The University of Wyoming men’s basketball team hasn’t and won’t win many games this season. But the return of Jake Hendricks has made and will make the Pokes competitive and, at the very least, watchable for the last month of the season.
Hendricks tore his lateral collateral ligament just before Christmas and returned to the floor for the first time three games ago at Air Force. He immediately made his presence felt.
Hendricks, who was lightly penciled in to play sparingly, saw a generous 29 minutes of floor time and made the most of it. He connected on seven shots from 3-point land in a 21-point effort.
When Hendricks sustained his knee injury back in December, the Pokes didn’t just lose a veteran starter. They also lost a double-digit scorer who spaces the floor with his innate ability to hit the 3 — Hendricks made 34 treys in the season’s first 12 games.
The return of the Smithfield, Utah, product has had a positive ripple effect on the entire team and a couple guys especially.
Justin James has carried the Pokes this season. That’s no secret and there’s no refuting that, as he’s led UW in every major statistical category.
However, the burden of carrying such a heavy load on a young and largely unsuccessful team appeared to have worn on James. The pride of Port St. Lucie, Florida, averaged 22.9 points per game in the nonconference portion of the schedule but only averaged 15.9 points per contest in the first eight MWC games — all games in which Hendricks did not participate. James only shot better than 50 percent from the floor in one of those eight games.
In the three games since Hendricks returned, James has averaged 28 points per game, which included a career-high 36 points in a victory over Colorado State Saturday. He has hit 53 percent (26 of 49) of his field-goal attempts and 10 of 19 shots from 3-point land. Hendricks has revived UW’s unquestioned leader and has also aided the younger players, as well. Trace Young — who burst onto the scene hitting the game winner over Dixie State just after Christmas — has experienced his best stretch of basketball in the last three contests.
After recording 16- and 10-point performances in his first two MWC games, Young only tallied a combined 22 points over his next six games. He went 7-for-35 from the floor and turned the ball over 21 times. The freshman from Owensboro, Kentucky, who appeared as a marksmen from 3-point land, connecting on five of his first seven 3s in conference play, went two for his next 18 from deep.
Young went through a dry spell and also didn’t look comfortable out on the floor. However, in the last three games, he’s poured in a combined 35 points and made seven treys and is visibly gaining confidence with every minute he plays.
Hendricks does a lot for the Pokes. Does he instantly transform them from a bottom-dwelling MWC club into a contender? No, not in the slightest. Does Hendricks make UW better? Yes. And it’s not just his 11.3 points per game, but also the affect he has on everyone from the veteran leaders to the young guys trying to find their way.