The Lobos’ bench appears to be getting thinner.
Karim Ezzeddine, the 6-foot-8 junior forward who played the previous two seasons at Northwest Florida State junior college and at highly regarded Huntington Prep in West Virginia before that, did not attend the New Mexico men’s two-hour afternoon practice Thursday. That was after he left the team’s bench for the locker room with three minutes still to play in a 97-77 road loss to San Diego State on Tuesday night, when he was visibly upset as he was pulled out of the game.
He is now contemplating leaving UNM. Whether that is a move to transfer to another college or quitting college basketball altogether is unclear, but as of Thursday afternoon Ezzeddine had not yet asked for his name to be placed in the NCAA transfer portal for other schools to be made aware of his desire to transfer. He is still considered on scholarship as a student with the Lobos.
“With Karim, there was a situation and we’re continuing to talk,” Weir said on Thursday. “We spoke a little bit (Wednesday in San Diego) in the airport. We spoke a little bit again today. We’re going to continue to work through that, and once I have a final resolution is when I’ll release something. I don’t want to necessarily prematurely say stuff about that.”
The Journal asked to speak with Ezzeddine on Thursday, but as he was not at practice, he was not available for media interviews.
He has not been kicked off the team or suspended, at least not officially, but UNM (8-9, 2-3 Mountain West) is preparing for Wyoming (4-13, 0-4), Saturday’s opponent, without Ezzeddine as part of the game plan.
“At this point, no (he won’t play),” Weir said, “but until I have a final resolution to that, I don’t really want to talk too much about it, just because he’s involved in this decision as well.”
Independent of the Ezzeddine situation, Weir acknowledged a player hoping to join the Lobos next season – the Journal has learned it is former Texas A&M point guard J.J. Caldwell, though UNM will not confirm that – has been admitted to the university, but has not yet enrolled in classes, which began this week on main campus.
Caldwell was not attending an NCAA Division I school this past semester, will not be on scholarship this semester for UNM, and would not be eligible to play for the Lobos until the middle of the 2019-20 season – much like what happened this season with Carlton Bragg, who also enrolled at UNM last January, not on scholarship.
Weir acknowledged the timing of the two-player situations could look bad, but said they have nothing to do with one another. UNM does not have a scholarship available.
Originally from Paris, Ezzeddine started six games this season for UNM and has played in all 17. He’s averaging 17.1 minutes per game and 4.3 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds.
His minutes have gone down dramatically of late both as the team has transitioned to a zone-dominated defensive scheme and since Bragg was added to the roster in mid-December.
After playing a minimum of 17 minutes in each of the team’s first 13 games, Ezzeddine’s minutes played in the past four games have been 5, 4, 13 and 3. When he was pulled in the second half on Tuesday, he couldn’t contain his frustration on the team bench, which is located right in front of press row at Viejas Arena.
The Journal reported his leaving the team bench, though Weir would not answer Journal questions about the matter after the game.
Teammate Corey Manigault also had bad body language upon being taken out of Tuesday’s games, but that has been an ongoing issue for him this season when struggling in games. Weir made clear on Thursday that Manigault’s and Ezzeddine’s situations are not related.
“I know that I’ve had a lot of questions about Corey and Karim since our last game,” Weir said. “I think they, like a lot of players on our team, are competitive and don’t like the recent string of defeats that we’ve had and, coupled with their playing time, can get a little emotional at times. …
“Corey’s been kind of brought into this because of some body language things that he did, which has been an issue for him this year, which are things we continue to talk (about) and teach and hope that he’ll grow from. But I don’t think anything with Corey is overly significant at this point for me to talk about.”