name; it’s about going 1-0 in their next game.

“It’s still the same mindset, same approach,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, it’s still just a number next to the name. Don’t get me wrong, (I’m) super thankful, super appreciative of the recognition. But it’s still only the first week of December. Still got to make it through the nonconference. (We’re) trying to go 1-0 each and every night.”

Stevens is no stranger to what good teams look like. After all, he was a big part of the Rams’ run to a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament back in 2022.

While the teams might have different personnel, there are still similarities to be found.

“Two totally different teams,” Stevens said. “Both teams are really talented. I remember that year, we felt depth, and togetherness was one of our biggest attributes. I’ll probably say that’s one of the similar aspects that we have on this year’s team as far as just guys we can rotate in (who have) experience and also just talent and playmaking and the will to win.”

The will to win: That’s what it all boils down to. Not the ranking, not the accolades but going 1-0 every game day.

While the entire team has their focus geared toward the games ahead and not on past games, they still recognize the gravity behind their greatness.

“It’s cool — I love when our players can feel good that they’re putting in the work and they’re seeing results of what they want,” Medved said. “I love that. That’s validation for them. It’s great for our fans. It’s great for people who follow CSU basketball, so there’s a ton of positives in it. It’s awesome.”

But as cool as it is, Medved is all about his players and how they feel, as Clifford said.

“I’m really heartbroken about injuries,” Medved said. “I just hurt for those kids. I’m thinking about what’s next. How do we get guys to step up? I’m scared to death out of guarding Tommy Bruner and Denver‘s offense, and that’s just how I’m wired.”

There’s no doubt why with Medved so passionate about how his players are feeling while being the face of history. They go out and play hard for him every single night.

And because of that, who’s not to say they could be national champions?

“I think from the beginning of the year, my goal coming here — and I think many of my teammates would say the same — is we want to be national champions,” Clifford said. “Now we want to win the Mountain West championship. That’s what everyone works for. … We’ve just got to come work each day and let the end goal take care of itself, but we’ve just got to continue to get better each day.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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About the Contributors
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.
Lucy Morantz, Co-Photo Director
Lucy Morantz is a fourth-year journalism and political science student minoring in legal studies. She is one of the two photo directors for the fall 2022 semester. Growing up with parents who met working as journalists, media has been an ever-present component of Morantz’s life, and this is ultimately what inspired her to pursue a degree and career in journalism. She had always been pulled toward career paths that provided a creative outlet; photojournalism and The Collegian have allowed her to do precisely that while simultaneously fostering her passions and gaining meaningful career experience.  Throughout her college years, Morantz has worked with The Collegian every year. Growing up with the publication this way has given her a unique perspective on all the ways student media has helped students achieve their post-graduation goals, making her excited to see what her own career path with lead to. Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with so many other student journalists to create a final product will be her most valued takeaway from her time at Colorado State University. Beyond her role at The Collegian, Morantz is also a College of Liberal Arts student ambassador and has interned with various political organizations. Outside the newsroom and classroom, Morantz can most likely be found paddle boarding at Horsetooth Reservoir, strolling through Old Town with friends or curating a new hyper-specific playlist to match her many moods.

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