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UNM men's basketball coach Richard Pitino during a media break against Air Force at The Pit on February 24.

Men’s basketball: the Pitino era continues

After three seasons of improvement year-to-year, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach, Richard Pitino, agreed to a contract extension through the 2028-29 season. The extension follows the team's most successful season in a decade, earning their first National Collegiate Athletics Association tournament appearance since 2014.

In a May 7 press release, UNM Director of Athletics Eddie Nuñez credited the program’s success as the driving factor in the extension.

“He has also been a tremendous representative of our university and ambassador of Lobo athletics throughout the community. Our recent on-court success has produced increased revenue, and we believe the best way to continue to foster that growth is to reinvest in the program,” Nuñez said in the press release.

Pitino will make $1.2 - $1.4 million in each year of his contract.

In the press release, Pitino said he was excited to continue building up the program.

“We did some great things this year and I look forward to building off that success. Our amazing fans deserve a winner and I will work tirelessly to deliver them a team they can be proud of,” Pitino said in the press release.

Last season, The Pit averaged 13,042 fans in attendance, ranking 23 in the nation.

In his first season as a Lobo coach, 2020-21, Pitino inherited a 6-16 team. Under Pitino, the team improved to 13-19. The greatest additions he brought that year were transfers Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn. The team turned into a high powered offense, leading the Mountain West Conference in scoring 74.3 points per game.

House and Mashburn earned spots on the all-conference third team, but the team lost in the first round of the conference tournament.

During the 2022-23 season, the program started to gain momentum. The team finished with a 22-12 overall record. The Lobos began on a 14-0 run; they were the last undefeated team in the NCAA. They were also ranked as high as 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

In 2022-23, Pitino sought to add size to the roster.

Morris Udeze transferred to UNM for his final year of eligibility and earned a spot on the all-conference third team. Donovan Dent, a freshman recruit, gave the stellar backcourt more depth. House earned spots on the all-conference second team and the all-defense team. Mashburn led the conference in scoring and was all-conference first team.

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Despite the hot start, the team struggled during conference play. They lost in the second round of the conference team and missed out on the NCAA tournament. The Lobos went on to lose in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Last season, the Lobos finished with an overall record of 26-10. In the final year of the House and Mashburn pairing, the team broke through to participate in March Madness. Early in the season, it was clear Dent improved over the summer, and fellow underclassmen JT Toppin saw immediate success in his college career.

House was named Mountain West tournament MVP and made the all-conference third team and all-defense team. Mustapha Amzil was brought over in the transfer portal and shared the conference’s sixth Man of the Year award. Both Dent and Toppin made all-conference second team; Toppin joined Mashburn on the all-tournament team.

They were ranked as high as 19 in the AP Top 25 and won the Mountain West tournament, winning four games in four days. The team lost to Clemson in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

With the departure of House and Mashburn, the team will look different next year. However, the Pitino era has been characterized by improving on the margins – consistently finding undervalued transfer portal targets and recruiting under-the-radar freshmen.

Pitino has returned UNM basketball to some of its former glory. Fans next year will get to see if the exponential growth at The Pit will continue.

Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @thomasbulger10

Thomas Bulger

 Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @thomasbulger10 

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