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LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — The locker room seems barren to Wyoming guard Josh Adams.
"You think people are late because there's only five, six other people in the locker room, but that's all we really have right now," the rising senior says.
For a team so cohesive — a team that brought the state together when it won the Mountain West Tournament title less than two months ago — it's a strange feeling.
Five seniors are graduating, and freshman Tyrell Williams' departure to transfer left a sixth vacancy.
Seven of the Cowboys' 13 players from the 2014-15 season are returning.
Those seven — Adams, Jason McManamen, Trey Washington III, Alan Herndon, Jeremy Lieberman, Alexander Aka Gorski and Jonathan Barnes — completed spring workouts recently.
"It's been real empty," said Adams, the Mountain West Tournament MVP. "We joke about it all the time because this is probably the toughest it's been in an offseason as far as numbers."
Said McManamen, a rising junior guard from Torrington: "We've got to recruit (the outgoing seniors) because otherwise there's only seven of us returners. It's tough to get guys to play."
After the Cowboys fell to Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, UW coach Larry Shyatt gave his team through the national championship game to take a step back and recharge for 2015-16.
NCAA regulations stipulate that student-athletes are limited to eight hours of instruction per week up until the week before final exams.
What Shyatt has observed is a team hungry for more success. A team facing uphill battles of inexperience and youth, but chomping at the bit to build on last season's accomplishments.
"The success that these guys have experienced didn't give them, in my estimation, a feeling of entitlement, but more enthusiasm, get-after-it mentality," Shyatt said. "... Sometimes, you inherently get some guys who are walking around with their chest out, but not really interested in doing the work. I haven't seen that at all. People made a fuss over them for probably the first time in years. I did not notice that."
Throughout spring workouts, Wyoming — though training in groups of four — has focused on building a strong foundation for next season.
Adams, McManamen and Herndon, a rising sophomore forward, received valuable playing time a year ago. But none of the Cowboys' other four returners boast extended experience.
Shyatt's priority this spring has been working more on screening, cutting and utilizing teammates rather than specific skill work like some programs fixate on.
"They're getting plenty of shooting in their own individual workouts and they're lifting four times a week," Shyatt said. "My specific goal was rather than work on your game when I'm in the gym, let's work on our game. How we can be better together?"
The 6-foot-2 Adams, who averaged 12.8 points, 3.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds last year, has seen his role change.
As he says, there used to be six leaders — he and five seniors — to offer leadership. Now, that responsibility lands on his shoulders.
"He was kind of in that leadership role last year, but I think he's also even taken it another step up in the leadership role this year," said McManamen, Wyoming's only other upperclassmen.
Shyatt has seen Adams evolve as a leader this spring, just as he has over the past three years.
"I have absolutely seen it grow," Shyatt said. "Actually, it's been a continual process since his freshman year.
"When June 8 comes and all 15 or thereabouts are here and our team is now becoming a form, then we'll talk about how can we best lead and who else can help Josh. Hopefully there will be a surprise or two."
On June 8, the Cowboys will begin eight weeks of team practice.
At least six incoming freshmen — four scholarship, two walk-ons — and a junior-college transfer will fill out the roster.
One scholarship remains available, which could be filled with a fifth-year transfer, a true freshmen, or anything between.
The locker room won't seem so barren then.
It'll be time to start a new journey.
"It's going to be an exciting summer," McManamen said. "We've got seven or eight new guys coming in, I believe. We'll be ready to work with them and prepare for next season."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
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