Editor's note: A previous version of this story noted that Vance Jackson told reporters at the Mountain West Championships that he would return for next season, which is untrue. The story has been update with this information in mind.
Former University of New Mexico men's basketball starters JJ Caldwell and Vance Jackson announced their intention to enter the NCAA transfer portal after another disappointing season which saw a midseason collapse marred by suspensions and injuries.
With one year of college eligibility remaining, Jackson is expected to graduate and play immediately for his new school under the NCAA's graduate transfer rule. Jackson's 2019-20 season was hindered by injury during the second half of the season, causing him to miss five games.
Following the Lobos' season-ending loss to Utah State in the second round of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) championship tournament, "Vegas" Vance told reporters that he was unsure if he'd be back at UNM next season.
Jackson's decision may feel all-too-familiar for Lobo fans, as just last season former UNM leading scorer Anthony Mathis announced that he'd be moving as a graduate transfer to the University of Oregon.
The 6-foot-9 forward started his career with Connecticut before transferring to UNM in 2017. He averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 60 games for the Lobos, including an impressive postseason performance during the 2019 MWC championships, earning the fan-favorite a spot on the all-tournament team.
Though much shorter than Jackson's, Caldwell’s UNM career was just as eventful — if for all the wrong reasons.
The point guard announced Sunday he'd enter the NCAA transfer portal via a Twitter post that read simply "That was fun while it lasted."
Various reports confirmed that Caldwell had opted into transferring shortly thereafter.
Caldwell, who started thirteen games for UNM this season and led the Mountain West with 5.7 assists per game, was serving an indefinite suspension from team activities following domestic abuse allegations.
Caldwell's suspension began Dec. 22, the same day senior forward Carlton Bragg's first suspension from the team for unrelated reasons took hold. Neither player would finish the year on the team's roster. Bragg was removed from the team following a DWI arrest, while Caldwell's suspension and a subsequent lawsuit against UNM unfolded.
In the 13 games in which Caldwell suited up for the Lobos, UNM went 11-2 and were six games deep into a season-high eight-game winning streak before his suspension.
The former ESPN Top-100 recruit began his career with Texas A&M as a freshman before then-head coach Billy Kennedy removed Caldwell from the team, citing a "violation of team rules."
At both Texas A&M and UNM, Caldwell was not charged with a crime, nor did UNM publicly claim that Caldwell was in direct violation of any specific University policy. The controversial decision to evict Caldwell from his on-campus housing and his concurrent campus ban following the suspension was the subject of a civil rights violation lawsuit.
While his case is still under review by state prosecutors, Caldwell was eventually permitted to return to campus.
Caldwell's case and potential criminal charges were originally handled in Albuquerque, but were turned over to New Mexico State Police to avoid a potential conflict of interest with the Albuquerque Police Department. Albuquerque district attorney Raul Torrez is married to UNM dean of students Nasha Torrez, who made the initial decision to ban Caldwell from campus.
With one season of NCAA eligibility remaining, Caldwell's future remains unclear. The NCAA is likely to create a transfer exception that would allow transfer players to play right away rather than sit out a season, though the current COVID-19 pandemic has rendered unpredictable the NCAA's present course of action.
As of March 30, eight scholarship players are slated to return to UNM's roster, including freshman Bayron Matos, who joined the team in January but never saw playing time. Matos, a 6-foot-8 forward, occupies the scholarship spot left by guard Drue Drinnon, who left the team before the season began for personal reasons.
Joe Rull is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @rulljoe