CASPER, Wyo. — Among players on the Wyoming basketball team, Caleb Cockrum was most excited to meet Justin James on Saturday at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming in Casper.
“He’s just the most fun, the most talkative,” said Cockrum, a Kelly Walsh freshman. “I like him. He scores the most points.”
That was true last season, when James averaged 16 points per game for the Cowboys. Saturday, however, James made a premature exit from the game of knockout played by Pokes and members of the Cowboys and Boys & Girls Clubs attendees.
“There were some pretty good-shooting kids out there,” said James, who finished fourth. “Yeah, I’m not going to lie. I did make it to the championship round, but I did get knocked out, so shout out to that little kid.”
The Cowboys’ trip up to Casper was part outreach, part practice.
“To me, we’re the only Division I program in the whole state, and we just thought it would be a good idea to get away and treat this opportunity like a mini-camp but at the same time do some community stuff,” head coach Allen Edwards said. “And like I was telling our guys, I grew up going to the Boys Club and always remember those times when college athletes or professional athletes would come in and talk to us. These are memories that we can pass down to young people that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
The Cowboys made the drive up Friday, visited the Boys & Girls Clubs and practiced twice Saturday, including a practice open to the public at Casper College’s Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. They held two practices Sunday before returning to Laramie.
“What we want to do with this opportunity is every year around this time move it throughout the state,” Edwards said. “So next year, we’ll pick a different spot to go to. But from a mental standpoint and a mindset, it also gives us an opportunity to kind of get away … from distractions, so to speak, or learn how to practice without distractions and also get used to being on the road, so once we start getting on the road, it’s not new.”
The Cowboys had some shooting and dribbling contests with the kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs, and Sam Averbuck ended up winning the knockout game, beating out Hunter Maldonado.
“That’s what you live for, especially coming out and seeing these kids,” Averbuck told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2y6vgUE). “During the season it’s hard for them to come to games and stuff. So it’s coming out here, outreach to them and show them what Cowboy basketball is all about.”
Afterward, the players held a short Q&A. The kids were especially interested to learn the team’s superlatives, such as best dunker (Andrew Moemeka), fastest (James) and smartest (Averbuck).
“It’s way cool,” Cockrum said. “It’s like they’re including us. It’s not like they’re just ignorant basketball players. They’re fun, too.”
After the Pokes’ practice later that afternoon, they signed autographs and took pictures with fans.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re from Torrington, where (graduated Cowboy Jason McManamen) was from, from Casper, from Laramie, we like all your guys’ support, and we need all your guys’ support,” James said. “For us to win championships and win ball games how we want to do, we need to have your guys’ support 100 percent.”
And who knows? Maybe some of the kids in attendance Saturday will one day support the Cowboys on the court themselves.
“Hey, you never know,” Averbuck. “And we need more Wyoming players out here at the university, so Casper’s a great place to start.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com