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Local products helping lead Wyoming basketball to success

Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado, who were both Colorado prep stars, star for the Cowboys.

LARAMIE, Wyo. — At Overland High School, Wyoming big man Graham Ike wasn’t really recruited to stay in state -- so the Colorado kid took to Laramie.

“Just being on both lines having two homes in a sense, it’s been pretty good,” said Ike, who was just named the Lute Olson National Player of the Week, “You still get love back home and they still show you love.”

Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder says he saw Ike’s hidden potential right away.

Linder originally recruited Ike when he was at Northern Colorado. Linder got the Wyoming job and confided Ike to follow.

“I knew what I saw in him and I really believed that he was going to be the player he was,” Linder said. “I’ve been telling people for a long time.”

Credit: AP
South Florida forward Jalyn McCreary (4) guards Wyoming forward Graham Ike (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Ike’s career up to this year has been injury riddled. A torn ACL his senior year of high school lead to him playing just 12 games as a freshman for the Pokes last season after rehab. Now, fully healthy, Ike is 2nd in the Mountain West in points per game (20.6) and 3rd in rebounding (9.4).

“Oh I was so hungry. Still am. I was really heavy before I tore my ACL and then I slimmed down all the way. That just happened to change my mindset. It’s been a long journey, seriously. A humbling experience.”

The other Wyoming star is Colorado Springs native (Vista Ridge High School) Hunter Maldonado, who’s also found his way in the Cowboy state. He also wasn’t heavily recruited in the Centennial State.

“Wyoming believed in me from the jump and I wanted to go out there and show them that their bet was not for nothing and I could be the person they wanted me to be and more,” said Maldonado, who was named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week last week.

So what’s it like to walk around campus as one of the league’s most decorated players?

“Everyone’s happy, everyone’s telling me congratulations,” Maldonado said as he smiled. “Keep doing well and they’ll be at the next game so it’s super fun and super exciting.”

Credit: AP
Wyoming guard Hunter Maldonado (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The numbers solidify Maldonado to be one of the Cowboy greats. He’s top 5 all-time in assists and top-15 in points. But to become a Pokes legend? A conference title and an NCAA tournament run would cement his legacy.

“My first year we won like 22 games then after that we probably didn't win two games in two seasons/ three seasons so it was definitely tough but being able to stick with that adversity and be cowboy tough as we like to call it and come out on the other side on top would be huge.”

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