The competitive whirlwind that has been Mountain West college basketball this season has seen interesting storylines and breakout stars but perhaps none more compelling than Wyoming.
The team, despite finishing 10th without a single first-place vote in the conference preseason poll, now sits second in the MWC with just a single conference loss.
After a solid freshman season averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in just 12 games, forward Graham Ike has seen vast improvement as a sophomore putting the conference on notice as a dominant scorer and rebounder now averaging just shy of a double-double at 20 points and nine rebounds per game.
Under second-year head coach Jeff Linder — formerly of Northern Colorado — Wyoming and Ike have hit their stride racing out to a 19-3 record behind victories over some of the toughest teams in the conference including once ranked Colorado State, Nevada and Mountain West leaders Boise State.
Even after missing the Cowboys Jan. 19 matchup against San Jose State with a minor knee injury suffered in a double-double performance against Nevada, Ike returned and managed yet another double-double with 29 points and 15 rebounds to earn a tight 93-91 win over New Mexico.
As a top-20 scorer in the nation, Ike is the second-leading scorer in the Mountain West behind only UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton — having played in two fewer games. These two are followed by Wyoming’s Hunter Maldonado averaging 19.3 PPG who, in contingent with Ike, make possibly the best offensive tandem in the conference.
What many might not know about Ike is how he actually arrived at Wyoming and specifically the persistence he’s needed to get to this point in his college career.
Ike was a highly recruited high school prospect who received offers from some of the countries biggest programs before a torn ACL saw many of those programs move on.
But one coach who stuck around was Linder who originally recruited the big-man as a head coach at Northern Colorado but after taking the job in Wyoming insisted that Ike join him in the Mountain West. Linder would eventually convince Ike, who before even stepping on the court at Arena-Auditorium and still sporting a brace on his right knee was praised by Linder as possibly one of the “best big men he’s ever coached.”
After sitting out the first thirteen games of the 2020-21 season, Ike came back in conference play to help Wyoming to a 14-11 finish, showing signs of his dominance in a 32 point, nine-rebound performance during the first round of the 2021 conference tournament for a 111-80 win over San Jose State.
Ike’s eighth-seeded Wyoming fell in the quarterfinals to the conference favorites and eventual tournament winners, nationally-ranked San Diego State, in a hard fought 69-66 loss. Despite some great performances and contesting the conference champions within one possession, Wyoming and Ike were viewed as massive underdogs heading into the 2021-22 season.
Cracking into the top-10 of this week's MMM Top 25, Wyoming and Ike are looking strong as ever in what’s been an exciting season of Mountain West basketball. A perfect 10-0 on home court, Ike has helped turn Laramie, Wyoming into a fortress built on offense and will need to continue that reputation tonight against a Utah State team that’s had its fair share of big wins and upsets this season.
Wyoming might not be top of the conference at the moment, but that underdog mentality suits Ike and has since before he even arrived on campus. He’ll play a huge role in any success the Cowboys see heading into the conference tournament and realistically beyond.