Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jahmar Young

Is there a problem with Jahmar Young declaring early entry into the NBA Draft? Absolutely not.

To me, this is a player who is serious about his future as far as basketball is concerned and wants to see what's out there in terms of pro possibilities.

Jonathan Gibson did the same thing last year. Did it effect his game? Not at all. Did it effect his commitment to NMSU? No. Jonathan had a great senior season upon his return, appearing in 34 games — 32 of which were starts — averaging 17.5 points per game, 2.79 assists, 1.38 steals while shooting 44 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point territory and 84 percent from the line. For the most part, these numbers were all jumps — in some cases, significant jumps — from the season prior for Gibson (31 games, 14.1 ppg, 2.09 apg,1.41 spg, 42% FG, 38% 3-FG, 68% FT).

Early draft entries contact NBA teams and schedule workouts with the respective clubs, where the players are ran through various drills. One could make the argument that the process helped Gibson last year. It certainly didn't hurt him or the Aggies.

"I'm just trying to test the waters," Gibson said when he made his decision for early entry last April. "It gives me a chance to get a better look, a better evaluation from the NBA teams. I'm just coming off my junior year. I've got nothing to lose."

How it's approached is the key. If Young goes in with that same mindset, that he has nothing to lose and keeps his options open in terms of returning to college ball, then I'm all for it.

He continues to improve as a player from year to year. Last season he averaged 20.3 points per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field. He shot 83 percent from the line. And he made clutch shots all year — game winner against Hawaii, game winner in WAC Tournament over Nevada, huge plays down the stretch at UTEP. Him and Gibson were the backbone of the team for much of the season.

I think Jahmar can make it at the next level because he does have that killer instinct on the court and he's not afraid to get the ball in crunch time. He's got some skills that make great players great.

With that being said, I don't see him getting drafted this year. I see him coming back to school next season. And the ultimate key for his future is the Aggies continuing to see success on the basketball court. If he can lead the team to some more wins, if he can lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament, those results speak for themselves. That's what I want on my team.

But there is also nothing wrong with him testing the draft waters and seeing what's out there. He's just going after his dream. That's fine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring football practice

Are you ready for some football?

Hopefully, you are, as the Aggies are set to kick off spring practice a week from Monday.

Here's what I'll have an eye on as spring ball gets under way in Las Cruces.

• Marquese Dunn: Yes, I am excited to see Dunn run the ball during spring practices. We heard a lot about Dunn from the coaching staff at the tail end of last season. The freshman greyshirted in 2009, although he is expected to be part of the backfield picture this season, even with the return of Seth Smith and the arrival of Kenny Turner.

The question I have is, where does Dunn fit in? From my understanding, he's similar to Smith, a hard-charging running back with power. Turner should play the role of backfield burner, a player who can get outside the tackles and make plays on the fringe of the defense. And after a 1,000-yard season last year for Smith, one would think he's still in line for 15-to-20 carries a game if his performance does not drop off from a year ago.

The backfield depth is good for a couple reasons. For starters, I believe if Smith was the lone horse, he would have gotten hurt eventually. Last year he took a pounding, especially after Marquell Colston was dismissed from the team midway through the year. Smith's does not shy away from contact — he really can't, as he's effective banging into the line and running with authority. He almost looks to lay the hit on the defender, not the other way around. Dunn could be another hammer out of the backfield. And Turner? Who knows, but if it works out according to plan, he can be a big-play threat this offense needs. Turner will not be in spring camp, however. Dunn and Smith will be. Looking forward to this.

Mike Dunbar: What Aggie fan isn't going to be watching Dunbar and the offense this spring?

The new offensive coordinator comes to town and needs to get the Aggies on track. Last year, NMSU ranked last, No. 120 in the nation, in total offense (229.31 yards per game), scoring offense (11.46 points per game) and No. 118 in passing offense (87.77 yards per game). The Aggies were No. 66 in the country in rushing offense (141.54 yards per game). So, what it boils down to is that the Aggies couldn't throw the football, which put a halt on everything else.

Dunbar comes in with a track record of having offenses that could move the ball through the air. This could be the toughest job of his career.

The Aggies will go into the season with more options at quarterback. Tanner Rust was a redshirt last year, although he'll be thrown into the mix in 2010. The team will also bring back Jeff Fleming and Trevor Walls, who both started last year. Fresh recruits are junior college transfer Matt Christian and true freshman Andrew Manley. Both are expected to compete for playing time.

Wide receiver is still a question mark. The team lost Marcus Anderson in the offseason. Todd Lee returns. This unit needs to step up as does the tight end position, which gave the Aggies nothing last year. One thing that will help the wideouts: R. Todd Littlejohn will be coaching them this year. His fire and tenacity should give them a needed boost.

Can Dunbar turn it around? I do think the Aggies have something at running back and a solid offensive line. The passing game needs to get off the ground.

Pierre Fils and Donte Savage: The defensive ends had good years in 2009, combining for 13 sacks, 103 tackles, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

They could use some backup help too, and I'll be watching their health closely during the season. In the spring, I'm just excited to see them play and see how they developed from a physical standpoint. Both are entering their juniors seasons.

Davon House: Coming off a season where he made the All-WAC team, the senior cornerback should be walking around with a swagger.

House has improved every year with the Aggies and I would expect to see it continue going into his final year with the program. Just as much from a leadership standpoint, as House is recognized of the top cornerbacks in the WAC, not just among his conference mates, but within his own locker room as well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Looking back at Aggies/Spartans

Was I upset over the two late calls in the Aggie men's hoops game against Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Yes, and no.

The first was a lane violation, that officials called on Aggie forward Troy Gillenwater. Michigan State's Raymar Morgan stepped to the foul line with 19 seconds remaining and the Spartans clinging to a 68-67 lead. He knocked down his first attempt and missed the second. Officials blew the whistle on Gillenwater, though, as the sophomore forward stepped on the line of the key prematurely, giving Morgan another attempt, which he knocked down.

In turn, NMSU was forced to come down and try a 3-pointer to tie things up instead of going for a two. Two tough long balls fell short, as the Aggies' options were limited at that point.

The Aggies kept possession when the ball rolled out of bounds with under a second remaining in the game, but there was just 0.3 seconds remaining in the game. Officials did not go back and review when the ball actually went out of bounds — there was no denying that there was no more than a second left in the game, but one could have made the argument that more than 0.3 of a second should have been on the clock. Even 0.6 or 0.8 would have made a difference. Why?

Rules state that a player cannot get a jump shot off with under 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock. This left the Aggies without any viable options at that point, besides a lob at the hoop and a possible tip in, which would have done them no good anyway, as they needed a 3 to tie.

The Gillenwater call, while stingy, is the right call. In basketball, officials often pick and choose when to blow the whistle and when to let things go. It's a tough game to officiate, and many calls are objectional, not black and white. Could they have let the Gillenwater lane violation go at that point of the game? Of course. Did they miss the call? No. They saw the violation and decided to make the call. Personally, I wish they let it go and allowed the two teams to play on, but what are you gonna do about it?

The lack of time left on the clock for the Aggies on the final inbounds play bothered me. At least review the play and make sure you have the accurate number on the clock. If the play is not reviewable, then it should be looked at as a rule change for the future. This is a team's season on the line here.

Did either play lose the game for the Aggies? No. They didn't help NMSU's cause, but there were other deciding factors in the game that weighed more heavily on the outcome.

For starters, the team went cold down the stretch after battling back in the second half and making a game of things. NMSU missed 10 of its final 11 shots. All those shots came from the perimeter. Granted, the team was forced to take four 3-pointers with under 30 seconds left in an attempt to tie the game late. But I thought the team rushed on offense down the stretch and could have attacked the inside more. They got back into the game with Young penetrating early in the second half and Hamidu Rahman and Troy Gillenwater creating some opportunities inside. Down the stretch of the game, they seemed to settle for jumpers.

The Aggies held their own on the boards — both teams finished with 40 rebounds apiece — but gave up two offensive rebounds late that, in my eyes, hurt. The first came, with NMSU up 61-59, when Michigan State's Raymar Morgan grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to tie the game back up.

The second came when, down 65-63, NMSU allowed Morgan to fly in and dunk home a Durrell Summers 3-point miss.

Both buckets hurt.

But, at the end of the year, the Aggies have a lot to be proud of. They faced a ton of adversity early in the year and found a way to right the ship. After starting the year 3-6, NMSU won 19 of its final 25 ballgames. The returns of Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater undoubtedly helped, but the team also just played much better down the stretch of the season and with a sense of purpose. Marvin Menzies deserves credit for keeping the group together and getting them to play to their potential and reaching the NCAA Tournament. The team went to another level as the calendar flipped to 2010 and it should be recognized.

Frankly, the way I viewed the NCAA Tournament was that whatever the Aggies did would be icing on the cake. Winning the WAC Tournament was a proving ground. I thought the team was really playing with house money in Spokane.

But their performance against Michigan State was also impressive. The Spartans have had a bumpy season, but they are still the Spartans — a veteran program under the guidance of veteran head coach Tom Izzo. Izzo has led Michigan State to 13 consecutive NCAA appearances and has won a national title. The Spartans made it the championship game last year. These two teams are not accurate comparisons.

The Aggies fell behind early — 13 at the half — but battled back. The team went on a 13-2 run to start the second half and eventually took a 53-52 lead on a Gordo Castillo 3-pointer. From there, the game was a see-saw affair, and really could have gone either way. And it was the Aggies playing loose and confidently. Gillenwater was fouled and, while on the ground, was lifted up by all four of his teammates, smiling. When Michigan State retook the lead, 58-55, NMSU continued swinging, going on a 6-1 run to go back up 61-59 with 6:30 remaining.

In the end, it was the Spartans who found a way to come out on top, but it was the Aggies who put a scare in them.

It felt like to separate seasons for these Aggies. But, when it was all said and done, it ended strong. Very strong.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Aggie football story on ESPN

Click here for the story.....

It would really be awesome if the Aggie football program continues to move forward under Walker. Going to the NCAA in basketball and improving on last year's win total and challenging the .500 mark in football would qualify as a great year for Aggie sports.

I think the football schedule is tougher this year for the Aggies. There is no pushover on the schedule — although some would argue if Praire View was even a push over last season. San Diego State will be tough Week 1, as the Aztecs should be better in Brady Hoke's second season with the program. Last year, the Spartans beat the Aggies in San Diego.

New Mexico will be improved under Mike Locksley as well — it would be tough to be worse than they were during last year's one-win campaign. The Lobos will also come to Las Cruces seeking revenge after last season's Aggie triumph in Albuquerque.

NMSU's road conference games are also difficult — when are they not? Utah State and Idaho, those would be winnable games at home, but away those opponents prove to be much tougher. I think stealing a game at one of these venues is a must if the Aggies hope to improve on last year's three-win total. The Aggies will also have to beat San Jose State and Hawaii here. Both games are winnable.

At Fresno State and at Nevada will be extremely tough games. The Aggies will need to win their winnable games and steal a couple if they expect to take some steps forward.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aggie hoops

The New Mexico State Aggie basketball team earned its way to the NCAA Tournament.

They didn’t beat substandard competition in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, to win an NCAA bid outright. No, they beat a team that had swept them during the regular season, the Nevada Wolf Pack. Not only that, they beat the Wolf Pack on Nevada’s home court, winning the semifinal matchup between the two teams in Reno.

They did it under adverse conditions — the game was an all-out war, and boiled down to the final possession. NMSU was winning throughout the second half, before a Marko Cukic layin gave Nevada a one-point lead with 3:01 remaining in the contest.

Some teams would have folded. Instead, the Aggies went blow-for-blow with Nevada down the stretch, as the lead changed hands five times in the final three minutes. Jahmar Young’s 10-foot floater from the right side gave NMSU an 80-79 lead with 3 seconds remaining, and put the Aggies up for good.

Still, not everyone believed NMSU would beat Utah State in the WAC finals. Not with the UtAgs riding a 17-game winning streak, after beating NMSU by 18 to close the regular season in Logan, Utah.

Again, the game was a battle. And, again, the Aggies found a way to come out on top despite being underdogs and underestimated. No lead was larger than five, when Hamidu Rahman threw down a dunk with 6:30 remaining in the contest to tie the score at 53. The Aggies would go on to outscore Utah State 16-10 the rest of the way, acting as the aggressors instead of the reactors.

To me, the most telling aspect of the Aggies’ turnaround during the 2009-10 season was the team’s ability to win close games.

NMSU was 12-0 in games decided by six points or less in 2010, while seven of the Aggies’ 14 WAC wins were decided by three points or less. They opened conference play with a 55-52 win over Utah State at home. Young hit a buzzer-beater at Hawaii for a 71-69 victory in late January. Hernst Laroche’s shot as the horn sounded knocked off Louisiana Tech 70-68 in early February. It seemed like every time the Aggies found themselves in a nail-biter this year, they would find a way to come out on top. That confidence, that belief in late-game situations, is a big reason why the team is going to play Michigan State on Friday evening, instead of staying home watching the tournament.

At the outset of the year, expectations were high for the Aggies. Many felt like they would compete for a WAC championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Jonathan Gibson and Jahmar Young formed an explosive one-two scoring punch in the backcourt. The point guard Laroche and center Rahman looked to build off of solid freshman campaigns where they held their own at challenging positions. Wendell McKines was, well, Wendell McKines, a 6-foot-6 small forward who played with a pit bull’s mentallity. And sophomore Troy Gillenwater’s skill set was obvious, a 6-foot-8 forward who could take his defender to the basket off the low block, and step out and operate 18 to 22 feet away from the goal.

The team got off to a dreadfully slow start, getting swept by one of their rivals, the University of New Mexico, and getting blown out at home to their other chief foe, UTEP. On top of that, the roster was in disarray, with McKines and Gillenwater out of action because of poor academic standing and the team, at least superficially, playing with a lack of urgency or cohesion.
Fans were upset and many wondered what direction the Aggies were headed in. Were they a tournament team? Were they even a competitive WAC team? And how did it come to this, merely two-plus seasons removed from their last NCAA berth in 2007.

But now? Two months later, you gotta give it up to them. Making the tournament this season, while it should be the standard at NMSU, was a stunning turnaround considering where the team was in mid-December — holding a 3-7 record following a 100-68 loss at UCLA. Since that game, the Aggies have won 19 of 24 games, and find themselves in the one postseason tournament that matters.

A great turnaround indeed. And a well-earned one at that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A running backs coach, finally

Lost in the shuffle of Kenny Turner signing was the Aggies finally getting a running backs coach for 2010.

The team hired former Utah State assistant Shaun Johnson to join the staff. Here's his profile with the UtAgs a few years back.

It's about time NMSU got someone here! Now, the staff is complete with spring ball is right around the corner.

Kenny Turner

Do I have a problem with the Aggies signing running back Kenny Turner? Not really.

First off, I do believe people deserve second chances. Obviously what Turner did when he was 16 years old — shooting two men in a gunfight — was wrong. But he also should be given the opportunity to make up for it. And football is his refuge. So no, I really don't have a problem with him getting a chance to play at NMSU. It is unusual, but that doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

The fact is this about New Mexico State: it is a second-chance school. If this kid didn't find trouble as a youth and is as good as advertised, he wouldn't be an Aggie. He would have been at a primetime BCS school, racking up yardage and trying to reach the NFL. Now, he's a 24 year old looking to revitalize his talents in Las Cruces. Hopefully, it will work out for both parties and put both parties on the map.

The Aggies still had holes on offense following February's National Signing Day. I certainly thought the team needed another running back and if Turner lives up to expectations, he should fit the bill. Head coach DeWayne Walker said the team needed a complement to Seth Smith, a breakaway runner who could be a homerun threat in the team's offense, adding that Turner would be that type of addition.

Obviously if Turner gets into trouble in Las Cruces, that is a worst case scenario and would bite the football program in the butt. In order for this marriage to work out, Turner needs to stay out of trouble, keep his head straight and be a productive citizen. But he has a lot of people backing him up — NFL players Chris Johnson and Mike Sims-Walker, his former coach at Fullerton College Tim Byrnes, Walker and the NMSU athletics department.

At 24 years old, this kid — is that even appropriate, this man — could conceivably dominate with the ball in his hands. He's in good physical shape and will be bigger than many of his WAC counterparts. That will be the first thing I look for when I watch him play — just his physical presence on the field and his running style. How he takes on tacklers and if his age is a noticeable advantage against younger competition.

It's something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Looks like the Aggies got someone else

From what I hear, the Aggies are about to make a splash in the recruiting game.

Apparently, they're on the verge of signing a junior college running back with serious game. This is just what I'm hearing. More to come on this tomorrow. We shall see.....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brandon Perez

After sitting out the entire 2009 season, fullback Brandon Perez will be back in an Aggie uniform this year.

Perez's future was in doubt after last season, his senior year. He suffered an ankle injury which sidelined him for the entire 2009 campaign and threatened to end his career. It turns out he was granted a medical redshirt.

Perez was a grinder for the Aggies under Hal Mumme, often being a blue-collar worker who did most of his damage in the trenches. He would get the occasional carry and was used from time to time as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

The team will also bring back fullback Ronald Opetaia, who was a good player for the Aggies last year. How both of them are utilized in the offense in 2010 remains to be seen, but both should be in the mix as offensive contributors.