I got a lot of good response from this story on former Aggie big man Chris Hickman.
Since people seemed to like it, here is the entire interview via email. He talks about teammate William Benjamin, expands on his current business and what NMSU meant to him.
Basically I was wondering if you could fill us in on what brings you back to town? How often do you come back?
We come to town at least once a year. Many times we are just passing through quickly but we try to make time frequently to visit friend, my aunt and uncle (Bob & Betty McCasslin) and of course to get our fill of green and red chile. Especially Chope’s!!
Which members of that team are you still familiar with?
William Benjamin, Ron Putzi, Randy Brown
Were you aware that William Benjamin won a state championship this year as a coach at Las Cruces High? Could you see him as a coach?
Yes, and definitely. Benj was a student of the game. In addition, benj could always do anything he set him mind to do.
You and your wife both had very good careers here and was wondering what las cruces and New Mexico State mean to you and the business success that you have enjoyed.
I feel being in team sports really give you a great base for life. You have to learn to work with others, leverage strengths, cover weaknesses and get to experience the highest hihs and the lowest lows and then get out of bed the next day and move forward.
How did it come about that you came to New Mexico State?
Kind of a fun story. I was being recruited by about a dozen Division I schools. My Uncle (Bob McCaslin) swung by the basketball department and gave Asst. Coach Jeff Reep my recruiting tape. Coach Reep decided to come watch a game and then asked to me come visit NMSU after the game. I had already used all of my official visits by this time so my dad and I drove down to NMSU from Wichita KS instead of a normal recruiting trip. I really didn’t think I would end up at NMSU, but between the Pan Am, Coach Reep and most important, Dean Steelman, I was totally convinced to come to NMSU. I knew I wouldn’t play in the NBA so school was incredibly important to me and Dean Steelman was probably 80% of the reason I came to NMSU.
I don’t think there were too many four-year players at that point under Neil so what was that like?
Our team was made up of almost an entirely new team every single year. Benj, Putzi and I were the only continuity year to year. So it was interesting to constantly learn new players, etc. every year.
At what point did you meet Tammy?
Freshman year. We started dating the night of midnight madness our Freshman year and never looked back. We got married the summer between our Junior and Senior years.
Obviously you have earned success after college but could you describe where playing on a Sweet 16 team fits in the accomplishments throughout your life?
Basketball was such a huge part of my life. It’s hard to express to people how many hours you spend doing this stuff. Some people are just incredibly gifted but most of us spend thousands and thousands of hours working so to have the opportunity to realize the moments that you imagine in all of those hours of practice is incredible. Kids don’t sit around the table dreaming of closing that next business deal or negotiation, the dream about this kind of stuff. And to get to play through a Sweet Sixteen sticks with you forever and ever.
Does the wins being vacated take any of the luster off your time as a basketball player at NMSU or would you have done things the same way if you could go back? Do you still follow New Mexico State basketball?
This is an interesting topic. NMSU and many of us on the team were effectively punished because of a coach that had lapses in moral and ethical behavior. The NCAA is completely screwed up. Huge sanctions are brought against schools, wins are vacated and players that had nothing to do with the issues in question get painted with a broad brush of sanctimonious BS. Did McCarthy knowingly break the rules? Yes. Did he force his assistants to do things in this regard? Yes. Did most of us know about many of these things, no. However, at the end of the day, the coach loses his job but the university gets hammered. And the coach can go onto the next thing, many times with impunity. This system is broken.
So, no, I have no regrets for my time and career as an Aggie and proudly wear my Sweet Sixteen today. Our achievements in my time at NMSU are shared between me, my teammates, the school and the community in Las Cruces. The Heat attack kids of 1992 live in not only my memories but those of hundreds if not thousands of people in Las Cruces and those memories are the fond ones.
Finally can you just briefly talk about your current professional life?
As much as basketball meant to me in my life up to 1992, NMSU engineering, the Electric Utility Management Program, Dean Steelman, Satish Ranade and, most importantly, Professor William Kersting have painted the success of my professional life. There are dozens of professors at NMSU, like David Smith in the business school that helped shape my education, but Prof was my mentor, friend and the reason that I actually stayed in Electrical Engineering instead of moving over to civil or mechanical. My sophomore year I decided that EE was just too ‘imaginary’. Growing up in the Midwest, I was used to using my hands and thinking about the microscopic world of electronics, computers, etc., just wasn’t that interesting to me. And then I took my first power class with Prof and the rest is history. After a long and incredible careen at PNM working for spectacular people like Roger Flynn, Dennis Hines and Gene Wolf who all took the time to help me grow both personally and professionally, I had the opportunity to work on Federal Energy Policy, State Regulatory Policy and then consult for a variety of fun and interesting clients before forming Innovari, Inc. Innovari, Inc. has allowed me to create a third family. My first I was born into, my second became NMSU and Las Cruces through some spectacular times and now I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to handpick people I’ve worked with over my career in the power industry and do something truly amazing for the grids of the world. Without geeking out on you, we have created a way to improve the power grid utilization from the 43% it operates at today up something more like 60 or 65% utilization. This will save our country and other countries around the world, billions and billions of dollars of inefficient infrastructure.
NMSU was a key part of how I learned to be a part of a high performing team. How to create one, build one, be a part of one and how to ‘captain’ one. Hard to express the importance of my time at NMSU. Especially since the single best and most important thing that has ever happened in my life happened when I met Tammy there. So Las Cruces and NMSU will always be in my heart and we will always finds ways to make it back and spend time there. This time the coaching staff has been nice enough to help us so we can show our 6 (Brody) and 8 (wyatt) year old boys the Pan Am!