Elder statesmen front Rams squad

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The coaching staff shouldn't have been surprised to see fifth-year senior forward Colton Iverson drinking coffee and taking notes Friday morning during a Colorado State tape session.

Iverson is one of five senior starters on a team that is a rare breed in college basketball. Miami has fifth- and sixth-year players. But the norm for most teams is to have a sprinkle of underclassmen in the top five or six.

This Colorado State team is anything but traditional. This new coffee habit is a symbol of the maturity the Rams have shown and will need to display when they play top-seeded Louisville Saturday night at Rupp Arena.

Iverson transferred from Minnesota to play for Tim Miles and he sat out last season.

While Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk has been receiving praise for his work during a redshirt year, some of the love should also be shifted to Iverson. He changed his body during the year off. He's lighter on his feet. Tubby Smith taught him to play defense at Minnesota. Miles schooled him on how to become more of an offensive threat. Miles left for Nebraska so when Larry Eustachy was hired he molded him into being an all-around player.

"I've been able to take away from all three coaches and learn a lot," said Iverson. "The year off gave me a lot of confidence. I took that year off and used it to my advantage."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he followed Iverson due to his close association with Smith. He now sees an all-around player and an outstanding rebounder who can score over either shoulder.

But it wasn't until this year that Iverson took on the odd habit for a high-level college basketball player.

"It actually started over Christmas break this year," said Iverson. "I used to hate coffee but Wes Eikmeier and Jesse Carr got me hooked and ever since I have to have it every day."

And here's the twist. He drinks it right before practice. By Friday afternoon, Iverson had already had a few cups.

"The younger guys on the team give us crap about it when we show up drinking coffee every day and they're drinking Powerade," said Iverson. "They joke we're the old guys."

Carr said he tries to get Iverson to drink water as well so he doesn't get dehydrated. That was Steve Barnes' plea, too. The longtime Eustachy assistant, who is the director of player personnel, said he found it odd that Iverson, Carr and Elmeier would drink it right before practice. But it has worked for them and they're not about to stop.

Carr said he started drinking coffee the last 10 games of the season and he played well. So he has become superstitious about it. The three players will stop at McDonald's and get coffee before practice and games.

"We were about to start practice here (Wednesday) and I see him (Iverson) drinking a McDonald's coffee on the side before we started running,'' said Carr. "We've all accepted it that we're old for college basketball at 22-23 years old."

Barnes had to do a double take when he saw Iverson jotting down notes with his coffee as if he was attending a seminar.

"I felt bad I wasn't taking notes," said Barnes. "They're an older mature group."

And that's why the Rams won't get rattled against the Cardinals, even if they get flustered by the pressure. They can score. They can board. They can handle the ball. This CSU team has been in games at UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State and have not been flummoxed by the atmosphere.

"This is our last go-round and with five seniors we are looking at every game, taking notes and what to make sure we know what their capabilities are," said Iverson.

Iverson credits Eustachy with putting everything together in his game. Eustachy said he has never had a player improve as much as Iverson.

Now the two, along with the other seniors on this team, will try to shock the tournament and knock off the Cards.

If there is one sidebar to watch during the Butler-Marquette game Saturday night it will be the two coaches' demeanors.

Butler players relish Brad Stevens' calm approach. Stevens can get upset. But he never gets too wild.

Marquette's Buzz Williams is animated, but he reads his team's needs. When the Golden Eagles hit game winners to beat St. John's and Davidson in the past two weeks -- both by Vander Blue -- Williams didn't jump around like Steve Lavin. He stood firm, saw the ball go in and calmly walked down to shake hands with the opposing coach.

"He brings energy to the team and that's good," said Davante Gardner. "It's really funny. Sometimes when I'm on the court, I peek over to see what he's doing."

Trent Lockett and Chris Otule said they don't notice Williams as much during the game but when they see the tape of one they are immediately drawn to him. Williams sweats quite a bit and that's why he shows up in postgame news conferences with a different shirt. Otule disclosed a secret about Williams -- he has to wear a Dri-Fit shirt underneath due to the sweat.

"At the end of the game his Dri-Fit looked like he actually played in the game since it's so sweaty," said Otule. "He's just a really energetic person. It's an honor to play for him."

Williams doesn't hide his emotions. He pushes when he has to and holds back on other occasions.

"I understand that it's emotional most of the time but so much of what we do is based on energy," said Williams. "I don't think that you can have great energy without great emotion."