Appearing contrite and humble, JaQuan Lyle admitted Friday he’s looking forward to trying to put his recent past way behind him and starting things anew with the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-5 senior point guard has been cleared to play in Saturday’s game against Wyoming in The Pit, ending a weeklong break for a team that fell apart in January amid scandal, suspensions and injuries.
Lyle has missed the last four games — three of them losses — after first injuring his left knee and then organizing an ill-advised off-campus party the night his teammates were on the road getting blown out at Nevada. Two people were shot at that party, resulting in a two-game suspension for Lyle for what head coach Paul Weir described as “conduct detrimental to the team.”
“I feel bad. It was a terrible mistake on my part,” Lyle said before Friday’s practice in The Pit. “But I learned from it, grew from it and just happy and excited to just finally get back out there and play basketball.”
The Lobos’ top scorer and arguably their most valuable player before his injury, Lyle has spent much more time sitting and watching rather than playing since joining the program in 2017. He sat out his first season as a redshirt transfer from Ohio State, then last season after rupturing his achilles tendon.
“Watching games from the sidelines brought back memories from last year and two years ago,” Lyle said. “That just sucks, not being able to do anything. Not being able to help when you know you can.”
The oldest player on the roster at 23, he is averaging 17.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists. His return, as well as that of 6-9 junior Vance Jackson, could be just the boost the Lobos need to work their way out of their tailspin. Jackson has missed the last five games with a knee injury, and Weir said his return is imminent.
Jackson practiced with the team this week and went full speed Friday afternoon, but the coaching staff will wait until Saturday morning’s shoot-around to make a final determination as to whether he’ll play. The Lobos have lost four of the five games he’s missed and were losers in the Jan. 15 game when he was injured.
As Lyle was getting interviewed before Friday’s practice, Jackson was standing about 20 feet away jumping up and down while waving his arms trying to put a smile on Lyle’s face.
“You know, I think we all have life experiences, things we go through in our journey, and he’s had a great journey here so far,” Weir said of Lyle. “Obviously a bump in the road recently but I’m hopeful we’ll all look back on it one day as just that, and that his career will still finish on a very strong note.”
The Lobos (16-8 overall, 5-6 MWC) are in the home stretch with just seven regular season games remaining. They lost six of their last nine, stumbling from second place all the way to seventh. They do have three of their next four in The Pit, including Saturday’s game against last-place Wyoming, the worst rebounding team in the conference.
For Weir and the Lobos, it’s a chance to try and build any kind of positive vibe before heading into the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., the first week of March.
LOBO NOTESSo … about that redshirt: The curious case of Bayron Matos-Garcia is being treated like so many other things at UNM — with silence.
The team hasn’t said one way or the other if the wildly talented 6-8 freshman will play over the next few weeks or use that time as a redshirt to preserve his freshman year until the 2020-21 season. Matos-Garcia is enrolled and taking classes is the spring semester, even suiting up and participating in the team’s pregame warmup routine against San Diego State.
He still hasn’t played, and Weir has said all along he wants Matos-Garcia to redshirt but left the decision up to the player. The team has still not made Matos-Garcia available for comment, and Weir said Friday the team will issue a news release on Matos-Garcia’s status in the coming days — all without saying what his decision is.
No change: Weir said there the status of junior point guard JJ Caldwell remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s news that investigators have dropped a misdemeanor charge against him.
“I still have to follow Eddie’s lead on that,” Weir said, referring to UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.
Nuñez suspended Caldwell on Dec. 22 in the wake of two incidents of alleged battery against a 22-year-old woman. One of those cases was dropped when Alamogordo District Attorney John Sugg halted his investigation.
A second and potentially more serious felony charge could come from the other incident, which is still being investigated.
“It’s a very complex situation on a lot of different levels,” Weir said. “I’m not really, totally abreast of everything that it all means or what may have changed this past week.”