DENVER (CBS4) – A decade ago Mike Dunlap turned the Metro State basketball team into a Division II powerhouse, complete with national championships. He did it by conducting practices before the sun came up. Current Metro State coach Derrick Clark inherited that crazy practice routine, and the Roadrunners are once again on a roll.

At a perfect 22-0, Metro State is the top team in all of Division II basketball and a legitimate contender for the school’s third national title.

“Our mission is to finish the job and go all the way through and see how far we can run this thing,” Clark said.

Clark runs what many would call a demanding practice, but the coach is only part of the challenge for the Roadrunners — just waking up for practice can be brutal. The wakeup call is at 4:45 a.m.

Forty-five minutes later, still groggy, the team piles out of a van for practice. They may be the top team in the country, two-time national champions, but they go to work in the dark.

“There’s no easy way of waking up at 4:45 a.m.,” forward/center Jonathon Morse said.

“That hit me … I was confused about why we get up so early,” guard Mitch McCarron said.

Why so early? No, it’s not cruel and unusual punishment, it’s a matter of necessity.

“We’ve got three schools on this campus — Metro State, University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver. Between them, their academics and intramurals, things like that, they need to find a time to share the gym,” said Andy Schlichting, Metro State Sports Information Director. “For men’s basketball, 6:30 a.m. works best.”

“I tell our guys, though, anybody’s who’s successful, they don’t sleep in until 10 a.m. You can go across the board in any kind of business or whatever, you’ve got to get up early and get the kill,” Clark said. “So it’s a good lesson for them.”

That good lesson has another benefit, at least for Clark; but not so much for the players.

“You’ve got to call it a night at like 9 p.m., 8 p.m., you’ve got to get in bed,” guard Demetrius Miller said.

“It builds a culture of toughness, and it also takes care of a lot of the nightlife, quite frankly,” Clark said.

By the end of one of the morning practices, sleep seems like a distant memory. A nap, on the other hand, could be in the very near future.

“If you can fit a nap in sometime during the day, you definitely try,” Morse said. “Preferably not during class.”

– By Steve Cox, CBS4 Executive Sports Producer


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