- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Tom Burman remembers when a lanky basketball player by the name of Larry Nance Jr. first walked through the doors at Wyoming.

He didn’t look like a future first-round NBA Draft pick.

“Larry came in at like 175 (pounds),” the UW athletic director said with a laugh.

When Nance joined the UW program in June 2011, he was closer to about 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds. Cowboys coach Larry Shyatt once called him “a praying mantis.”

“His body’s changed,” Burman said. “I texted him the other day and I said, ‘You look good,’ because he looks bigger. And he goes, ‘It’s a lot easier to gain weight when the (Los Angeles) Lakers are feeding me.’”

Nance, who was selected by the Lakers with the 27th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, now measures 6-9 and 230 pounds.

He worked hard to add lean muscle during his four-year career with the Cowboys, but still only weighed a touch more than 220 pounds by the end of his senior year. He didn’t have the nutritional benefits that current UW student-athletes receive.

When the NCAA deregulated its nutrition rules in April 2014, Wyoming took advantage by expanding its sustenance offerings. It paid for the additional nourishment with the help of the state’s $5 million match of Cowboy Joe Club donations for the 2015-16 fiscal year. Along with nutrition, the unprecedented help from the state has allowed Wyoming to spend more on recruiting and cover the full cost of attendance, among other items.

Matt Whisenant, UW’s deputy director of athletics, says it gives the university the funding necessary to develop athletes so that Nance isn’t the exception, but the rule.

“That’s something that’s going to set us apart,” Whisenant said. “You hear (football coach Craig Bohl) speak about it, you hear (director of sports performance Zach Duval) speak about it, but we have to develop student-athletes. That’s a huge piece that we’ve been missing, the nutritional piece. To have that … that’s a difference maker for us.”

For 2015-16, UW budgeted $750,000 for nutrition, more than double what it paid a year ago. When the High Altitude Performance Center opens - currently scheduled for summer of 2017 - Burman expects to ramp that number up to at least $2.5 million per year.

“We’re not big enough,” Burman said. “We all think (standout freshman free safety) Andrew Wingard’s going to be a great player, but he’s 190 (pounds) … We’ve got to put weight on our kids. We’ve got to be a developmental program.”

Before UW coaches can develop these athletes, they’ve got to recruit them.

The match has allowed UW to increase its recruiting budget to a level comparable to that of the top teams in the Mountain West Conference.

In 2015-16, UW is spending $859,233 on recruiting, a 48 percent increase from 2014-15.

Football accounts for $464,733 of that funding after its recruiting budget grew by 85.4 percent from 2014-15. Its current budget should put it in the top three in the league.

“It really allows us to travel more, and that’s the biggest thing for us,” UW football recruiting coordinator Gordie Haug said. “For us to expand our recruiting area is going to cost some money. The availability to have those resources is extremely important for us to be able to go out and see kids during the year.”

Haug prioritizes the state of Wyoming in recruiting, but the reality is that only five Wyomingites in the 2014 and 2015 classes went to FBS programs on scholarship. The Cowboys sign roughly 25 players to each class, meaning that most recruits will come from out of state.

“Often times on Friday nights we’re chartering a plane and flying our football coaches around to high school games around the country, trying to get them out and get them visible,” Burman said. “That’s something San Diego State can do by driving. Our fans don’t get that sometimes. They’re like, ‘Well, if your budget’s the same as the Aztecs’…’ They don’t leave (California). They drive everywhere. There are 50 high schools in Wyoming. … Almost every kid we recruit is a plane flight.”

Burman has plans to add another $350,000 to UW’s overall athletic recruiting budget - if the $5 million match from the state is continued.

With the match, there’s room in the budget - which should exceed $38 million for 2015-16 - to pay for the newly implemented full cost of attendance ($721,956 this year), athletes’ summer course fees ($600,000), weight room technologies ($200,000), additional academic support ($100,000) and expanded concussion testing ($50,000).

“We don’t have to have the best budgets, but we’ve got to grow them,” Burman said. “In the areas of recruiting, team travel, nutrition, strength/conditioning, we’ve got to be top of the conference. We have to or we won’t succeed.”

But in light of the state’s anticipated $618 million shortfall, the future of the $5 million match is in jeopardy. Gov. Matt Mead has recommended $4 million a year in matching money. It will be up to the Legislature to settle on a number.

Burman believes the success of his athletic programs hinges on it.

“Obviously the economic downturn we’re experiencing now, the timing of it’s not good for us,” Burman said, “because we just finally got this going and Gov. Mead supports it and the legislature was supportive of it last year and we got this High Altitude Performance Center coming. But if we can find a way to stay the course, I believe it will pay dividends for the university and the state.”

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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