LARAMIE, Wyoming — When visiting basketball teams trot down the tunnel between their locker room and the playing floor at the Arena-Auditorium on the University of Wyoming campus they pass some very tall numbers painted on the wall.
The welcome sign announces that they are at 7,220 feet of altitude. Following that route is supposed to perform a major-league psych job on the players.
Mental edge or not, for a flatland team to make a quick trip to such heights without spending time acclimating means it very likely will have difficulty catching its breath when the Cowboys push the pace and run the fast-break.
That eye-catching number is also probably one reason why Cowboys' men's basketball coach Larry Shyatt has his challenges finding opponents to come to Laramie to fill out the pre-conference part of his schedule.
Shyatt speaks about just how tough it is to convince opposing coaches to schedule those games. The biggest name programs want a Mountain West school like Wyoming to make a two-for-one-trade. They will come to Laramie for one game if the Cowboys play two games at their home court.
That is common practice in this modern era of NCAA Division I basketball. However, a number of teams won't even agree to make a deal like that with Wyoming. The biggest powers don't want to risk an upset and won't even engage in such scheduling arrangements if they have any worries about the foe's talent.
Last month, the Cowboys traveled to Columbus, Ohio to play nationally ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes won 65-50, though Wyoming led early in the second half.
But there will be no return match. Ohio State, which paid Wyoming $100,000, isn't coming to Laramie. Buckeyes' coach Thad Matta was doing Shyatt a favor out of friendship. Shyatt desperately wanted to play a game in Ohio for his Ohio-bred players Larry Nance Jr. and Jack Bentz.
Shyatt tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/IED2ts ) that he called every Division I school in Ohio trying to set up a game and no one wanted to play the Cowboys. And that was for a road game. Shyatt spends most of his waking minutes that are off the court on the phone seeking games for the Arena-Auditorium court.
Laramie is challenging for many schools to reach via plane switches and they hold that against the Cowboys. Laramie is far from many schools and they hold that against the Cowboys.
Shyatt said he has had many conversations along these lines: "'Shy, you're a pretty good team. What advantage is there for us to play you?'"
That is a problem. Teams want to schedule wins if they are not teams in the top 25 playing other teams in the top 25 in lucrative TV match-ups or in prominent pre-season tournaments.
Shyatt has coached all around the country. His Rolodex bulges with the phone numbers of D-1 coaches in the biggest conferences.
It's not as if they don't answer his phone calls, or that they hang up on him, but they also don't give him the "yes" answer he seeks when he tries to sell a game in Laramie. Many say that they just won't bring their team to Laramie, at 7,220 feet, in the winter.
"And these are really good friends," Shyatt said of the turn-downs.
Once in a very great while some audacious coach will offer another coach a three-for-one offer, meaning if you play at their place three years, they'll come to your place once. Such conversations are very rare because they are basically insulting.
"I don't know of anyone in 40 years who has done it," Shyatt said. "That would be cheating our fans. I would do anything to get more, better teams to come here."
Among the non-conference teams Wyoming has on the schedule this fall are Colorado, South Dakota, Northern Colorado, Denver, Western State and Montana State. A couple of common denominators are that none of them are far away and none of them should be scared of snow.
As for the top 25 powers they go to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas. Unless they are playing all home area games they want to go to resort communities. Their definition of resort communities doesn't include ski resorts.
Not that Shyatt is giving up. Southern Methodist, a program on the rise with Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, is coming to Laramie Dec. 20. And Shyatt is definitely holding on to phone service that has unlimited minutes.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com