Niko Medved exudes positivity.
His contagious personality has been a signature on his road to success, and that has carried over to getting others involved, and making those individuals feel like they were a part of something special. Even if special hasn’t happened yet.
Now, Medved heads into his second season at the helm of the Colorado State Rams, fresh off a 12-20 opening campaign.
Medved took over the head position in Fort Collins under tumultuous circumstances, shortly after Larry Eustachy was fired for an off-the-court incident in early February.
Eustachy’s firing came at about the same time Medved was busy helping the Drake Bulldogs make one final charge in the Missouri Valley Conference in a successful first season at the helm, coming from Furman before that.
The early success in Des Moines meant Medved quickly got the call to return to Fort Collins, where he was previously an assistant.
It’s never easy taking over a program. A coach must deal with players he hasn’t coached or recruited. It can be a slippery slope, especially when the new head coach brings in his first recruiting class.
Some players transfer, some choose to stay the course. It happens throughout both major and mid-major college basketball.
For Medved, he has handled this difficult dynamic in stride at each of his three stops so far.
“I am not afraid of change, and not all change is bad,” he said. “When I arrived at Colorado State, we did have some players transfer out, but I think they were doing what was best for them and I understood it from their perspective, and it’s part of this business sometimes.”
“You know, I remember that at Furman as well in my first year here we had some changes,” he added. “But after that, the last three years there, we didn’t have anyone transfer out or leave the program.”
The reason Medved has been so highly sought after by programs such as Furman, Drake and Colorado State is that he has proven to be one of the best offensive minds and best young recruiters in his time as both an assistant and head coach. But in addition, he’s provided an instant culture change.
At Colorado State, he’s doing what he did at Drake and Furman: building his players up in a positive manner and using his toughness constructively.
His innovative tactics, such as “Team Together,” a program designed to get players involved with the community, struck gold during his time at Furman. It remains part of their athletic department to this day. Now Medved has been busy implementing that particular element into the Colorado State hoops culture.
Medved’s journey really took off in his first stint in the Rocky Mountains as a Colorado State assistant in 2007-08.
“We finished 0-16 in conference play,” he recalled from his first year. “As a staff, we learned how tough the conference was then and we kind of got a feel for the community and our players and got an understanding of the challenge ahead.”
On April 12, 2013, Medved began his career as Furman’s new head coach. The first two seasons of the Medved era in Greenville weren’t much better, winning just 20 games total.
But then the Paladins made a remarkable run all the way to the conference tournament title game and thus began the turnaround story for Furman basketball. It helped catapult Medved into the conversation among the game’s best young college basketball coaches.
After leading Furman to a pair of CIT appearances, a SoCon tournament title appearance and a tie for a regular-season league title, Medved moved on to Drake and then found himself coming full circle, returning to Colorado State.
His next task: to make sure Moby Arena remains one of the toughest visiting venues in the Mountain West.
“Moby Arena is great,” he said. “It’s one of those old-school college arenas and it’s got a really neat vibe to it. And when you walk in there you not only notice the court design, which gets talked about a lot, but also the fans are right on top of the action. I am a big believer in connection and having the community be a part of what we are trying to accomplish here.”
Coming into 2019-20, Medved’s Rams bring back plenty of talent, including Nico Carvacho, who finished the season leading the nation in rebounding.
Carvacho tested the NBA waters, but didn’t hire an agent and returned to school for his senior season. With him in the middle, it bolsters the prospects for the Rams even more. For those who haven’t seen him play, Carvacho may remind you of another Medved-coached player, Matt Raferty.
“Two things about Nico was that not only did he lead the nation in rebounding, but he did so with a torn labrum and rotator cuff, so he’s an incredibly tough kid,” Medved said. “He had surgery to repair both as soon as the season was over.”
Colorado State has added some talent during the off-season as well, including a talented transfer point guard in P.J. Byrd from VCU, who will be eligible immediately and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Teyvion Kirk is an Ohio University transfer two-guard. Kirk will have to sit out the 2019-20 season, but will have two years of eligibility remaining. Kirk averaged 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season for the Bobcats.
The final transfer is 6-5 guard Ignas Sargiunas from the University of Georgia. He will also sit out the 2019-20 season and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
“We’ll have eight new players on our roster next year, which is a really a neat thing for me,” Medved said. “And we have five guys returning, including three seniors and two kids who will be sophomores that played a lot of minutes for us last year. The two freshmen, Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore, started almost every game and played a ton of minutes, and I thought they improved like crazy. Then we have five freshman coming into what I think is a great recruiting class and I am really excited about that.”
Colorado State isn’t hiding from anyone either. It opens up at Duke and participates in the Cayman Islands Classic (Nov. 25-27). There is also an intriguing game against South Dakota State on Dec. 10.
Medved is creative and he likes building, and he is already at work getting Colorado State back to where it once was.