A team slogan is only as strong as the people who define it, every day.

For the Colorado State Rams, “Team Together” has been their slogan since 2012, when Larry Eustachy took over the squad, leading a senior-laden team to the NCAA Tournament and earning a victory there. It was arguably the greatest year in CSU men’s basketball history, finding their way into the national rankings and finishing 26-9.

That year was Niko Medved’s last with CSU as an assistant, leaving to take on the head coaching role at Furman. He was successful enough in four years to earn an opportunity at Drake, exceeding expectations with a 17-17 season there last year.

Now, Medved’s returned to coach Colorado State. When he was hired in March, the entire community who support men’s basketball came out to his press conference. He shook hands, said all the right things, joked around with former players like Dwight Smith and Pierce Hornung, the latter of which is an assistant coach. The former, just a former player who loves his coach that much.

From Day 1, Medved’s changed the tone and the culture of CSU men’s hoops.

“It’s my job to earn their trust and respect,” Sorry – this audio content is no longer available.. “Just because I have the head coach label, it doesn’t mean I automatically get their respect. I have to earn that from them. But they have to earn it from me, too. It’s a two-way street, this is a partnership.”

At that press conference was the entire CSU men’s basketball team, including Nico Carvacho and Prentiss Nixon, the two biggest stars on a team which went through a ton of turmoil the last few years. Not only was there the national embarrassment of Eustachy’s “culture of fear” making its rounds last season, but the year before, the Rams were forced to play with seven players due to three of them being declared academically ineligible.

Nixon left Colorado State, which will be a blow in the backcourt this season. But Carvacho – an even more important player – stayed. At that presser in March, he was still undecided on where he’d play in 2018-19. What convinced the dynamic, 6’11” forward to stay in Fort Collins?

“When Coach Medved and his staff were hired, they made a big effort to get to know me, and get personal with me,” Carvacho explained. “Text me, call me, working me out, taking me to get food.”

“It’s more of a ‘Team Together’ family [now],” Carvacho said of the change in culture this offseason.

During CSU men’s basketball’s first-ever Media Day, I asked Medved about what “Team Together” means to him, and how this staff is nourishing that culture change.

“When you have something like that, the slogan, it’s not something you can just write on the wall, it’s how you live every day,” Medved said. “I think that, what we’ve done since we’ve gotten here is really spending time getting to know these guys…Investing in them, whether it’s film, workouts, going to lunch.

“Just preach those things every day, that, ‘It’s about something bigger than you,’” the head coach continued. “When you can buy into something like that, great things can happen.”

Clearly, the message has been delivered consistently, from the incoming staff to the players. Unlike in the past, this staff is really buying into their players, which makes the young men more willing to buy into Medved’s coaching philosophies.

“Credit to this coaching staff, this is probably the hardest I’ve worked in an offseason,” redshirt junior Anthony Masinton-Bonner explained. “They’re going to text you every day, make sure you’re getting shots up…I’ve definitely noticed a big change in not only my game, but some of my teammates’ games.”

Certainly, the coaching staff understands this is an uphill battle they’re facing. CSU went 11-22 last season, their first losing year since way back in 2008-09. They lost Nixon, the team’s leading scorer from last year, and now have to implement their new coaching strategies on both ends of the court in a hurry.

That’s why they put in so much time during this offseason with the team, learning each and every one of the players. The staff pushed those players individually on the court in workouts, but then also bonded with them off the court, allowing the young men to be themselves.

“I feel like we’re able to express ourselves more, on and off the court,” senior forward Deion James explained. “They’ve been real hands-on. I feel like they’re a little more personal [than the last regime]. That’s going to be a plus to this season.”

For a team that looked dejected at times last season, this new staff is breathing life back into them.

“I would say, man, just fun and positive,” Masinton-Bonner said of the culture change. “You can walk around Moby and not really be on your toes. You can relax…Obviously, when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. But, these coaches; dinner at their houses, cracking jokes with them.

“Those little things, that’s what really makes a team successful,” the guard continued. “That’s how you build that trust off the court, and then it builds on the court.”

Speaking of building on the court, Medved’s increased the transparency of the program by taking the closed practices of yesteryear and opening them all to the media. He also invited fans down to a free, open-door scrimmage at Moby Arena, allowing the new players to bond in a game-like environment.

With a new coaching staff and a bevy of incoming players, there are bound to be some bumps in the road as this season tips off in earnest in one week, on Nov. 7. Things won’t be perfect, but Medved’s staff has taken the necessary steps, put in the time needed to truly form an alliance with these players before a game even takes place.

The culture change from just calling it “Team Together” to actually embracing what that means is a complete 180 from what we’ve seen the last seven years. This staff really, truly cares about their players, and that’s already been reciprocated. While the 2018-19 Rams may not compete for the Mountain West championship, they’ll be improved from last year, no doubt.

And, they’re laying the foundation for success in the near future under Medved. Keep an eye on the Rams this year, because it’s just the beginning of something special happening at Colorado State.

More Rams reading: Eddie Herz takes a look at CSU men’s basketball’s first six games of the regular season.

More Rams: Listen to the latest CSU RamsCast here.