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Season marked by change

Fraschilla pleased with Lobos’ progress

If one were to poll UNM men’s basketball fans, supporters and media outlets with a simple question “Was this season a success?” it would likely elicit a mixed bag of answers.

It may depend on how one looks back at the season.

One one hand, the Lobos (21-12) notched their 18th-straight non-losing record, one of only six schools in the nation to accomplish such a streak.

On the other hand, UNM finished with its first losing conference record since 1983.

For those viewing the glass as half-empty, the Lobos did not make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year under head coach Fran Fraschilla.

One thing is certain, it was a season of streaks.

The team sprinted out to a 14-2 start, winning games over George Mason University at home and Gonzaga University on the road, and losing to Temple University in the preseason NIT quarterfinals and to New Mexico State University at home.

Then the Lobos lost six of their next seven, dropping games to number one-ranked Stanford University and perennial Mountain West cellar dweller Air Force Academy, which had Lobo fans hopping mad. It was their only loss to a team with a losing record all season.

UNM would win four straight, including a come-from-behind win over Georgia State University, which beat the University of Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Lobos lost their final two at home to end the conference season, then were a shade away from winning the conference tournament, losing a close game to Brigham Young University. Then came its two wins in the NIT, against Baylor University and Pepperdine University.

So to put the 2000-2001 schedule into perspective, here’s the complete tally:

UNM played seven conference champions (Georgia State, Western Kentucky, George Mason, Temple, Stanford, Gonzaga and Brigham Young University), all of which competed in the NCAA, three Sweet Sixteen teams (Stanford, Temple and Gonzaga) and two Elite Eight participants (Stanford, Temple) and finished 4-5 against those teams. It was, by far, one of the toughest schedules any UNM team has ever played.

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All this occurred in what can be described as a rebuilding year and a team comprised almost entirely of Fraschilla’s recruits. And with the team losing forwards Wayland White and Brian Smith to graduation but returning a solid corps of guards, the future seems bright for men’s hoops.

“It was a fun season for us,” Fraschilla said. “I think that we already recognize that in my first two years that we’ve had to rebuild the program with the loss of Kenny Thomas and no real threat inside the last two years. And we’ve done it by playing two of the toughest schedules in school history.”

Even with the team’s success, Fraschilla had his detractors. Some local media decried the pre-conference schedule as soft. But Fraschilla saw it another way.

“If I hear people complaining about only 21 wins, when we’ve played so many good non-conference games, I’d be disappointed,” Fraschilla said. “When I came here I said if people want 25 wins and have us play teams of a lesser caliber, I’d prefer not to do that. I’d prefer to lose at Stanford if that’s going to be the case.

It was not uncommon to see five underclassmen on the floor at any given time, and in his two years as coach, Fraschilla seems to have no qualms about going deep into the bench, something that UNM faithful has not been used to seeing in the men’s team.

“To win 21 games in a rebuilding year against top talent is gratifying with so many young players on the court,” Fraschilla said. “Some of our key players, Marlon (Parmer), Ruben (Douglas), Patrick (Dennehy); they all improved from the start of the season to the end. And, it was gratifying to see Eric Chatfield bounce back from a midseason slump to play good basketball.”

Parmer, Douglas, Dennehy and Chatfield return next year, along with guard Tim Lightfoot and forward Alvin Broussard as key reserves.

Transfer guard Senque Carey will also be on board. He had been slated to give UNM another option at the point guard position next year, but Parmer emerged as a premier floor general as the season wore on and should start next year.

With White and Smith gone, it leaves a gaping hole in the Lobos’ already depleted inside game, but with 6-foot, 11-inch Chad Bell and 6-foot 6-inch tall bruiser Jamaal Williams filling two of UNM’s three available scholarships, help may soon be on the way.

Bell averaged 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game this year at Westchester High School in Los Angeles, Calif. He was named as one of 100 finalists for the 2001 McDonalds All American team but did not make the final cut.

The 220-pound Williams averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds per game at Centennial High School in Los Angeles this year.

The Lobos are also rumored to be pursuing 7-footer Mickey Michalec out of Skiatook High School near Tulsa, Okla. The University of Pittsburgh, Kansas State University, South Alabama University and Tulsa University are also involved in his pursuit.

And UNM is also awaiting word on the decision of 7-footer Moustapha Diagne who is currently attending Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. He made an official visit to UNM earlier this season and said he will visit the University of Cincinnati before making a decision.

The spring signing period begins April 11, and Fraschilla cannot comment on recruits until that date.

The 2001-2002 schedule will feature home games against Stanford and Gonzaga and the Lobos will host a home tournament that will bring the University of Southern Mississippi, West Virginia University and Pacific University. So with another beefy non-conference schedule and key returnees, it is easy to see why Frachilla is unswayed by talk of the program’s decline.

“Keep in mind that the year before Kenny Thomas came here they were 15-15 — very mediocre,” Fraschilla said. “So, I don’t concern myself with what people think. I’ve coached long enough to know that we’ve had two good years here. You have to see that we’ve also played programs like Wake Forest, St. Joseph’s and Alabama State who all went to the NCAAs this year and this year’s schedule on the RPI scale was the 17th-toughest in the nation. So, all things considered, I’m extremely pleased.”

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