ROCK SPRINGS – It’s been a busy offseason for the Western Wyoming Community College men’s basketball team during these unprecedented times the world is facing.
The Mustangs lost key players to their National Junior College Athletic Association Region IX roster, such as Manel Ayol, Trey Marble, LeChaun Duhart, Trevor Trost and Sindou Cissee, who have gone on to further their academic and basketball careers at the next level.
But the Mustangs have signed three players who fit the culture and system head coach Steven Soza has been working to establish over the last two years.
Sullivan Menard, Ty Foster and Marcus Collins are highly-regarded basketball players who have decided to go the junior college route and work to help Western Wyoming repeat as Region IX champions.
Menard, who was a redshirt freshman and walk-on prospect at DePaul University last season, was a Gatorade Player of the Year and 4A Player of the Year at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska.
During his senior year, he averaged 15.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.1 steals per game, leading his team to the state semifinals with a 25-3 record.
His relationship with Soza and the convincing from former Western Wyoming head coach Ryan Orton, who is an assistant at University of Alaska Anchorage, ultimately helped him decide to become a Mustang.
“I heard him out on his vision for the program and what kind of guys he wants to bring in. I attribute a lot of that to coach Orton at University of Alaska Anchorage. He was the former coach at Western Wyoming. He kind of brought up the idea of me going there. He talked about how he really thinks coach Soza is a great guy, great coach. My relationship with coach Soza is really what pulled me over,” Menard said.
He believes his game and experience can help the Mustangs build on what the team accomplished last season, adding that he can help teammates get to where they ultimately want to go.
“I’d say I’m an unselfish player and I think that’s what coach Soza is looking for. I want to win and I don’t expect to come here to be the man. We’re all in it together. We’re going to work together. I can bring that mentality about winning. Coming from a program that plays at a high level, I know what it takes,” he said.
“Hopefully I can shine light on how hard we have to work to get to a place where these guys ultimately want to go, whether that’s playing Division I or Division II basketball.”
Soza also said that Orton helped with the recruitment of Menard, adding that he can be an all-region type player for the Mustangs.
“His experience and the information we received from coach Orton, the former head coach at Western Wyoming. He talked about how Sullivan has the opportunity to be an all-region type player with his shooting ability, his tenacity, his toughness and his work ethic. That’s everything that we’re looking for as we build on our success from last year,” Soza said.
Foster, who played for Lincoln High School in Denver, Colorado, last season, was heavily recruited out of high school, receiving different offers from Division I and Division II schools.
During his senior year, he averaged 13.4 points, 4.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Like Menard, it was the relationship he built with Soza that led him to Rock Springs.
“Really, I loved the relationship I have with coach Soza. He feels like a big brother to me. He looks out for me and my best interest. That’s the kind of people I like to be around. He also kept it 100% for me from Day One when I first spoke to him. That had a big impact on my decision,” Foster said.
Foster has a bright personality and it shines through the community that he said loves to be active in. He said that he plans on bring his winning history to the Mustangs to help them repeat as Region IX champions.
“First of all, I’m a respectful young man. I know the community will love me. Being a good person and active in the community is something I’m big on. Two, I’m a playmaking guard that’s used to winning and playing at a high level,” he said. “I’m very exciting. I can pretty much do a little bit of everything. I’m excited to go and help them get another Region IX championship.”
Being from Colorado, Foster is already familiar with a couple of current Mustangs, such as sophomore forward Dayne Prim and sophomore center Tray Pearce. He believes that familiarity with those players will make for an easy transition that will speed up the team chemistry building.
“I’ve played against them in high school. I know them. I know their game. It’ll feel good to step out on the court with them. I feel like it will be an easy transition because we know each other,” he said.
“The more you know a person, inside and out, it’ll be so much easier – especially with the coaches that we have. I know them to be hard workers and it showed last season with the type of season they had. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Soza said Foster can bring plenty to the table and that he fits the culture of the program, which is bringing in high-character, high academics and high basketball IQ players.
“He was recruited pretty heavily out of high school by a lot of Division I schools. Fortunately for us, he chose to go the junior college route. I think his athletic ability, leadership style and IQ for the game of basketball fits to what we’re trying to do,” Soza said. “He’s a genuine floor leader. He has personality that people attract to and he’s just an all around great human and leader that you try to find to run your team.”
Collins is another highly recruited guard coming out of high school. He comes from Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Washington.
During his senior year, Collins averaged 19.3 points, 5.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 steals per game.
Soza said he’s expecting great things from Collins.
“Marcus came in highly recommended. He actually had some looks from University of Maine, Cornell and Brown. However, those Division I schools decided to go in different directions. He did have looks from Division II schools in the Pacific Northwest. He turned those down and decided to go the junior college route to give him a chance to play Division I down the road. He’s a capable, explosive scorer, great leader, floor general,” Soza said.
With most of the roster returning next season and the new players added this offseason, the Mustangs are poised for another great season after their historic run in 2019-2020. Western Wyoming had its best record in school history with a 30-4 record.