ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Takes on NAIA Davenport Tonight in the Pit
Exhibition: Davenport at UNM, 7 p.m.TV: KASY, My50Radio: KKOB-AM (770)Sophomore Tony Snell was used as a spark off the bench last season, but his teammates say he can be much more this year.journal fileBy Mark SmithJournal Staff Writer
The opponent’s name may suggest otherwise. But for Lobo basketball fans, it’s finally time to get off the couch and into the Pit.
The 2011-12 New Mexico men’s basketball team – the Mountain West Conference preseason-favored men’s basketball team – makes its unofficial debut tonight in the Pit for its season-opening exhibition game against Davenport.
Exhibition: Davenport at UNM, 7 p.m.
TV: KASY, My50
Radio: KKOB-AM (770)
And no, the opponent is not nicknamed the Couches, Sofas, Recliners or Futons.
Too bad, actually. That would really be novel.
Davenport, however, is an NAIA school out of Grand Rapids, Mich., nicknamed the Panthers. The program began in 2003-04 and is 100-150 in its history, but went 29-6 last season. The Panthers are coached by Burt Paddock (fourth year), who played for UNM coach Steve Alford at Manchester in the early-to-mid 1990s.
“He was one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached,” Alford says of Paddock. “His teams are well-coached, they’re athletic, they won 29 games last year. They’ve won 20-plus every year Burt has been there. He’s basically taken an NAIA program that didn’t have much of a program and has really excelled there.”
Alford, of course, isn’t nearly as concerned with Davenport as he is New Mexico. This is first chance to see his group against someone other than itself, and it’s an opportunity to mix lineups and see who is ready to step up when the real season opens in 10 days against New Orleans. UNM plays its second and final exhibition game on Saturday against Western New Mexico.
“We just want to see a work ethic, attention to detail, our decision-making,” Alford said. “We’re still very, very early in the process. We’ve got time, but coaching-wise, we want to see a lot of different combinations; see what meshes, what doesn’t.
“But you get to the part of the season, where you’ve got to have somebody else to go against. Guys are tired of going against each other in practice.”
The Lobos have one of their most talented, deep and experienced squads in years, including preseason first-team all-MWC players Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams. Gordon was also named preseason player of the year and is a Wooden Award candidate.
Toss in three-year senior starters A.J. Hardeman and Phillip McDonald, and there will be a lot of familiar faces on the floor this season.
But while much is made of the returners – and the four-way battle for starting point guard between Williams, freshman Hugh Greenwood, sophomore Demetrius Walker and junior Jamal Fenton – one guy who’s flying under the radar is smooth sophomore guard Tony Snell.
He might not be for long.
“People really haven’t seen all that Tony can do,” says Hardeman, a 6-9 forward. “He just kind of played a role last year, but he can really do a lot of things.”
Last year, the 6-7 Snell was basically used as a spark off the bench when the Lobos needed 3-point shooting. At times, he showed flashes of his overall game, like when he had a season-high 19 points in a home rout of Wyoming. But while Snell was 5-of-9 from the floor in that one, all of his field goals were from 3-point range.
“I’ve got a couple of surprises coming,” says Snell, who added 20 pounds of muscle to his previously slender frame. “I was pretty quiet last year, but now I’m talking more, being more vocal. I need to step up my game and show people who I really am. I’ve been called a ‘top-sleeper’ all my life, but it’s time to step out of that.
“I’m going to the post more. I’m rebounding more. I’m dribbling more and adding more stuff to my game.”
Alford says he sees Snell playing a variety of roles, and can even handle point guard duties at times.
“He is just really athletic and can do so many things for us,” Alford says. “I think he will surprise some people this year.”
MCDONALD OUT: McDonald, who suffered a severely sprained ankle more than two weeks ago, will not play tonight. Alford said he hopes to have McDonald ready for Saturday against WNMU.
RECRUIT VISIT: Devon Williams, a 6-foot-8 forward from Dallas who made a verbal commitment to sign a national letter of intent with the Lobos to play next season, made an official recruiting trip to Albuquerque last weekend. That included a jaunt to UNM Stadium for the Lobo football team’s 42-0 loss to Air Force.
And you’re still ready to sign, Devon?
“Oh yeah,” he said with a laugh. “We only stayed for the first quarter.”
As far as the rest of the trip, Williams said, “It was pretty great. It was everything I expected. It’s a pretty nice, clean environment, and it seems like everyone there is nice and friendly.”
Obij Aget (7-foot center, La Porte, Ind.,) and Nick Banyard (6-8 forward, Flower Mound, Texas) have also given verbal commitments to ink with the Lobos during the fall signing period, which is Nov. 9-16.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal