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Lobos land big man, have two scholarships open

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His junior college coach says the New Mexico Lobos are getting a steal in J.J. N’Ganga.

While the statistics for the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center from Northern Oklahoma College-Tankawa aren’t going to wow anyone (6.0 points, 5.4 rebounds per game this past season for the Mavericks), his coach Donnie Jackson points out the big man from Aubervilliers, France, played hurt in each of his junior college seasons.

He’s given the Lobos a commitment to play in Albuquerque next season. He has two years of playing eligibility remaining.

“He’s a high-major player,” said Donnie Jackson. “When he played better, we played better. And I don’t think it was really until late in the season he started to look like he was feeling good and learning how to use his strength. … And off the court, he’s an unbelievable person. High character. Very Christian oriented. Ambassador wherever he go and the type of guy I’d want my son to be like. He always has a smile, too.”

N’Ganga missed half of his freshman season two years ago with a left Achilles tendon injury and then suffered a sprained ankle in August that stuck with him well into this past season.

“I think he played at 85, maybe 90 percent by the end of the season,” Jackson said. “If he continues to work, and I have no doubt he will, he has enormous potential.”

The 21-year-old started playing basketball at the age of 15 and moved to the United States three years ago.

“Basically if I stayed there, I would have to pick basketball or education,” N’Ganga said. “Here, I am able to do both basketball while still getting my education.”

He said educational resources were a big part of his decision to play at UNM, which he chose over Liberty and fellow Mountain West schools Fresno State and Nevada. He said schools like Alabama and TCU were also recruiting him.

His relationship with UNM coach Craig Neal started when he was playing at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas, three years ago. He said UNM assistant Craig Snow and associate head coach Lamont Smith jumped in on the group recruiting effort this season.

Jackson said N’Ganga is still raw, but always improving. He “alters a lot of shots” defensively and is good one ball screen defense. On offense, Jackson said N’Ganga can hit 15-footers, can “stretch the defense,” has good low post moves and runs well after playing for an up-tempo Mavericks offense.

The Lobos will likely use more of a fast-paced offense next season with the departure of the star frontcourt duo of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, who on Friday declared he would enter the NBA Draft.

Kirk’s decision, N’Ganga said, helped in his decision.

“It’s a big responsibility,” said N’Ganga of playing at UNM. “I know it will take a lot of work, but I’ll put in the work and I think I can help them.”

Neal and the Lobo coaching staff can not publicly comment on recruits until they sign. The spring signing period begins Wednesday.

UNM has five scholarships to fill for the 2014-15 season with two already accounted for from the early signing period. Texas guard Xavier Adams and California forward Joe Furstinger, both high school players, signed National Letters of Intent. N’Ganga will account for a third scholarship and UNM is still looking to fill two more.

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