Friday, September 21, 2012

Former Aggies (Updates on Tyrone Nelson, Justin Hawkins, Billy Keys, Gordo Castillo and Brandon Mason)

I wanted to get this out earlier since my focus has shifted to the upcoming season, but I was hoping to get updated info on some of these guys and I couldn't get ahold of a couple others. Maybe next year. 

Tyrone Nelson (2004-2007)
Following is a Q&A via email with Tyrone Nelson, who was dismissed from the Aggies in 2007 after pleading no contest to felony charges stemming from a 2006 robbery of a pizza delivery man. I was curious what he had been up to since leaving Las Cruces and if he harbored resentment at all. 

What are you up to now basketball wise?   
Nelson: Now, im playing my 4th season with the same team Akhisar Belediye Spor. The team is a 2nd league team in Turkey. I had many opportunities to go 1st league in other countries but I wanted to stay here to pursue my Turkish citizenship and get a Turkish passport. Which means I can play as a Turkish person in Turkey, meaning I will have a job here for years to come and I can easily play for a 1st league team here or other countries and earn good money.  The government of Turkey will be deciding this October or November.

Did you finish your degree?
I plan on taking online courses at NMSU January 2013, and Summer 1 I will be attending NMSU to finish up my degree in Family and Consumer Science which im very excited about.

Talk about that time after you left Las Cruces:
For the first year or two after leaving NMSU, I was basically searching for a new identity other beside basketball since basketball was the only thing I knew I took on a few jobs and I attended another college name Jarvis Christian College which I was going to play basketball but I didn’t play mainly because my heart was still at NMSU and I felt I wouldn’t be able to give it my all. My feeling toward NMSU are still strong and I highly respect the school and Dr. Boston. During my tribulation at NMSU Coach Theus and Dr. Boston and the Las Cruces community was in my corner the whole time. I have no hard feeling  toward NMSU!

Where are you at as far as  your legal obligations?
I was on 4 year probation, my 3 year of probation I got to leave to come to Turkey! Thanks to Gus Hauser the former coach at NMSU and Amy Hauser his wife a former lawyer in Las Cruces at the time! I didn’t have to do anything particular just had to hire a lawyer and let them do their job!
I keep in contact with just about all my former team mate such as Jonathan Gibson who played in Turkey as well he had a successful season last season and Fred Peete who playing in Brazil!  I pretty much follow all my teammate and friend on facebook and check on them from time to time!

Anything else you wish to add? 
My first three seasons playing in Turkey I was named 3 times MVP looking forward to it again and coming out of the 2nd league to the big league as a Turkish person!!! Thank you to all my fans and friends and I look forward to seeing you all this summer!

Justin Hawkins (2006-2008)
Hawkins returned to France after playing with a couple of teams in Finland last year. This year he’s playing with Boulazac.
“The owner of the team is like the mayor of the city. Last season they were in the Euro Challenge. You look for that but you also look for the team that offers you the most money and where you will get your money.”
Hawkins said he has averaged about $225,000 a year throughout his European career, coming back to Las Cruces in the offseason although he took his family with him this season. 
Hawkins also wants to get into coaching. At 27, he hopes to play  until he’s 35 before moving onto the next stage of his career. 
Hawkins averaged 18 ppg last year in Finland, which is the most scoring he’s done as a pro. 
“It depends what team you are on and what you are asked to do. Europe is big on ball movement. It’s the way basketball is supposed to be played. Last year, I was in a role where I had the ball a lot.”
Leagues vary, but there are normally three to four US born players allowed on a team. There is some pressure to perform there.
“They bring you in to be a certain way and they can cut you or not pay you. If you don’t perform after a couple games, they can cut you and look to get somebody else.”
I asked Hawkins about what kind of growth he has noticed from Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies and Wendell McKines. Hawkins was a senior when both men arrived on campus.
“We have had a couple of incidents with guys but Marvin has done a good job with that. He is always learning and getting better. He was a first year coach when I was there but to me, he is really building a program.”
On Wendell McKines as a player and future potential:
“He’s definitely one of the NMSU greats. He grew from freshman to his senior year and not just on the court. We all think that we are grown because we are on our own in college but we really aren’t. He has been able to get out on the perimeter. If he can do that and continue to rebound at a high rate, that will give him a chance.”

Gordo Castillo (2007-2011)
Castillo signed out of college with Fuerza Regia in the Mexican League. 
“There was good talent out there with people in the league from UCLA and Stanford. It was different than what you are used to. It was really aggressive. I wasn’t playing great minutes. There were two or three months left in the season when I left and we were in first or second. We were legit.”
Castillo didn’t feel safe in the end.
“There was too much stuff happening and it wasn’t working anymore. There wasn’t Internet so I couldn’t work on school stuff. That’s why I’m trying to go somewhere else.”
Castillo said he’s going to get his sociology degree in December while still trying to find a place to play. 

Billy Keys (1998-2000)
At the time I’m writing this, Keys had yet to sign a contract. He said it wasn’t abnormal as he’s signed as late as September in the past. He turned down an offer to return to Greece and is waiting and hoping for a deal in Germany or France.
Keys turns 35 in October and has carved out a nice living and career.
“I have been blessed not to suffer any serious injuries,” said Keys, who lives in Las Cruces in the offseason. “I have played overseas now since 2000 and feel like I have a good reputation in Europe. I will play until the wheels fall off and as long as I have offers in the top leagues.”
Getting paid was a common theme among the players I talked to. Not the amount but the consistency, because he said he has averaged a salary in six figures.
Keys played in Greece last year on a Euro League andEuro Cup team but has turned down offers to return to Greece due to the failing economy in that country. He’s played in five countries and was hoping to play in Spain, Italy, Turkey Russia France or Germany.
At 35, Keys said he has two or three more years left before moving onto the next stage of his career.
“I really want to stay around the game of basketball,” Keys said. “I would like to start being an agent. I have good contacts in a lot of countries. I also want to help  develop these kids here locally.”
It’s interesting that so many Aggies are now playing overseas. 
“We are all Aggies,” Keys said. “We all go work out with Tony Delk at New Mexico State. It’s a great relationship because he puts in things that helps keep me in shape.”

Brandon Mason (1999-2003)
After a nine year career in Europe and the D League, Mason ran an Albuquerque based basketball website showcasing players and found his way onto Steve Alford’s staff at New Mexico.
“It just kind of fell into my lap. My goal was to get into college coaching and I’m willing to start at the lowest level. I was always around ex-Lobos so when a position opened, I knew about it.”
Mason is married with three children and said the position was an important move for his family. 
He still expects support locally even on the Lobos bench, he said.
“I’m not that far removed. I expect for them to cheer for me even if I’m on the other bench. I was a good Aggie. A three year starter. If it wasn’t for my time with the Aggies, I wouldn’t have been able to get this job.”

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