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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Men's Basketball: Lobo Basketball starts its recruiting engines

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico guard Hugh Greenwood waits to enter the game against San Diego State on Feb. 22. Head coach Craig Neal and company are now shifting their focus for the future of the program with the graduation of starting guard Kendall Williams and forward Cameron Bairstow.

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With the 2013-14 basketball season now in the books, head coach Craig Neal and company are shifting their focus for the future.

The Lobos knew they’d have some major holes to fill with the graduation of starting guard Kendall Williams and forward Cameron Bairstow, who Neal said will “go down as two of the best decorated players in the history of the program.”

Then comes the two opening players, Tim Myles and Nick Banyard, who sought and were granted releases from the program to pursue interests elsewhere.

There’s also the question of whether center Alex Kirk will return to the team for a senior campaign, try his luck on the professional stage or even transfer to another team after completing his academic degree in marketing.

Changes are inevitable every year with the amount of turnover among players in college programs. But Neal feels UNM must focus on its recruiting efforts.

The Lobos have already received National Letters of Intent from recruits Xavier Adams, a 6-foot-4 small forward from Alvarado High School in Texas, and Joe Furstinger, a 6-8 power forward from Santa Margarita Catholich High School in California.

UNM looks to have another player on board in Tim Jacobs, a product of Oñate High School in Las Cruces. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, Jacobs received an offer from Neal to join the Lobos as a preferred walk-on.

Jacobs spent two seasons playing for Cochise College in Arizona after a redshirt year at Texas-El Paso. Neal said he could not yet discuss Jacobs per NCAA rules.

Recruiting, Neal said, is a unique process because it’s an ongoing effort.

“They’ve got to be the right pieces to the puzzle,” he said.

Only time will tell how much the new players will impact the team, but the Lobos need to replenish a great deal of scoring output, even if Kirk remains. Bairstow (20.3 points per game) and Williams (16.4) combined to net nearly half of UNM’s points. Factoring Kirk’s 13.6 per game, the Lobos’ Big Three accounted for 67 percent of all scoring.

Cullen Neal (7.2 points per game), Hugh Greenwood (6.1), Deshawn Delaney (5.1), and Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas (4.0) were the next four on UNM’s scoring list, and regular bench player Obij Aget netted fewer than two points per game. That means some roles for the returning players will change, Craig Neal said.

Delaney, a transfer who hit his stride later in the season, will benefit from a full offseason regimen with the program, Craig Neal said. He expects Delaney to keep improving.

Greenwood, who the coach called a methodical player, will play this summer with the Australian national team but not as a point guard. Craig Neal said that should allow Greenwood to develop more as a scorer, a role he hasn’t played the last two seasons.

Cullen Neal’s role should expand as well. The freshman 3-point threat, also Craig Neal’s son, took heat from fans for his brash attitude on the court, seemingly sporadic play and the amount of playing time he received.

Craig Neal said he doesn’t care if that heat on Cullen increases as his role increases, saying that heat came when Cullen arrived at UNM.

“There’s heat on me every time I walk out of this building,” Craig Neal said. “It’s because I represent the state and I represent the University of New Mexico. We’ve got a great program. I don’t understand a lot of it, but that’s not for me to decide. All I do is coach and he plays.”