High hopes for New Mexico State | NevadaAppeal.com

High hopes for New Mexico State

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth and final in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at New Mexico State

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

The Reggie Theus Era ended almost as quickly as it started at New Mexico State.

The personable Theus lasted two seasons before bolting to coach the Sacramento Kings in the NBA, but he put the Aggies back on the college basketball map in the process.

New Mexico State won the WAC’s post-season tournament a year ago, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Unlike many coaches who leave an empty cupboard for their successor, new coach Marvin Menzies has a pretty good nucleus to work with.

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Justin Hawkins, Fred Peete, Hatilla Passos and Martin Iti all saw significant action last season, and once again are expected to play big roles. Hawkins averaged 15.6, Peete 9.5, Passos 6.4 and Iti 6.2. Passos and Iti rotated at center last year, and will probably do the same this season. Hawkins started 32 games and Peete started 26.

Hawkins, a transfer from Utah last year, burned Nevada in the second half of the season with a 27-point effort. He reached double figures in 28 of NMSU’s 34 games. Peete has an outstanding floor game, and he was one of three players that Menzies had working at the point when practice started.

All four are seniors, and the quartet has made Menzies’ transition pretty easy. NMSU, one of the favorites in the conference, is off to a 4-6 start, but the schedule has been rugged with Texas, West Virginia and Duke plus Louisville coming up.

“The expectations are high,” Menzies said. “Optimism is out there. We’re ready for the challenge.

“I don’t place much importance on them (preseason polls). It’s good for the fans and good for the media. At the end of the day, you have to lace them up and play. I’ll use it (the poll) more for motivation.”

Menzies said there will be some differences between what he does and what Theus did, but that’s to be expected.

“Defensively, we want to challenge more shots,” Menzies said. “Our field goal percentage (defensively) was 44 percent, and that’s not acceptable.

“We’ll continue to push the ball offensively. That style of play is conducive to our fan base (and what they like to see). We want to execute better when we’re not in transition.”

One thing you will see Menzies change is the Aggies’ schedule. At press time, the Aggies had played just three home games, and that’s not good when you’re a mid-major conference that struggles to get two teams in the post-season.

“I’d like to play more home games,” Menzies said. “If you produce at home, maybe you can pop three teams in there (NCAAs).”

The biggest surprises thus far has been the play of freshman forward Wendell McKines, who is averaging 7 points and 7.5 rebounds a contest, and sophomore guard Jonathan Gibson, who is averaging 12.2 a game.

Menzies has played primarily eight players to this point, which means a young and inexperienced bench.

The first-year coach is still awaiting word on the status of 6-10 freshman Herb Pope, a highly recruited front-line player out of Aliquippa, Pa., and 6-4 guard Jahmar Young. Both have yet to be declared eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Pope was shot last year at a party back in Pennsylvania and Menzies said he’s still not 100 percent recovered from the injuries and ensuing surgeries. He his, however, out there working everyday.

“I saw him play in high school and tried to recruit him for Louisville when I was there,” Menzies said. “He has a lot of talent, but he is still a freshman. He is ahead of schedule. He is moving in the right direction.”

With three of the next five games at home, Menzies hopes the Aggies can turn things around.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling 775 881-1281

THE NMSU FILE

Coach: Marvin Menzies, 1st year

2006-07 record: 25-9 overall, 11-5 in conference

Lettermen returning: 7

Starters lost: 2

Key non-conference games left: At New Mexico, Dec. 19; At Louisville, Dec. 22