Dave Walsh: Jim Brandenburg’s UW Basketball Teams Were Gritty, Tough And Over-Achieving

Dave Walsh writes: “Wyoming very much took on the personality and style of their head coach. Jim Brandenburg teams played hard and tough. It was the Brandenburg style of play.”

Dave Walsh

June 22, 20234 min read

Dave walsh Uw
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Brandenburg years were some of the most entertaining, exciting and certainly successful years in University of Wyoming Cowboys men’s basketball history.

Jim Brandenburg was the program’s head coach for nine seasons, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been 36 years since he coached his last season at Wyoming. It seems like yesterday to many of us when the Pokes were playing and winning with coach Brandenburg leading the way.

And to me, the last few games with the great coach at the helm were a fitting, and a most memorable way, to finish things up.

Brandenburg’s last season at Wyoming was a spectacular one.

The Pokes would win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament with victories over Utah, UTEP and host New Mexico. Then it was on to the NCAA Tournament for the Cowboys.

The Pokes would play In Salt Lake City, and it was then and there where the Pokes would spring a pair of huge upsets with wins over two big-time, well-known college basketball powerhouses: Virginia and UCLA.

Huge crowds would show up to see the Pokes play the Cavaliers and the Bruins.

Wyoming would get a game-high 22 points from Eric Leckner, and 16 points and nine rebounds from Fennis Dembo in the win over Virginia. The game was played in front of 12,371 fans.

It was two days later with 14,994 in attendance in the Special Events Center when Fennis became famous.

Wyoming was playing mighty UCLA, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.

The game was nationally televised by CBS, and a nationwide audience got a look at the Wyoming Cowboys — and the Electric Man.

Dembo put on a show for the national audience. He even “mugged” courtside with Brent Musburger as the Cowboys had beaten UCLA to play their way to the Sweet 16.

The Wyoming Cowboys were off to Seattle, Washington, to face another powerhouse, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.

The Cowboys’ last game with Jim Brandenburg as Wyoming’s head basketball coach would be played in the cavernous Seattle Kingdome. This NCAA basketball game, Brandenburg’s last at UW, would be played in a football stadium.

As usual, the Cowboys were underdogs.

The Runnin’ Rebels were highly ranked and highly talented.

Armen Gilliam was UNLV’s leading scorer and, true to form, he would drop 38 points on the Pokes in this game. The Rebels had other stars, like Freddie Banks and Gary Graham, who both scored in double figures. Gerald Paddio, Jarvis Basnight and Mark Wade, with nine assists, were major contributors.

The Cowboys, in what would be their head coach’s last game at Wyoming, would play their hearts out and actually led by a point at halftime. But the Rebels got their game going, outscoring the Pokes by 15 points in the second half to win 92-78.

The Pokes played hard right to the very end.

But that was nothing new.

The Cowboys always brought utmost effort. They would play hard, and they would play tough.

Wyoming very much took on the personality and style of their head coach. Jim Brandenburg teams played hard and tough. It all started at the defensive end of the court.

Brandenburg teams were so disciplined and downright “tough” on defense.

Over the years it was widely known that nobody ever wanted to play the Cowboys. Wyoming was just so hard to attack, and the Pokes were difficult to prepare for.

It was the Jim Brandenburg style of play, the Brandenburg approach to the game, that made the Cowboys so successful and a downright pain in the you-know-what.

And it was Jim Brandenburg who built a consistently successful basketball program at Wyoming during the 1980s.

RIP, coach.

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Dave Walsh

Sports Columnist