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The NCAA took the proper action Wednesday. The governing body elected to grant another year of eligibility to all winter sports athletes.

That means collegiate athletes such as swimmers, basketball players and wrestlers can compete in any number of meets, games and matches this upcoming season and it won’t count against their eligibility clock.

This is huge news for the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team. This ruling is as impactful for the Pokes as any team in the country.

Jeff Linder is entering his first season as the head coach of UW. He comes to Laramie from Northern Colorado, and judging by his success in Greeley, there’s little doubt he’ll succeed in the High Plains. But that imminent success may not happen overnight. Linder is a new coach, with new philosophies, a new style of play and it may take time for that to firmly grab hold at Wyoming.

Linder is coming in tasked with changing a culture, and to be blunt, a losing culture. The Pokes were a combined 17-48 over the last two seasons.

While the Pokes had talent, it didn’t materialize into many victories. Linder will have to remain patient as the Cowboys try to develop a winning mentality with players who’ve largely lost on a consistent basis.

There’s veteran talent on this 2020-21 UW roster that was unfortunately caught in a losing culture. Players such as Hunter Maldonado, Hunter Thompson and Kwayne Marble II are good players, bonafide upper-echelon Mountain West Conference players, and they proved it at last year’s conference tournament.

But that conference tournament run was a small blip on what has been a bumpy road. By in large, the team has struggled the last couple years, and a, pardon the cliche, culture change is in order.

That process usually takes time. It takes time for a new head coach to implement his systems and his philosophies. It takes time for that new team to adopt those mentalities and those philosophies.

The NCAA’s ruling — essentially not counting this upcoming season against an athlete’s eligibility clock — gives Linder another year with Maldonado, Thompson, Marble and others. It allows Linder a test run of sorts in 2020-21, as this season can be one where he works out all the kinks with no sand falling down in the hourglass.

It’s not a question of whether an extra year will have an impact on the aforementioned UW players, but how big an impact. That proof, as they say, is in Greeley.

Jonah Radebaugh made a significant leap in his third season under Linder, jumping from 9.5 points per game to 16.5 ppg. Jordan Davis vaulted from averaging 16.3 ppg as a junior to one who averaged 23.5 ppg as a senior. Andre Spight scored a modest 6.6 ppg at Arizona State, and when he transferred to Linder’s UNC Bears, he poured in 22.5 ppg.

If Maldonado, Thompson and Marble take to Linder’s coaching, they too can experience a similar uptick in production. That’s precisely why an extra year of eligibility is so huge for Wyoming.

It allows more time for the inevitable growing pains that accompany a head coach at a new program. It allows more time for Linder to help Maldonado — who is a third-team All-MWC performer — fine tune an already mostly refined game. It affords more time for Linder to help Thompson realize his potential. It provides more time for Linder to help Marble reach his high ceiling.

Not much good has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The extra year of eligibility for winter sport athletes is a nice adjustment and one that will benefit Wyoming.


Pokes in the Pros

Cincinnati linebacker Logan Wilson logged his second-career interception in a 27-3 loss at Baltimore.

Atlanta running back Brian Hill registered 39 yards on six carries and added 15 yards on two receptions in a 23-16 loss to Carolina.

Chicago’s Tashaun Gipson recorded four tackles in the Bears’ 20-19 victory over Tampa Bay.

Bud Denega, former sports reporter at The Sheridan Press, is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and currently works as assistant sports information director at Northwestern State University. He is pursuing a masters degree in sports administration.

Cowboys Corner columnist

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