Year Two of the Paul Weir era as the head coach of the University of New Mexico Lobos officially tips off on Tuesday in Northridge, Calif.
But in a Thursday news conference in Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit to preview the season opener at Cal. State-Northridge, Weir was already in midseason form at sending his us-against-the-world message.
“I told the guys this, they may all think they’re the greatest,” Weir said when discussing his continued philosophy on alternating starting lineups each game (see more below). “And you all may think they’re the greatest. But there’s … some kind of rankings that came out (on the website Mountain West Wire that ranked the league’s top 25 players) and we don’t have anyone in the top 10, top 12 (the highest ranked Lobo is actually No. 15 JaQuan Lyle, who is out for the season with an injured Achilles).
“No one thinks any of you guys are any good. Sports Illustrated has us picked 150th or something, fifth in the league. I know there’s a lot of noise around (about this season’s team being better than last), but in general, we’ve got a lot to prove and so do our guys. Nothing has changed on my end. We’ve got to find a way to go out and outwork people and play harder and more unselfish and do things as a team because nobody else seems to think we have some star player we’re going to ride to the promised land.”
OK. Slow down.
Last season’s Lobos were picked ninth in a preseason media poll and they were third this season. The expectations heading into the season are, with good reason, much higher than a year ago. Weir just doesn’t want anyone on his team to know that or think they are good enough to start every game.
After last season started, in an effort to hammer home what Weir wanted to be the team’s primary point of emphasis – defensive deflections, including steals, blocks, actual deflections and charges drawn – he began having a team manager or assistant chart every game the deflections per minute played of every Lobo. The top five in that category started the next game, regardless of any other stats, including scoring. The top five from the first half of each game started the second half.
The message was clear. And this season, Weir has every intention of utilizing the same method.
He told his team before last Saturday’s closed-scrimmage with Northern Arizona University that the game’s deflection count would determine the starting five in the season-opener against CSUN on Tuesday.
“So, yeah,” Weir said. “We do have our five guys ready to play – the five guys (who led the scrimmage in) deflections per minute.”
And would he be so kind as to announce those five starters on Thursday?
ONE BACK, ONE OUT: Two players who aren’t in the mix to start on Tuesday are senior guard Dane Kuiper and freshman point guard Drue Drinnon.
Kuiper did not play in the scrimmage, still nursing a left shoulder injury suffered in the Oct. 19 Cherry-Silver scrimmage. The good news on the Kuiper front, however, is that he has returned to being a full participant in practice this week and is fully cleared to play Tuesday.
Drinnon, however, suffered a high-ankle sprain in the NAU scrimmage on Saturday in the first minute on the floor and hasn’t practiced since. Neither an X-ray nor MRI revealed any indication that Drinnon’s absence should be long term, but it won’t be by Tuesday.
“I don’t know exactly when that will be,” Weir said. “It could be one week, it could two weeks.”
WAIVER NEWS: The NCAA has not yet ruled on transfer Carlton Bragg’s waiver request to be eligible to play immediately on Tuesday. As of now, his scheduled allowed date to play remains Dec. 16 after having been enrolled at Arizona State for the fall semester a year ago.
Weir said he hopes to know by Tuesday.
“We’re hopeful that this will get resolved before then, but at the end of the day we also would like it to be resolved in our best interest, so that’s why, really, there’s never been a rush on anything. There’s been a lot of back and forth between us and the NCAA for months now.”
Walk-on Clay Patterson, the Rio Rancho High graduate who was enrolled but did not play at Division II Fort Lewis College last season, has been granted a waiver to play for the Lobos this season rather than having to wait a season due to transfer rules.
That said, Weir said the Lobos “have not totally decided if that’s something we will immediately utilize or not.”