Last year for three Aggies
While the return of senior forward Wendell McKines is a major key to the Aggies success and has garnered most of the headlines, Saturday’s game also marks the return of senior center Hamidu Rahman and point guard Hernst Laroche’s 100th consecutive start.
Rahman’s last appearance for the Aggies was for 10 minutes in a 58-54 loss at home to Utah State on March 2. Rahman was limited to 23 games with a torn calf muscle that plagued him all year. Rahman has been a productive player at NMSU. He enters his senior season tied for No. 4 on the career list for blocked shots with 98.
Laroche has been a steady hand at NMSU. He enters his senior season second behind Jonathan Gibson in games played. Gibson leads the list with 131. Laroche is also No. 6 in minutes played with 3,209. Eric Channing is first with 3,783. Laroche could also push for the school record in assists with a productive senior year. Laroche is currently 176 assists behind career leader Sam Crawford, who had 592 assists.
McKines enters the season No. 6 in rebounds with 761. It’s not likely McKines will surpass Sam Lacey’s 1,265 but the senior will likely join Lacey as the only two players at NMSU to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
It’s typical to see the most dramatic improvement from a player’s freshman to sophomore season.
Jonathan Gibson, Jahmar Young, Wendell McKines, Troy Gillenwater, Gordo Castillo and Hamidu Rahman are all players who enjoyed individual success in their second year under head coach Marvin Menzies.
The Aggies hope the trend repeats itself with sophomore guard Christian Kabongo and center Tshilidzi Nephawe this year.
Both players showed promise as freshmen, but each encountered their fair share of growing pains. Nephawe showed a deft shooting touch for a big man, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 76 percent from the foul line. But at 6-foot-10, he averaged just 4.4 rebounds per game in 18.2 minutes of action. Kabongo showed a knack for getting into the paint as a freshman, starting 14 games with 82 assists but his 82 turnovers and 19 percent 3-point shooting jump out as weaknesses he has addressed. Kabongo seemed more confident in his first appearance as a sophomore with 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers in an exhibition game victory over Eastern New Mexico.
The Aggies would be pleased if Nephawe remains productive offensively while upping his rebounds and Kabongo continues to create opportunities for himself and his teammates while taking better care of the ball.
Off to the races
For numerous reasons, the Aggies haven’t been able to get off to a good start the past four years.
NMSU opens this year on the road at Northern Colorado on Saturday, followed by a Nov. 16 game at rival New Mexico.
Some Aggie teams have been able to recover, some haven’t.
NMSU is 26-32 in November and December the past four years. The Aggies are 4-23 in road games during that time.
NMSU is 2-2 in season openers under head coach Marvin Menzies, beating Louisiana on the road to open last year.
This is the first year that Menzies has had his projected team entering the season opener, making it possible to navigate the early portion of the schedule with a quality record.
Eleven Aggies played at least 12 minutes in NMSU’s exhibition game.
While that may not repeat itself, NMSU will ideally play at least 10 players to succeed in a high-pressure, up-tempo style that seems to benefit their personnel this year.
A four-guard rotation of Laroche, Kabongo and freshmen Terrel de Rouen and Daniel Mullings will push the pace. McKines, Tyrone Watson, Bandja Sy and Renaldo Dixon are athletic wings and Hamidu Rahman and Nephawe have to be solid at the center position.