From his Fort Collins Hilton hotel room, Niko Medved saw the iconic white “A” in the foothills. Horsetooth Reservoir. The sparkling-new Canvas Stadium. The sun shining on a new era of Colorado State University men’s basketball.
And before his March 23, 2018, introductory press conference, the CSU coach strolled through the arena named for a whale.
“As I walked through Moby today, I’m just having these flashbacks of the huge crowds, the energy, students waiting in line to get into the games,” Medved said that day. “Just the fact that I’ve seen it here at its best. I’ve seen what it can be. It’s just amazing.”
Fast-forward 47 months to Feb. 23, 2022. The video above shows a few sights and sounds of the Rams’ 61-55 win against arch-rival Wyoming, which evened the Border War season series.
The fourth of five straight sellouts to end the regular season helped assure CSU (24-4) a bye into the quarterfinals of the Mountain West postseason tourney. The No. 2-seeded Rams play at 6 p.m. Thursday against Utah State (18-14).
Creating ‘a buzz’
Four years ago, Medved said he wanted a “winning style” when asked about on-court strategy. But recently he said that community factors were just as important.
“I want people to say, ‘Hey, you come to Fort Collins or you go to CSU, that there’s a buzz;’ and people say, ‘Have you ever gone to a CSU basketball game before?’ It becomes part of the community, and I think we’re starting to see that this year.”
The 2022 Wyoming “Whiteout” game atmosphere drew comparisons to the 2013 “Orangeout” win against nationally ranked San Diego State.
“It’s been fun to see the energy in the arena,” Medved said. “I think somebody told me at the start of the season, you’ve got like $30 to get a ticket and now there were some (against the Cowboys) going for like $300 on StubHub.”
Posting a NCAA Tournament resume
As for Medved’s on-court mission, in 2018 he said: “You want to win the conference tournament in Vegas, but if you don’t, you want to have a resume that can get you into the NCAA Tournament.”
This year’s resume seems rock-solid, even if the team doesn’t hoist the Mountain West tournament trophy. The bracketmatrix.com website illustrates that CSU is included on 130 of 130 predictive NCAA brackets. The Rams are estimated to be anywhere from a No. 5 to a No. 10 seed.
In 2018, Medved said scheduling was tricky because you can’t know for sure who will be good, as many games are scheduled years in advance.
The Rams finished the 2021-22 non-conference season at 11-0 including a Paradise Jam tourney win. CSU had victories over likely NCAA Tournament teams Saint Mary’s and Creighton plus a win against the Southeastern Conference’s Mississippi State. Games against Alabama and Tulsa were cancelled.
“It’s been fun to see the energy in the arena. I think somebody told me at the start of the season, you’ve got like $30 to get a ticket and now there was some (against the Cowboys) going for like $300 on StubHub.”
– Niko Medved
In the Mountain West, CSU defeated likely NCAA tourney teams Boise State, San Diego State and Wyoming. The Rams also swept Utah State and Nevada, two teams listed as top-5 bets to win the MW tourney title.
From Des Moines to Fort Collins
Three of this year’s Rams were on board to play for Medved … at Drake University.
Kendle Moore, Adam Thistlewood and James Moors had committed to the Bulldogs during Medved’s lone year in Des Moines. After turning around Furman (9 wins to 23) in four years, Medved took over a Drake team that went 7-24 the before he got there and went 17-17 in 2017-18.
And while Medved said the timing of the CSU opening was unfortunate for Drake, it was lucky for the Moby faithful. All three switched allegiance to Colorado State. Moors red-shirted, giving Medved a tall interior player for another year.
While Thistlewood’s minutes have been down recently, he has had five 5-rebound games. Moors has averaged 3.5 rebounds in 15.8 minutes in February and is shooting 69% for the season.
Moore, a fourth-year senior, has scored fewer points than his other seasons due to overall team depth, but without him CSU probably would not have won road games at Nevada (22 points) and Utah State (23) in February.
Plus, David Roddy’s first contact with Medved’s staff was during the Drake year. Roddy said he wouldn’t have played for Drake, but when Medved came to Fort Collins, that was intriguing to the fellow Twin Cities native.
Pitching CSU to recruits
Isaiah Stevens committed to CSU and shortly after, Roddy did, too. Both came before Medved’s first season started. Medved was asked if his highest-level recruits were sold on his vision.
“I don’t know if they were sold on it, but they believe,” said Medved, who called it losing yourself in the daily word. “You can want whatever, but it’s what you do every day and then it’s having the willingness – these are every-day guys – and you must have that belief in the vision, but then you’ve got to let that go and you’ve got to focus on the process. And that’s what these guys do.”
Roddy admits he may not have come to Fort Collins if he’d waited to see how Medved’s first team finished its season. The 12-20 record was a transition year.
“The first year, whenever you’re coming into a program, you also do a lot of evaluating,” Medved said. “And you’re evaluating the people that are in your program, and the players, and you start to implement your culture and your vision.
“Sometimes, when that first year is over, you kind of figure out, ‘Hey, this is who we want to be. This is our vision and who wants to move forward with that.’ So, there was clearly a lot of change after that first year. And during that first year, we were spending a lot of time recruiting.”
Later, Medved’s staff added former Nevada commit Dischon Thomas, who put up 21 points against Creighton; and John Tonje, who went for 31 points against Oral Roberts. The Rams added others such as Isaiah Rivera, Jalen Lake and Jalen Scott, who have contributed during their opportunities.
The team includes former walk-ons and Dallas Baptist graduate transfer Chandler Jacobs, who has had seven double-digit scoring games and recently torched Wyoming for 18 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes.
“You want highly talented players, but you want highly competitive people,” Medved said. “You want people who have high character, who value not just basketball, but value being a great person, and I think those are things that we just stand firm on.”
All of the current players are on the team, Medved said, because “there were young men that we really thought fit the vision of the program.”
Medved succeeded Larry Eustachy, whose tenure began in that magical 2012-13 season that resulted in a first-round NCAA tournament win and 26-9 record.
Medved was the only holdover assistant from previous coach Tim Miles’ staff, which earned an NCAA tourney bid in 2011-12. He took over after Eustachy left the program in early 2018.
The Rams cannot hang a Mountain West regular season title banner in Moby Arena this year, but there is still a shot for the tournament title and the school’s 11th NCAA Tourney appearance.
In 2013, the Mountain West had five teams reach the Big Dance. It could have 3, 4 or 5 teams make the NCAA Tournanent this year. Plus, picking all-conference teams is hard because of the top-to-bottom talent. “It’s as good as I’ve seen it,” Medved said of the conference.
But if the Rams win it? “It will be a shoutout to what we came here for,” Stevens said, “what we all signed up for.”