Oct. 29—LARAMIE — Nate Barnhart is the tallest University of Wyoming men's basketball player since 2010.
The 7-foot forward redshirted during his first season in Laramie. Over the past year, the Lenexa, Kansas, product has made the most of his time on the Cowboys' scout team to prepare himself for the Division I spotlight.
During his first year on campus, one of Barnhart's main responsibilities was helping build junior Ike Graham into a more well-rounded post presence during practice. Of course, the pair going back and forth on a daily basis also was a way for Barnhart to grow stronger himself.
"I've been guarding Graham Ike, who's one of the best post players in the country, so that's helped me a lot with my game," Barnhart said. "It's helped me tremendously, just from a defensive standpoint, because he still kicks my butt, but I can tell the difference from last summer, when I first came here, that I've gotten a lot better.
"Guarding him, and trying to keep him in front of me as much as I can, has really helped with my footwork and taking the right angles. My strength has definitely come a long way."
Jeff Linder, who's going into his third season as the Cowboys' coach, knew Barnhart needed to gain weight if he was ever going to make his presence felt in the program.
"The thing about Nate was it's never been about his ability as a basketball player," Linder said. "It was just a matter of his body continuing to grow and develop. He came in here as a freshman at 170 pounds at 7-foot. Now, he's probably about 195 pounds and still has probably 20 to 25 pounds to go.
"You can see how much of a difference having that redshirt year under his belt has made. The redshirt year was huge for him."
Part of Barnhart's development was playing for the Cowboys during a summer trip to Greece. UW scrimmaged professional teams during the off-season, which helped Barnhart expand his game and get acclimated to seeing different styles of basketball.
"It was an unreal experience," Barnhart said. "Going over to Greece was great, and it was cool to see the arenas we played in because they were so different. We got to see some of their teams there and just how they play basketball. There were definitely some differences; you could tell right away."
Barnhart didn't just enjoy his time in Greece for sightseeing. The redshirt freshman wanted to continue to prove to Linder and the rest of the coaching staff that he can make an impact for the Cowboys moving forward.
The trip to Greece was the first time Barnhart played in a live game since high school.
"It was extremely important for me to play well because we have a long list of guys that can play on this team," Barnhart said. "I'm just working as hard as I can to take my opportunity and try to get some playing time this year."
Ike has a collection of nicknames for Barnhart, including "Slim Reaper" and the "Red Reaper" because of his tall frame and bright red hair. Aside from creating new nicknames for one of his understudies, Ike also has taken it upon himself to guide Barnhart through the early stages of his college career.
"I was thinking about him last night, actually," Ike said. "He was blocking some of my shots in practice earlier that day. To be able to play against Nate, a 7-footer, every single day, I'm truly grateful. There are not too many guys that tall. Honestly, the swag Nate has and the way he carries himself is just amazing."
Ike has also developed a mentoring role for freshman Caden Powell, who stands at 6-foot-10.
"I was kind of the same way as them when I was a freshman, so if I can, I want to eliminate some of the foot-holes for them that I might have stepped in when I was coming up," Ike said. "I want to teach them how to do certain things in a certain way so they can avoid some of the things that I had to go through.
"I want to make them better than me at the end of the day."
Linder has seen continued growth from Barnhart going into his second season in the program. But what sticks out to Linder is Barnhart's work ethic and ability to never back down from having to face Ike in practice.
"When you're going up against a guy like Graham every day, it's hard, because he's one of the best players in the country, and he can make you look silly," Linder said. "But his effort never waivers, and he just keeps coming back for more, knowing that, in the long run, those are the reps that are going to make him better."
Barnhart doesn't know what to expect going into his second year in Laramie. But he does know his main focus will be helping the team in whatever capacity possible.
"I just want to do whatever I can do to help this team," Barnhart said. "If that means being on the scout team again, so be it, but I just want to do whatever it takes. Watching this group of guys this year, with all the new transfers we got, it's been crazy to see how well we've really molded together and how our personalities fit so well together so that our team chemistry just keeps growing and growing."
Barnhart's minutes will likely be limited by the amount of veteran talent in front of him on the depth chart. But his goal now is to be ready to check in when Linder calls his name.
"You always hear people say, 'Make the most out of the opportunities,'" Barnhart said. "If that time comes where I'm going into a game, I'm going to be as ready as I can be to help this team out."
Alex Taylor covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at email@example.com or 269-364-3560. Follow him on Twitter at @alex_m_taylor22