Friday, September 28, 2012

Top WAC players by team

(New Mexico State sophomore guard Daniel Mullings is one of the top returning players in the WAC this year)

I normally do a little countdown of the top players in the WAC leading up to the beginning of practice. The last couple years I felt like I had a pretty good idea of who was returning. With the addition of Denver, Seattle, UTSA, UTA and Texas State, I’m not as confident since I haven’t seen these guys in person. Here is who stands out, at least on paper and the internet. By top players, I’m talking about guys who you could potentially see on preseason All-conference lists.

Four starters returning but these two are the most intriguing to me.
Chris Udofia 6-6 194 jr forward . Also led the team in assists with 82 (3 apg). 14.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, second in Sun Belt scoring Good shot blocker with 2.3 per game.

Royce O’Neale is a 6-5 soph guard who averaged 9.9 ppg, 39 percent 3-point percentage

Kyle Barone 6-10 senior
If there is such a thing as a regular reader of this blog knows I like Barone as a player. I think he’s extremely talented but for some reason he doesn’t get the ball nearly enough at Idaho. 12.9 ppg and 8 rpg shoting 55 percent from the field. 
Stephen Madison came on as a sophomore as a complimentary player , shooting 38 percent from 3 point range and averaging 12. 1 ppg. Not sure he can do that as a go to player. 
Connor Hill was the second best Vandals  3 point shooter last year. He shot 39 percent

Raheem Appleby 6-2 sophomore was the WAC freshman of the year, probably edging out Mullings because he’s a better offensive player. Averaged 13.9 ppg, increased to 15.1 in WAC play. 40 percent 3-point percentage. Best guard on guard heavy team

Kenneth Smith, explosive speedy point guard who should be better as a sophomore. 
4.2 apg. Didnt seem like he was trusted as the season went on but still plaeyed 25 minutes per game in WAC play.

I lump senior guard Brandon Gibson (7.7 ppg) Kenyon McNeail (34 percent 3 fg) and Cordarius Johnson (9.6 ppg) as the same, each solid guards

Daniel Mullings This is the first time since Marvin Menzies has been coach that the Aggies don’t have a no brainer preseason all WAC type player. Mullings is probably the closest thing. Mullings averaged 10.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg in WAC play. He was top 2 in steals per game with 1.79. People who watch him on a regular basis know how important he is. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers he puts up when teams will probably key in on him a little bit more

Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe are potential players who I could see putting up numbers before the end of the season worth all league consideration

James Kinney, I guess. Kinney led the Spartans in scoring  with 15.8 ppg and shot 40 percent from 3-point range. He’s the best player on a bad team that lost its best two players when Keith Shamburger transferred and Will Carter graduated.

Sterling Carter is Seattle’s top returning scorer with 10 ppg last year, shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. 

An interesting player on the Seattle roster is Allen Tate, who played with Jeff Taylor at Hobbs High. Seattle has a 6-11 freshman from the UK as well. 

Texas-Arlington went 15-1 in the Southland last year and it looks like Kevin Butler is their best returning player with 10.8 ppg. At 6-5, he was second on the team with 6 rpg. 6-10 senior forward Jordan Reves averaged 7.8 rpg last year.

UTSA ranked 13th in the NCAA in 3-point percentage at 39 percent. The best shooter, Melvin Johnson, transferred to Arkansas State. They still have Jeromie Hill (12.3 ppg, 40.5 percent 3-point) and Kannon Burrage, who led the team with 13.6 ppg and shot 39 percent from 3-pt range.

6-10 senior Matt Staff averaged 13 and 8 rpg last year on 53 percent shooting. 

Preston Medlin is my preseason Player of the Year. Medlin averaged 17 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg and shot 42 percent from 3-point range.

Utah State also has a couple of other players to keep an eye on.
Jarred Shaw is a 6-10 transfer from Oklahoma State. He was a top 120 player according to Kyisean Reed was an all-newcomer player last year year at the power forward position, finishing with 10 ppg and 5 rpg.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Marvin Menzies talks Year 6

Marvin Menzies enters his sixth season at New Mexico State.
Menzies is 102-68 overall in five seasons (60 percent win percentage) with two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past three years. NMSU has been even better in the WAC under Menzies, going 51-27 (65 percent). There are many factors to determine what a good college coach means. I will say this for Menzies. For the most part, his teams have improved throughout the course of the season. Nevada had the most talented team in the WAC last year, but they peaked early and never improved, getting an early exit from the WAC Tournament.
The success through the first five years led to a potential upgrade when Colorado State showed interest in hiring him. CSU went a different direction and Menzies was given a three year extension (I'm told the details in the contract are still being worked out).
Following is an interview with Menzies as he talks about growing as a coach, last year's team and the upcoming season.
Practice starts October 12.

JG: Talk about the offseason.
Menzies: I was really happy with the new rule being able to interact with the student athletes in the summer. Being able to get on the floor and work the guys out and stay in touch with them. We could give them a specific training that you want for them rather than them going off on their own that might contradict how it fits into the system. I really leaned on the assistant coaches during the summer to follow up on the program we implemented. I think that was good for the assistant coaches as well to have that opportunity to lead the guys in the summer. ... We had everyone qualified after the first summer session. We weren't waiting around late to get the word if anyone was going to have any struggles going into the season academically. Guys have bought into the academic piece.

JG: What are the differences in the program from your first year to this your sixth year?
Menzies: There is a lot of growth in me as a head coach going from an assistant. There is always a transition period. I think running a program, you learn something every year and you try to improve consistently in your profession. I feel like I have matured. I'm more comfortable now with my previous experiences. When new things arise, you kind of have a template now from what you did in the past.

JG: You can probably replace Wendell McKines' numbers, but how do you replace the other things he brought to your team?
Menzies: Wendell had a very strong personality. It was something that will be missed. His passion and toughness, those are intangibles that you have to look to see who is the next guy who is going to help to bring some of those components to the program. I'm not really sure who that individual is yet or if it's going to happen collectively. You also lost a great deal in Hernst (Laroche) and Hamidu (Rahman). Wendell was the one that was the most talked about but you lost three major pieces to the puzzle when you lose the No. 8, No. 15 and 21 all-time scorers at the university on the same team and you lost them all in the same year, that's a huge blow. I have my thoughts on who is going to step up but until we lace them up against other teams you just don't know.

JG: Outside of Tyrone Watson, there is not a lot of known commodity on this team.
Menzies: As far as a consistent effort and knowledge of what he brings to the table, there is no question. I think Daniel (Mullings) is another piece that I'm pretty sure of what we are going to be able to get out of him. Maybe not numbers wise but in terms of effort and things that he is going to bring to the table, I think that will be consistent as well. We have other guys in the program who are talented and capable of bringing a lot of positives but who that guy is going to be or the collection of guys, I'm  not really sure.

JG: What should be the expectations be for Daniel Mullings this season?
Menzies: Obviously he has some talent and is already a good player but has a chance to be a special player. A lot of that lands on his plate. Will he do what is necessary to receive coaching, have the right disposition on the court, the jury is still out. He is one of the most exciting and potential big time players on the team.

JG: Would you like to get back to the tempo you showed early last season with the renewed depth you have?
Menzies: At this level, you have to take players based on their ability to help you win at a high level. That might not be your ideal system of playing. For example, Sim (Bhullar) at 7-foot-4 is not going to be your prototype run and gun. But I think with time and conditioning he can do some very good things in terms of creating distractions for other teams defensively, as well as scoring around the block. He's a special talent. Usually your five man is at the back of your pressure anyway so as long as he can get in good enough shape to get up and down the floor and let us set up our front wall and second wall, it shouldn't affect our ability to pressure.

JG: Talk about Sim's fitness
Menzies: We have a target weight we are shooting for and he's made consistent progress since he returned from Canada. He's lost a good amount of weight and he's heading in the right direction.

JG: Is the frontcourt your strength?
Menzies: On paper maybe. You can look and say we have some experience at the five (Junior Chili Nephawe) and you've got some very good potential in support. The four, you have Tyrone and Bandja (Sy), who has the ability to play that position and maybe Renaldo (Dixon) as well. ... You look at the guards and you can almost make the same argument when you look at Daniel and Terrel (de Rouen) and K.C. (Ross-Miller) as well. You have some guys there in the mix at the wings and the guard where one of those guys can rise to the top and that's the depth factor. You look at each person on the team and say this guy has a chance to play. Anytime you can say that, you have provided yourself with the opportunity to have some choices. I've always said that you have to have guys who can play more than one position and for the most part outside of the five guys can slide over and play a different position. That gives me an advantage. ... It's kind of getting back to the 2010 team. We were hard to guard because guys like Gib, you don't know if he would be bringing the ball up or out running the lane. Hernst was the only one steady at the one. There was a lot of interchanging going on.

JG: Talk about the point guard position. Replacing Laroche has to be difficult.
Menzies: We have multiple guys we can look at for that position. Right now I would have to say KC and Terrel are battling for that spot. But I feel comfortable putting the ball in Daniel's hands or Tyrone as well.

JG: Is the WAC schedule going to be more of a grind this year with 18 games?
Menzies: Anytime you are playing that many conference games, the emotion of each game is a little higher because each game means that much more. You have to be able to weather the storm. There is going to be some travel that is new to us. There are going to be new arenas and faces we haven't seen. There will be a learning curve, but that's where if you have a real program, which I feel that we have, you have an advantage because you have guys who have been in your system, who have gone on the road and played in tough environments and experienced success against high major teams, you can rely on guys like Chili and Bandja and Tyrone and Daniel as well now too. Those are the guys who have to carry you through a long conference season.

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.”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Non conference schedule highlights

Here is an early look at some of the non-conference games on the Aggies 2012-13 schedule.

The Aggies have games against the Patriot League regular season champions and Mountain West Tournament champions plus Southern Miss, another NCAA team from a year ago highlighting a very solid and challenging non-conference portion of the schedule.

Bucknell (Nov. 17 @Niagra) was 12-2 in the Patriot League last year and 25-10 overall. They lost to Lehigh in the Patriot League tourney, beat Arizona on the road in the NIT and lost to Nevada to end their season. What I like about this team is they still have seven players from the team that went 25-9 and went to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Most notable of these is 6-11 senior center Mike Muscala, who could be the best big man the Aggies face this season. It's a good early test to see if Sim Bhullar or Chili Nephawe to see just how effective those two will be. Muscala averaged 17 and a Patriot League high 9 rebounds per game last year. Bucknell was top 2 in their league last year in rebounding with 6-7 forward Joe Willman pulling down 5 boards per game. Rebounding has been a strength of the Aggies but Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman aren't here anymore.

Southern Miss (Dec. 1 Pan Am) beat the Aggies twice last year but the Eagles have a new head coach in former Morehead State head man Donnie Tyndall. Morehead State averaged 62 points per game last year and shot 36 percent from 3-point range during an 18-15 season. I don't know what kind of correlation you can take from that to Southern Miss, but he does take over a team that returns five players from a NCAA Tournament team. Southern Miss was guard heavy on offense last year but they had energy yet undersized post players who outrebounded the Aggies in both games. One of those guards was LaShay Page (11.6 ppg) who has transferred to South Carolina. Darnell Dodson (11 ppg) graduated but Neil Watson (13 ppg) returns after leading the team in scoring. Torye Pelham hurt the Aggies on the board last year but he graduated but Jonathin Mills returns. Mills came off the bench for 11 rebounds in one game against the Aggies last year. Outside of the rivalry games and Utah State, Southern Miss is probably the best home game on the NMSU schedule.

UNM (Dec. 15 road, Dec. 19 home) The Lobos are extremely guard oriented. I don't know if that's ideal for Steve Alford, but his tournament teams so far in Albuquerque were undersized. The difference before was that his best big player could score, which I don't believe to be the case this year. I love UNM's wings, think their point guard situation could be better and I'm down on their bigs. In my opinion Tony Snell was the best player the Aggies played against last year, although inconsistent. Kendall Williams was big for the Lobos in their win over Long Beach in the NCAA and Demetrius Walker is an intriguing scorer off the bench. Alford seems like he was comfortable with Hugh Greenwood as a freshman last year at point guard, but I thought the Lobos were more dangerous with Jamal Fenton. Although a New Mexico product, Alex Kirk doesn't seem like a player who can hold down the paint for the long term. That's not really his game to start with and he's coming off an injury. Junior Cameron Bairstow is a big body and Devon Williams is a 6-7 freshman from Dallas. Drew Gordon and AJ Hardeman were a nice combo for the Lobos last year to close out games with Bairstow giving minutes here and there. I'm not sold on their ability to play more of a role and against the Aggies, I think NMSU will have a bigger advantage in the post this year. Daniel Mullings, Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson all seem to be decent matchup on the wings capable of bothering Snell and Williams.

South Alabama (Dec. 4 @S. Alabama) Quality Sun Belt team (17-12, 8-8) that agreed to return the game at the Pan Am next season. SA returns its top four scorers, two of which are JC transfers. They added another JC player in Gregoryshon Magee, whom they liked enough to add this little feature.   Augustine Rubit led SA last year with 15 and 9 at only 6-foot-6. SA is undersized, which tended to give the Aggies troubles on the boards last year.

Other notable games
UTEP (Nov. 28 road, Feb. 23 home) I think UTEP will continue to improve under Tim Floyd. I thought their best player last year was freshman Julian Washburn and Jacques Streeter is a good point guard coming back. UTEP got Washburn's brother, a 6-8 240 pound forward to come to UTEP and Floyd added 7-foot Canadian Matt Willms from Findlay Prep, which seems to be a good program.

@ Oregon State (Dec. 1) Lost three from a team that went 21-15 and 7-11 in the Pac 12. This is the season opener on the road for the Aggies. It's been awhile since NMSU has beaten a team from a Power conference. This seems to be a good opportunity to get one, but that's optimistic for the Aggies, who have typically taken time to get rolling before last year. I think there are some roles that need to be worked out and it may take a few games but Oregon State is a mid tier Pac 12 team that I think the Ags should match up well with. Guards Ahmad Starks (5-9 junior 12.1 ppg, 3 apg) Roberto Nelson (6-3 junior 9.3 ppg) forward Devon Collier (6-8 jr 13.1 ppg, 5 rpg) and center Angus Brandt (6-10 senior 9 ppg, 4 rpg) are the most experienced players. One newcomer who looked intriguing is Olaf Schaftenaar, a 6-9 freshman from the Netherlands, who played for Real Club Nautico in Spain last year where he shot 44 percent from 3-point range.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Returning to the Big West likely not an option

One league I had hoped to see see New Mexico State find its way into was the Big West.

There is familiarity there, it's a solid hoops league, or at least on par with what the WAC has become in the last three years, and it makes just as much sense from a travel standpoint than what NMSU has since joining the WAC since the Big West would need one more school for an even number.

Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell has been the league's commish for the past 21 years and involved with the league for 32 years. I spoke with Farrell last week, and although he refrained from answering direct questions about NMSU as a potential member, it became apparent, at least to me, that if the Big West were to move from 11 to 12 teams, New Mexico State is far from an ideal candidate.

The WAC has taken Big West schools in the past and the Big West was forced to survive. It's ironic the roles have reversed.

"Conferences have two reasons to expand," Farrell said. "One is for survival and the other is for opportunity. In the past, the Big West has had to expand for survival. Fortunately, we are in a situation right now where we are able to expand for opportunities that will make us better. I don't tempt fate in that regard. All three additions we have made in the last 18 months, we haven't made rash decisions."

The main reason is football. The Big West doesn't play football, of course, but Farrell told me football still had to be considered when making additions to his league.

Just as ironically, it was football that got NMSU into the Big West.

"When they joined in the early 80s, the thing that appealed to them was a Division I-A at the time football conference and they were in the MIssouri Valley at the time. Back in the early 2000s when we were getting out of the football business, we told the remaining football schools in the conference they were welcome to stay but it would ultimately be phased out. North Texas and New Mexico State were moving their programs to the Sun Belt at the time and Boise was leaving for the WAC. Idaho and Utah State were the  last two and they left in 2004 for the WAC."

Consider the football programs of the three schools the Big West has added in the past 18 months: Hawaii, Boise State and San Diego State. All three schools had a solution for their football programs — Hawaii to Mountain West and Boise State and San Diego State in the Mountain West this year followed by membership to the Big East.

"I don't think we are motivated to continuing to expand our footprint," Farrell said. "We are more inclined to look at more schools within the footprint that we now have, from Honalulu to Boise. The No. 1 thing is the stability of our conference. I feel like we are one of the more stable conferences out there right now."

Following Pacific's departure to the West Coast Conference, the Big West will have 11 members in two years, not an ideal number for travel partners, but it didn't seem to be a huge concern for Farrell.

"We are open to opportunities as they present themselves but we are not in a rush to get to any particular number. We were prepared to go to 11 before Pacific left. We know there will be some scheduling challenges in men's and women's basketball and volleyball but it won't be a driving force on us to make a decision on future expansion. We are only interested if we feel that an institution feels like it's on an upward trajectory. Hawaii, San Diego State and Boise State were all valuable assets as we deal with new media rights negotiations."

Farrell said the Big West is in the final stages for regional tier 2 rights and just entering negotiations for the tier 1 national rights with ESPN, which he says adding the three schools should help make the league more attractive. There is also hope that the Big West can latch on with a new Time Warner regional package and a connection with Fox.

I asked Farrell about a possible merger with the Mountain West in the future:

"I don't really see what value would be of that. The NCAA only gives an automatic bid to one conference," he said.

Boise State, San Diego State and the Big East are helping ease the move by chipping in with travel costs as they join the league. Outside of Hawaii and Boise State, if Farrell says the league isn't interested in expanding its future footprint, it doesn't look like a good fit for New Mexico State in the future.

At least for now, but we all know how fast things have been changing.