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Friday, November 28, 2014

UNM basketball assistant takes Highlands head coaching job

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By Courtesy New Mexico Athletics / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico assistant coach Craig Snow, center, has accepted the head coaching position at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. Snow spent three seasons with the Lobos.

By J.R. Oppenheim

Craig Snow contributed to the Lobos’ string of recent success in Las Vegas, Nevada. Now he will see what he can do in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

New Mexico Highlands announced on Twitter Thursday the three-year UNM assistant coach will be its new men’s basketball head coach. Snow will replace Joe Harge at the helm of the Division II Cowboys, a Rocky Mountain Athletic Association team that went 11-15 last season.

“Leaving UNM, no matter what the opportunity, was going to be bittersweet,” Snow told the Daily Lobo on Thursday. “To be able to be this close to Albuquerque where we’ve been for 10 years and to be branching out in Northern New Mexico is something my family is looking forward to.”

Highlands spokesman Matthew Lofton said in an email the structure of Snow’s contract is year to year, a common practice among Division II schools, and Snow’s at-will employment comes at the discretion of NMHU President James Fries.

Media reports stated that Brandon Mason, another UNM assistant coach, will join Snow’s coaching staff at NMHU, but Snow said he cannot comment publicly on the reports.

When Snow arrives in Northern New Mexico, he must hit the ground running. The late hire gives Snow a short recruiting window, and he said the challenge lines in getting everything in place and finding the right components at such a late stage in the process.

“We have to get a firm grasp of what we have coming back, and we have to get well versed in admissions and scholarship situations,” Snow said. “We have about four or five weeks until school starts and we have about four months until our first practice.”

Certainly smaller Division II schools like Highlands don’t net the talent Division I programs acquire, but Snow said he doesn’t believe the fact will hurt him. The 10 years of experience coaching at various levels in New Mexico grants Snow a solid network to aid his recruitment efforts, he said.

“Maybe, instead of recruiting the best player on a certain AAU team, you’re recruiting the kid that’s passing the ball or is a role player in a certain spot,” Snow said. “I think, for me, we have a really good built-in infrastructure in the state of New Mexico, the state of Arizona, especially, and internationally.”

Snow spent three years on UNM basketball staff, including the last two as an assistant coach. Hired as a video coordinator under Steve Alford, Snow moved up to director of basketball operations in his second year.

While Snow worked at UNM, the Lobos went 86-20 and earned bids to the NCAA tournament each season.

“It’s bittersweet to lose Coach Snow because he’s been such a big part of our program,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said in a statement. “However, this is a great opportunity for him to be a head coach of his own program, and I am very excited for him.”

While Snow assisted in the success and coached good players, he said the mentorship of both Alford and Neal aids his career. Snow said those two coaches have a strong reputation within national and international circles for the way they recruit and develop talent, and for the way they build programs.

Snow said he learned quite a bit from them about basketball, not strictly from an X’s and O’s standpoint but from a management position.

“Those are things I can’t thank them enough for,” he said. “I feel like the three years I was there, we won a lot of games and won championships. I had an opportunity to coach a lot of good players, but at the end of the day my time with those two guys is going to be so beneficial for my career long term.”

Prior to his arrival at UNM, Snow served as the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Bosque School in Albuquerque. He also played collegiately for Evansville University, where he scored 1,530 points, averaged 12.6 points per game, and shot 46 percent from the field.

Highlands also hired Brianna Finch to lead its women’s basketball program.

J.R. Oppenheim is the web editor and assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at assistantsports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JROppenheim.