A new and different energy is coming from the Laramie Plainsmen basketball team, as they approach the start of their new season in Casper this weekend.

Laramie has a new head coach in Jim Shaffer. They have a new senior point guard in move-in transfer Noah Valdez. Add to that, a lot of experience returning, and there’s a lot of excitement to begin the new season.

The Plainsmen finished 2018-19 with an 8-14 overall record. They were 2-4 in the Southeast Quadrant. LHS lost both their games at the regional tournament, which included a tough overtime loss, and did not qualify for the state tournament.

In the offseason, Jim Shaffer, who has 35 years of experience as a high school basketball coach in Wyoming and Colorado, was hired to try to turn the program around. Laramie has been to the state tournament only once in the last six seasons.

Shaffer likes what he’s seen to this point in preparing for the new season. He says they’ve got a lot of kids that can play.

“I think a big strength for us will be our depth. From one to probably 12, we’re pretty good, so I really like the depth and the fact we can play a lot of kids.”

The Plainsmen return three starters in senior Tyler Oppie, junior Christian Mickelson, and sophomore Trey Enzi. A total of eight lettermen are back on this squad.

As Coach Shaffer put it, he’s not sure who will start and who will play the most, and starting last year doesn’t mean you will this year. The rotation will be determined as they go.

What will you see out of Laramie on the court? Shaffer knows what he wants for them to be successful.

“I really believe that defense and rebounding win championships. Those will be the things that are my biggest focus. We’re going to defend. We’re going to rebound. I love to play fast. If we can press, we’ll press, but we’ve got to defend and rebound. We want to create offense out of our defense, run the floor, and be as aggressive as we can in the open court and create easy baskets in our transition game.”

Laramie does have five seniors. Valdez is one of them, as he moved in from Midland, TX. Then there’s Oppie, Connor Killpack, Janson Adair, and Bridger Bleak. There are several juniors, a couple of sophomores, and even two freshmen that will play on the varsity this season.

Shaffer feels they’ll be able to do what he wants.

“We’re athletic. We’ve got kids that can shoot it. We’ve got really good basketball IQ, I think. We’ve got the talent there, it’s going to be putting it all together and, again, figuring out who the best rotations are.”

Shaffer added their big issue is how good the league is. He says with Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne East, and Sheridan being loaded, plus good teams in Campbell County and Thunder Basin, it will be difficult to qualify for the state tournament. Plus, the regional tournament is in Gillette.

“Somehow, we’ve got to figure out how to beat a couple of those teams and get to Casper (site of the state tournament).”

Two players Laramie will lean heavily on are Mickelson and Valdez. They talked with KOWB’s David Settle about the upcoming season, how the practices have gone, their goals, and more in the video above. One note, due to a technical issue, that video got cut off. KOWB apologizes to Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Valdez, as well as Plainsmen fans.

LHS starts with their new season at the Casper Buick GMC Cadillac tournament in Casper. They will play Riverton on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Then, the Plainsmen take on Jackson on Friday at 6 p.m. and will wrap up the tournament at Kelly Walsh on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Shaffer says hopefully they’ll go out and establish the culture that they’re going to guard people, play defense and rebound.

“To me, that’s the biggest piece. And, we’re going to play hard. I mean, if you don’t play hard, the rest of the stuff doesn’t matter. Everything has to start with playing hard, so those are going to be the things early. I don’t expect us to look great, in terms of execution, but if we’ll play hard and guard people, then I think we’ve got a chance early. As the season goes on, obviously, those execution things will get better as we practice and get through the season. The biggest things to me are that effort piece, and we’re gonna guard people early.”

After this weekend, LHS heads to the Flaming Gorge Classic in Green River on Dec. 19-21. Their first home game is part of the Taco John’s Invitational on Jan. 9, 2020, versus Green River. They will have two more home non-conference games before starting 4A Southeast Quadrant play against Cheyenne East and Cheyenne Central on Jan. 23 and 24, 2020.

The regional tournament is at Thunder Basin High School in Gillette on March 5-7, 2020. The 4A State Basketball Championships are March 12-14, 2020, in Casper.

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