If you’re willing to drink the Kool-Aid, boy are you in luck.
According to some (like, say, the head coach), the University of New Mexico is back to the land of relevance in men’s basketball. Like a fireball streaking across the sky, it has been a long time coming and may not last long — but, yikes, it could be fun.
One of the players (Vance Jackson) is a cover boy for Lindy’s, the team is picked as high as second in the Mountain West and 2019-20 marks the return of the suffocating full-court press everyone fell in love with two years ago.
The Lobos also return five of their top six scorers from a year ago and welcome a group of newcomers that, on paper, makes them at least 10 to 12 players deep. Familiar surnames like Jackson, Bragg and Maluach are merged with soon-to-be-familiar peeps like Lyle, Caldwell, Martin and Hendrix.
The bad news? NCAA rules still allow just one basketball per team.
The Lobos, it seems, will similarly have to persevere despite the elephant in the room that is the 2018-19 season where they finished below .500 and have now posted an uninspiring 82-78 record with no postseason appearances the last five years. Oh, and attendance started to stink so bad that The Pit really isn’t The Pit anymore. It’s basically the Pan Am Center on a really, really good day.
For what it’s worth, if head coach Paul Weir’s gut feeling means anything, then things will soon change. Normally a pragmatic and often thoughtful type, he seems almost upbeat when looking forward to what this group of Lobos can do.
Weir reported last week that season ticket renewals are ahead of schedule and that he’s as optimistic and encouraged about this team as he was during his only year as head coach at New Mexico State in 2016-17. The Aggies won 20 straight that year, finished with 28 wins and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
After what amounts to years of scandal, budget cuts and underachieving across the spectrum of UNM sports (minus, of course, for women’s cross country), it’s time for the department’s bell cow to start wowing the masses the way it used to.
As history suggests, nothing galvanizes the fan base like a wildly successful men’s basketball team.
Let’s assume for a second that Weir’s expectations are accurate, that this team can not only win games but also not immediately snap its spinal cord by patting itself on the back — kind of like it did with last January’s seismic upset of Nevada and follow it with 10 Ls over the course of the next 13 games.
Let’s assume that the chemistry is better, that the guard play is drastically improved, that bigs like Bragg and Manigault can actually get the ball without having to dive into the first row, that the guards make it seem like entry passes don’t hurt worse than surgery without anesthesia.
Top 25? NCAA Tournament?
Hold your horses, buddy boy. Don’t lose by 750 points to New Mexico State before puffing out the chest. Talk is talk and Lobo fans have learned the hard way that men’s hoops must prove itself before being taken seriously.
But at least they’re talking with players who finally seem capable of backing it up.
Will Webber’s opinion column about sports in New Mexico appears regularly in this section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.