Clay Verk was a little uncomfortable the first weekend of Colorado Mesa's basketball season.
Ethan Menzies was downright nervous in his college debut.
Verk scored only two points and had five rebounds in the Mavericks' two games in the D2 Conference Challenge, and Menzies had five points and 10 rebounds.
Fast forward two weeks and you can see a big difference in the Mavs' big men.
Verk, a 6-foot-8 junior transfer from Stetson, scored 23 points in two games last week in Gunnison, with five rebounds. Menzies finished with 15 points and nine boards.
"I think it's just me being more comfortable and playing my game," Verk said of the difference. "When I felt that comfortability I was able to perform."
The Mavericks immediately established the paint in their runaway wins against Pacific Union and Midland, which opened up the entire offense.
"Once we established the paint, established the post players, it really opens up everything else," Verk said. "If they can't stop us down low, then we'll keep going to that. If they double-team me or whatever, we'll kick it back out and our great shooters can get going."
Menzies is the only freshman logging minutes. At 6-7, he feels a little more comfortable as a forward, but is backing up Verk as the post. The chance to play right away helped him decide to follow fellow Half Moon Bay, California, product Tommy Nuno to Colorado.
"(Coach Mike DeGeorge) told me about the roster and there's no one really in my position except Clay," he said. "I thought it was a great opportunity. Hopefully we can keep getting more bigs and I can move to the 4 maybe. I don't see myself as a 5 man, but it's a good opportunity for me."
Menzies and Nuno played together one year in high school, but were on the same AAU team and had known each other for a few years — their older brothers are the same age. When he was being recruited by CMU, Menzies talked to Nuno about the school and program, and was convinced. The first couple of weeks had his head spinning, right into his college debut.
"I was pretty nervous my first game," he said. "I'm a freshman, so it's kind of understandable. After the first few plays it's just like any other game I've played in my life. During warmups I kind of had some jitters and got subbed into the game and I was like, 'All right, this is it. This is the next four years of my life.' A couple of plays later, it's just another game."
CMU fans will get their first look at the revamped lineup this weekend in the annual Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic. For Verk, it's a chance to play close to home again — a ThunderRidge High School graduate, he played at Stetson University (Florida) before transferring.
"I wanted to come back home, allow my parents to see more games, which is awesome for them," he said. "I always had my eye on Mesa and the RMAC, so it's good to be back home."
Weather permitting, he's planning to meet his parents in Breckenridge for Thanksgiving and then coming back to Grand Junction for the tournament. The Mavericks (2-2) play Missouri Western on Friday and Montana Western on Saturday, both at 7 p.m.
Having a week between games allowed the Mavericks time to make adjustments and continue to get to know one another on the floor.
"The first couple of weeks were getting used to each other, getting used to our games, because no one really knew what we like," Menzies said. "Then we got put into two games against really good teams still not really knowing what we like and what we're used to.
"We came close (losing both games by a combined four points) and that next two weeks when we didn't have any games we finally figured out this is what these guys like."
For Verk, that was getting the ball down low on the block and taking it right to the rim or kicking it back out if the defense sagged down.
"We were able to take a step back and look at how we played and put in the extra work if we needed it," he said. "As a team I think that was really important because we played really good competition. To have that week to get better was really important to us."
For Menzies, it was more time to adapt to college hoops.
"Just me slowing down," he said. "Everything was super, super fast when I got here. The pace of the game is higher than I was used to. Once I got used to all that, I slowed myself down. Whenever I get in there I just breathe and make sure I slow myself down.
"It's kind of like the game going from junior high to high school or JV to varsity. The pace is just way different and it takes a couple of weeks to get used to."
Both big men have big hopes for the Mavericks this season as they continue to learn about their teammates.
"The first weekend we were still kind of figuring things out and this past weekend I think we finally were getting things going," Menzies said. "This is just the beginning."