New Mexico State Aggies
Overall Rank: #43
Conference Rank: #1 WAC
2006-07: 25-9, 11-5, 1st
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Coach Reggie Theus is not around anymore, but he leaves behind plenty of talent for new coach Marvin Menzies at New Mexico State. Coach Menzies spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Louisville and will continue the up-tempo, NBA style transition basketball that Aggie fans have become accustomed to seeing.
When Tyrone Nelson, the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder last year was kicked off the team NMSU suffered a blow to their NCAA hopes. That leaves a handful of frontcourt players that will have to step up and fill his shoes, but at least the Aggies have plenty of options. The graduation of Elijah Ingram may be just as important. Ingram was by far the team’s most prolific shooter and he averaged 10.6 points per game during his senior season. Shaun Davis and Ted Knauber were decent shooters and earned some starts, but both have wrapped up their collegiate careers. The lack of a proven long range shooter on the team could be a major problem for NMSU. Forward David Fisher started half of the team’s games and averaged 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.
This is a great recruiting class and while most of the credit goes to Coach Theus, Coach Menzies at least got Herb Pope to stick around. Pope, a 6-8 power forward, is a great interior scorer and rebounder. He has the size and strength to absolutely dominate the WAC sooner rather than later. Pope is recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in March, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. The rest of the newcomers will fill out the depleted backcourt. Point guard JayDee Luster is a smart floor leader. At 5-9 his size is a concern, but he can use his quickness to sneak down the court. The team needs a true point guard and they hope Luster will be the answer for years to come. Chris Cole, a transfer from Hartford, can play some point or the off-guard position. Four true shooting guards join the team in Paris Carter, Jahmar Young, Aaron ‘Gordo’ Castillo and DeAngelo Jones. Carter played at the junior college level as a sophomore and suited up for Hartford as a freshman where he was named to the America East All-Rookie team. He is a superb shooter and that, along with his experience, should make him an impact player right away.
Who to Watch:
If NMSU wants to play their five best players, the lineup is going to be big. Fred Peete, at 6-4, will start at the point after averaging 9.5 points and 2.6 assists per game last season. And until one of the newcomers comes around, Justin Hawkins may be the shooting guard. Hawkins led the team in points and rebounding last year and the 6-7 Anaheim, California native is best suited for the small forward position. Hawkins just does not have the outside shot the team will need from the shooting guard. Jonathan Gibson can provide some depth at the guard spots, but is not a consistent enough shooter to crack the starting lineup.
With centers Hatila Passos and Martin Iti too talented to keep on the bench, that will move incoming freshman Pope to the small forward position. Iti did spend most of last season coming in off the bench, but it will be tough to keep him there this year. Ideally a shooting guard, most likely Carter, can live up to the potential and earn a starting job, leaving Passos, Iti and Pope to split minutes at the four and five spots. Passos is the teams scoring threat inside and averaged 8.7 points and 6.1 rebounds last year. He showed flashes of greatness on occasion and he will be a big time player if he can develop some consistency game in and game out. Iti is the defensive presence under the basket. The seven-footer blocked 1.2 shots per game and altered countless others. He is a decent rebounder and that will lead to some easy buckets under the basket for Iti. As long as some of the newcomers on the perimeter come to fruition, Coach Menzies will have plenty of options to fit the situation. And not many, or any, team in the WAC can compete with the frontline that New Mexico State will be sporting.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Fred Peete, Senior, Guard, 9.5 points per game
Justin Hawkins, Senior, Guard, 15.6 points per game
Herb Pope, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Hatila Passos, Senior, Center, 8.7 points per game
Martin Iti, Senior, Center, 6.4 points per game