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DU Men’s Basketball Eager to Prove Doubters Wrong

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Justin Beach

Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Pioneers begin their 2019–20 season against the Colorado State Rams

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When you’re projected to finish ninth in a conference made up of only nine teams, it’s easy to play with a chip on your shoulder.

“We got picked ninth. That’s a slap in the face to all of us that are returning,” says DU men’s basketball coach Rodney Billups. “It’s on every practice plan, and it’s in every message: We got picked ninth. That’s motivation for us. For me, as the coach, I got picked ninth as well. So, we have to battle every single day.”

That slap in the face is in response to a team that struggled last season and that returns this season with only two upperclassmen. Of the 13 student-athletes on the University of Denver roster, seven are in their first year of wearing the crimson and gold.

“It’s a really big challenge for us considering that we are really young,” says sophomore guard Taelyr Gatlin. “But at the same time, I think it’s good for us because it gives us more time to build chemistry for the long run.”

The youth on the team has forced some young players to step up and take on a leadership role. Sophomore Jase Townsend finished his freshman year as a starter. He’s expected to start this year in the back court, and he knows that comes with added responsibilities.

“It can get rough at times,” Townsend says. “I learned a lot last year as a freshman, and now I can carry that over to my second year. I feel like I’m ready to do that and take on a leadership role and hold my teammates accountable.”

Billups says that with such a young team, he is spending a lot more time teaching in practice and being patient as the student-athletes make mistakes. He believes experiencing these lessons now can help later in the season should the team face the adversity of a losing streak.

“We went through that last year. We have to continue to talk about and be accountable for our unacceptables,” Billups says. “We are going to be honest with each other, and we are not going to lie to each other. We are going to play hard no matter what the situation is.”

The games start to count for the Pioneers on Tuesday night when they travel to Fort Collins to play Colorado State University. It’s the first of 14 nonconference games before DU opens play in the Summit League — their opportunity to prove that ninth-place selection wrong.

“We talk about that every day as a big motivation. It’s a big chip on all of our shoulders to prove everyone wrong,” Townsend says. “They are going off what happened last year, and I feel like it’s a whole new team this year and we have a whole new mindset.”