ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team is headed toward the homestretch of completing its 2014 recruiting class.
The Lobos on Monday announced the signing of 6-foot-9, 240-pound New Zealand power forward Tohiraukura “Tohi” Smith-Milner and also got confirmation Butler transfer Elijah Brown will make an official recruiting visit this weekend.
Smith-Milner actually gave a verbal commitment to UNM last week on his recruiting visit, but the coaching staff couldn’t confirm the decision until receiving his national letter of intent.
“Tohi comes to us with good size at 6-feet-9-inches and 240 pounds,” UNM head coach Craig Neal, who was in Arizona on Monday, said in a prepared statement announcing the signing. “He is a versatile player who can play inside with his size but can also step out and shoot 3’s. We are fortunate to sign him after being the first program to recruit him.”
Smith-Milner has trained at the Impact Basketball Academy the past two months in Las Vegas, Nev., after completing school in Aukland, New Zealand.
As is the case with many international players, the Lobos may still have some hurdles to clear before Smith-Milner receives clearance from the NCAA and ensure he qualifies academically to play for the 2014-15 season, but they have until the fall semester to do so, as opposed to June when most of the rest of the team will enroll for summer classes. Smith-Milner plans to return to his home country this week and try out next month for the New Zealand National Team with the hopes of playing in August’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.
He has been a member of New Zealand’s under-20 and under-18 national teams in international competition.
His signing means the Lobos are down to one open scholarship to award from the coming school year.
One recruit who could land that last scholarship is Brown, a 6-4 freshman guard who is transferring from Butler after averaging 6.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. He had season highs of 19 points and four 3-pointers made against then-No. 11 Villanova on Dec. 31 and scored 15 points against then-No. 5 Oklahoma State on Nov. 29. He also shot a team-best 85.4 percent from the free throw line.
Brown, the son of Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, was a two-year star at California powerhouse Mater Dei High School. Should he transfer to UNM, or any other Division I program, he’ll have to sit out the 2014-15 season per NCAA transfer rules.
On Monday, he and current Lobo Cullen Neal, who like Brown was his team’s fourth-leading scorer this past season coming off the bench, exchanged messages on Twitter about the upcoming visit. The two have known each other through basketball since the seventh grade.
Brown also exchanged tweets with Lobo senior-to-be Hugh Greenwood. Brown played this past season with Greenwood’s former Australian Institute of Sport classmate and teammate on the Australian 2011 FIBA U-19 World Championship team, Jackson Aldridge.
UNM lost from 2013-14 roster seven players (six scholarship players): Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Chris Perez (walk-on) to exhausted eligibility; Alex Kirk, who left school with a season of eligibility remaining to pursue an NBA career; and Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas, Nick Banyard and Tim Myles to transfer.
The Lobos have signed five players for the 2014-15 season so far. They include high school seniors Xavier Adams, a 6-5 guard from Flower Mound, Texas, and Joe Furstinger, a 6-8 forward from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.; junior college All-American Jordan Goodman, a 6-9 small forward from Harcum College in Pennsylvania; J.J. N’Ganga, a 6-10 center from Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa junior college; and Smith-Milner.