LARAMIE, Wyo. • The businesses at Interstate 25 mile marker 216 north of Denver are about to lose some business.
Mike and Chenell Herndon have stopped there — usually at Wendy’s or Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen — with stubborn superstition on their way from Colorado Springs to every Wyoming basketball game for the past five years, dating back to the time their son, Alan, was redshirting as a freshman.
“If we don’t stop there, they’re not going to win,” said Chenell.
“It’s worked more than it hasn’t,” Mike said.
All those miles and one change of cars (Alan got the hand-me-down) later, the Herndons stood on the court at Arena-Auditorium with Alan prior to Wednesday’s 66-54 victory over Air Force and bid farewell to their son’s career as part of Wyoming’s senior night celebration.
This basketball family — Mike played at Virginia Military Institute, Chenell at Wyoming — didn’t come alone, as they sat in a sea of 11 yellow shirts with their son’s picture on the front and “Alan” written on the back. Alan’s sister, Kim, was also present.
“It was a lot of fun. It’s bittersweet with this being his last home game,” Chenell said.
“We’re so proud,” Mike said. “Blessed beyond measure.”
The highlights of Herndon’s career were recounted during the ceremony. The Widefield graduate needs to appear once more to leave as Wyoming’s all-time leader in games played. He ranks No. 3 in blocked shots in program history. He’s scored 1,103 points, posted 57 games with double-digit points, 45 with double-digit rebounds and eight double-doubles.
Herndon’s 64 blocked shots this year lead the Mountain West and rank 25th in the nation.
His teammates credit Herndon’s big numbers to what seems like an abnormally long career.
“What’s it been 8, 10 years that you’ve been here?” fellow senior Hayden Dalton asked him.
It has felt like that at times for Air Force, which has gone 2-4 against Wyoming with Herndon on the floor, including losses in games in which he scored 16 and 15 points.
“I think he’s an unbelievable person,” Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said. “He’s not going to be done playing basketball — he’s going to play somewhere. I wish him all the best. And I’m glad he’s graduating.”
On Wednesday, Herndon scored nine points with six rebounds, three blocks and two assists. The Cowboys, comfortably ahead in the closing minutes after overcoming Air Force’s brief four-point lead early in the second half, were able to call timeout and substitute him out to allow the crowd to give him one final send-off.
All this for the 6-foot-9 forward who was so skinny when signing with the Cowboys in 2012 he drew this comment from then-Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt: “Alan is a lean young man that I call a piece of spaghetti right now. But he is going to be a very good pasta.”
To overcome that — somewhat, though he remains rail-thin — Herndon has burned that path between Laramie and Colorado Springs in the opposite direction of his parents. He took up boxing last spring and summer at Triple Threat Gym on the southeast side of town and felt it helped with toughness while providing a different kind of conditioning.
Herndon traces his basketball success to early mentors at Wyoming like Larry Nance Jr., but also to a fierce level of competition in his hometown.
“The competition I played down there with Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon for a couple years, those guys were kind of the kings when I was coming up,” Herndon said. “They were pretty much fighting for state each year. They were definitely guys I looked up to back when I was a little shorter and even more skinny, but definitely it got me ready and got me prepared for what I was going to face at the college level. It was nice.”
Herndon graduated from Wyoming this past spring with a degree in psychology and is pursuing a second degree in social science that he should finish this semester.
“I’m excited to see what his future is going to be,” Chenell said. “He wants to continue to bounce the ball. His passion is working with children. He has his degree. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Chenell and Mike will be watching Herndon’s next phase closely, but doing so likely won’t require quite so many six-hour road trips.