Friday, April 25, 2014

COMMENTARY: Sim Bhullar's long awaited decision the right one

The big announcement by the biggest Aggie should come as no big shock.
After he helped put New Mexico State back on the college basketball map, Sim Bhullar's work here is done.
The 7-foot-5 sophomore center from Toronto, Ontario made his long speculated decision to turn pro official on Friday after three years in Las Cruces, the past two in an Aggies uniform. If drafted on June 26, Bhullar would be the first NMSU player to hear his name called since Randy Brown was selected No. 31 by the Sacramento Kings in 1991.
Interestingly enough, the Kings are now owned by Vivik Ranadive, the NBA's first Indian-born owner, which adds to the intrigue behind Bhullar's decision. If he were to stick on a NBA roster as a second-round pick or an undrafted free agent, it's widely believed he would be the first player of Indian heritage to play in the NBA, which could tie a franchise and the NBA to a population of over 1 billion people.
But that's just one of the likely factors that Bhullar considered in the days following the Aggies loss to San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament this past March.
The truth of the matter is that nobody knows if Friday's choice is the right one. That likely won't be decided until Bhullar's playing career is over.
Even if Bhullar were to sign a contract in a quality league overseas, he would be competing against big men that would better prepare him for a possible shot in the NBA. It's not the end of the world if he's not on a NBA roster a year from now.
How much would another year at NMSU improve his draft stock?
Critics quick to point out Bhullar's lack of conditioning as a reason he wouldn't be a successful pro are missing the fact that after two record-setting seasons at NMSU, Bhullar gains nothing from going against 6-foot-5 post players in the Western Athletic Conference. Or that college players are limited to eight hours a week with the NMSU coaching staff this time of year. Since the Aggies' season ended, Bhullar has been working out with former NBA coach John Lucas in Houston, preparing his body for pre-draft workouts that will become open to him after May 2 as a declared underclassman.
Men of Bhullar's stature don't have a proven track record of long-tenured careers, at least not in the NBA. He suffered a foot injury during his redshirt season of 2011-12, then missed five games this year with another foot injury.
Another injury at the college level could literally cost Bhullar his future.
Regardless of Bhullar's professional destination, his impact at NMSU can't be understated.
Off the court, you could argue that during his brief stay in Las Cruces he was the face of the basketball program, or at least co-heading it with head coach Marvin Menzies, whose national profile has likewise increased over the past three years as well.
Sports Illustrated spent a weekend in Las Cruces this season working on a piece that centered on Bhullar and younger brother Tanveer, who at 7-foot-3, figures to fill his brother's shoes.
Sim Bhullar was the center of attention from Day 1 this season and he played his best game of the year on the NCAA Tournament stage. He broke his own school record for blocked shots in a single season with 101 this year. Without Bhullar in the lineup, the Aggies held a 3-2 record with opposing teams shooting 45 percent from the floor. For the season, NMSU opponents shot 40 percent from the field.
Bhullar has done it while staying on course for his college degree.
NMSU hasn't had a player drafted into the NBA for 23 years. In reality, the program couldn't ask for a better possible representative than Bhullar, who represented the school well the past two years while bringing a proud Aggie hoops tradition back to life.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Menzies has proven ready for the next level

If Marvin Menzies does not land the vacant Tulsa head coaching job this week, it may come down to the lack of a NCAA Tournament win.

But that shouldn't be the case.

The longer the Tulsa search has dragged on, the more favorable a candidate Menzies appears to be. Four NCAA Tournament appearances in five years, three in a row with a pair of close calls in the Big Dance since 2010. Menzies is 152-89 at NMSU and if he returns for an eighth year, he would likely jump into third in school wins behind legendary Lou Henson and Neil McCarthy by the end of 2015.

Those are some of the obvious things that jump off the resume for potential schools looking to find a coach.

Outside of a NCAA Tournament victory, Menzies has nothing left to prove after 7 seasons in Las Cruces.

Losing four NCAA Tournament games as a low seed can hardly be used against Menzies given the names that have surfaced as contenders for the Tulsa job. But if he is passed over, perhaps it's more telling than I thought. The truth is that the Aggies have not had a signature non-conference victory outside of two UNM wins, which NMSU plays twice each year. Nor has he won an outright conference championship, even last season in the Western Athletic Conference that took a significant step back last year. A quick search on Google would reveal multiple incidents away from basketball that has shed a negative light at times on the NMSU program from afar.

Building on previous success and addressing some of those blemishes is one reason Menzies could return, but that's about it.

Menzies, like all coaches at New Mexico State, have fundraising responsibilities that his peers do not. Menzies is a fantastic fundraiser, but consider the significant time investment the head coach needs to devote to raising money instead of devoting that time to the business of basketball. When budgets are tight like they are at New Mexico State, Menzies relies on the offseason fundraising dollars to lift the program to the success the Aggies are currently enjoying.

And that success has been met by an indifferent response from the fanbase, at best. After seven years, Menzies' teams play to a half empty arena and folks who don't attend games have not bought in.

Tulsa is the type of job I imagined Menzies leaving for. He talks about his family loving the area and he has tremendous support inside the administration. Tulsa leaves Conference USA for the higher profile American Athletic Conference next season.

Menzies told me once that if he were to leave NMSU, he wants to do so to a location where people wouldn't second guess his decision.

Tulsa would be that job.

Tulsa was set to pay Danny Manning 1.4 million after just two seasons. But money alone wouldn't lure Menzies away from NMSU. After seven years grinding it out at NMSU, it's time Menzies learns if he can take a program in a better conference to the next level.

He's already done it here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discussing Marvin Menzies and Sim Bhullar

Rumors ramped up on Wednesday regarding Marvin Menzies potentially leaving Las Cruces for Tulsa and Sim Bhullar bolting for the NBA

Especially Bhullar leaving for the NBA

A source close to the Bhullar family told me Wednesday night that Sim, "Was close to making a decision but has not declared for the NBA Draft"

Is he ready? I would ask those who throw out an automatic no to ask yourself how much closer would Sim get to the NBA by coming back for another year? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Should Sim stay or go?

There has been increased chatter about Sim Bhullar and the NBA recently on Twitter, most recently Wednesday night when an online report said Bhullar was indeed declaring for the June 26 NBA Draft.

A source close to the family told me Wednesday that Bhullar was close to a final decision, but had yet to put his name in, but I never thought that Bhullar would be at New Mexico State for four years. You can't blame him for getting feedback this offseason before the April 27 deadline for underclassmen to declare but if he does so at this point, he cannot return to college.

Bhullar's future has been speculated ever since arriving in Las Cruces. He's certainly been an intriguing player in Las Cruces and with a 7-foot-5 frame, he has always been a pro prospect. But this soon?

Here are three reasons Bhullar should go pro and three reasons he should stay for another year, all of which are fairly obvious but it's the offseason:

Sim Bhullar should go pro because:

Market value:
Bhullar could be the first NBA player of Indian decent, which could very well lead a team to take a second round flyer on him or wait until after the draft where he would have more ability to pick and choose a team to to sign with as an undrafted free agent, such as his hometown club in Toronto. The possibility for endorsements and being the face of basketball to a population of billions has to be very attractive for a NBA franchise. In theory, if Bhullar were to stick on a NBA roster, his salary off the court could be greater than his NBA salary.

Further development:
There is only so much a college staff can develop a player due to time constraints and fewer coaches, trainers, nutritionists compared to a NBA staff. Bhullar has enlisted the help this offseason of former NBA coach and trainer John Lucas in Houston.

Everyone can point to a lack of conditioning as a flaw in Bhullar's game, but I think he could improve on the offensive end as well. His defensive presence alone though should give him a good look, but NBA coaching and strength training could make the process go faster while making money doing so.

A common comparison, although a stretch in my opinion is former Houston Rocket center Yao Ming, who is compared to Bhullar because of his size (7-6) and the fact that Yao got the NBA into China. But from a basketball standpoint, the two couldn't be further apart in my opinion. Yao was in a professional organization for years before coming to the NBA, where he was also the top pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. But, as could happen with Bhullar, Yao's window in America was nine great, if  not injury filled seasons. You look at Bhullar, who had foot injuries his redshirt season and last year, and you could not blame him for turning pro sooner rather than later.

Three reasons Sim should stay:

One more year:
That sentiment is common among Aggies fans since the Aggies have a strong group coming back next year. But from Bhullar simply being ready to be drafted, his stock would certainly improve with one more year under his belt. DraftExpress did not list Bhullar among its Top 100 prospects. He was listed as the No. 75 sophomore by the website. did not list Bhullar among its Top 100. Bhullar was not listed among its Top 50 sophomores nor the honorable mention. I don't know how much stock to put into these lists, and I'm sure if Bhullar put his name in, he would gain momentum as his name got out there, but other than his size, it seems that Bhullar remains an unknown outside of college hoops junkies.

Bhullar brothers:
Sim and 7-foot-3 NMSU redshirt freshman Tanveer Bhullar have played together at the high school level in the past. I don't think the prospect of playing with his younger brother next season would sway a decision to stay if he were leaning that way. But it would certainly make it easier for their family to follow their careers for 2014.

National profile:
New Mexico State nearly pulled off a first round upset and Bhullar was a big reason why, playing very well on that stage. Perhaps the Aggies improve their overall seeding next year and Bhullar and the Aggies finally break through with a NCAA Tournament victory. Sports Illustrated already did a piece on Sim and Tanveer Bhullar, and the two brothers would certainly put the Aggies in more of a national spotlight next season, perhaps enhancing each brother's profile in the professional ranks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NMSU Postseason individual awards

I wanted to do this earlier, but various offseason issues (Marvin Menzies coaching rumors, KC Ross Miller) took some time to chase.

Let me know what you think...

MVP: Sim Bhullar
 Daniel Mullings is the WAC MVP and is the Aggies most talented player. But I think the Aggies most important, most valuable player this year was Sim Bhullar. The Aggies are built inside-out. NMSU shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range this season, the school's highest percentage since 2010, another team that nearly pulled a first round upset. The reason the Aggies got those open looks were either in transition or kick outs from drivers sometimes, but more often from a post player. Bhullar finished the season with 1.4 assists per game, which was tied for 14th among NCAA centers and not far behind No. 1, which was three per game. He has a knack for finding Mullings slashing to the basket, and he was also extremely effective starting that transition play often with an outlet pass.
 San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher said he didn't double Bhullar in the tournament game because of his passing ability. On the defensive end, Bhullar's value shouldn't be understated. NMSU is a defensive/rebounding team. Even though Mullings and Eldridge are very good perimeter defenders, 7-foot-5 is tough for players to finish over if they are able to get into the paint.
NMSU was an ordinary 3-2 without Bhullar in the lineup this year. He wasn't involved in the Aggies game plan last year against St. Louis. He was involved early and often against SDSU with 14 points and seven rebounds. He took up the majority of the publicity around the team in Spokane and he takes up the majority of opposing coaches game planning against the Aggies, making him my MVP for the 2013-14 season.

Most improved player: Tshilidzi Nephawe
I thought Tshilidzi Nephawe was disappointing last season. How does a 6-10 athletic freak not average more than 5 rebounds and less than a block playing in the WAC? He really used the time off from the injury to his advantage, posting career highs in points 11.2 ppg, rebounds 7.8 per game and blocks with 1.4 per game. Perhaps the numbers were a result of hard work, but there also seemed to be a better understanding of the game on both ends of the court. He looked for open teammates when he was doubled instead of forcing a shot. When it was one on one, he displayed more of an offensive game and the ability to finish with both hands around the rim. On defense, he fouled out four times, compared to seven times his sophomore season. Nephawe did turn the ball over 73 times, so that number needs to come down, but his improvement from his sophomore season to this season was impressive.

6th man: Kevin Aronis
I had to find a way to get Kevin Aronis a mention, even though fellow senior Renaldo Dixon also had a very good senior year and both seniors played very well in their final game.
But Aronis was nearly automatic and had one of the better seasons shooting the ball in recent years. Aronis shot 43.7 percent from 3 point range this season, shooting 48.9 percent in WAC play. His 43.7 percent ranks 8th all time at NMSU behind Gordo Castillo (44.8 percent in 2008-09) but Aronis had 96 more attempts this season. Aronis and Castillo tied for seventh on the career 3 point field goal percentage at 40.7 percent and Aronis 80 made 3s ranked fifth all time for a season at NMSU. But Aronis also made some huge shots this year, not bigger than his 3 against San Diego State to send the game into OT.

Most disappointing: Point guard play
It looked like early in the season that KC Ross-Miller had turned the corner, but as the season went on KCRM lost confidence and then lost control, ultimately leaving the program.
The Aggies are formidable 2-5 but the point guard spot is an obvious weak spot. Perhaps the late season minutes from Ian Baker can carry into his freshman season, but Daniel Mullings ended the season as the team's starting point guard.