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Signing day surprise: NCAA grants Lobo Anthony Mathis another season

Lobo Anthony Mathis is introduced during the Cherry-Silver game at the Pit in October 2018 at Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Wednesday marked the first day of the regular signing period for college basketball teams around the country.

The UNM Lobos did one better than the traditional announcement of the new recruits it is adding to the fold for the 2019-20 season.

It re-added an old recruit.

The NCAA on Wednesday informed UNM and senior guard Anthony Mathis that it has granted his waiver appeal for an additional year of playing eligibility based on how he was used in the 2016-17 season — the last under former head coach Craig Neal.

“This is the best news I have ever heard,” Mathis said in a statement released by the school. “To be able to come back and truly have a full career here is absolutely a dream come true. I can’t thank everyone at UNM and the NCAA enough for making this happen.”

He later posted on his social media accounts, including Twitter: “I’m incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to play another year of college basketball and continue my academic journey. I look forward to getting back on the court and starting graduate school.”

The West Linn, Ore., native is expected to graduate next month and will be eligible to be a graduate transfer and be immediately eligible to play at UNM or any school in the country, if he is admitted to a graduate program at that school. He did not say Wednesday if he plans to explore that option, and UNM did not make him available to media for interviews.

Mathis, who has led the Lobos in scoring each of the past two seasons under head coach Paul Weir, played in only 10 games in the 2016-17 season for a total of 64 minutes, leading to his requesting, and being granted, a release from his scholarship in March 2017.

When Neal was fired, Mathis decided to stay at UNM and play for Weir, where he became in two season’s time one of the best shooters in program history.

Neither Mathis nor UNM is going into details about the specific details of what hardship factors from the 2016-17 season led to the redshirt appeal that UNM and Weir have been working on. But its being granted is unusual for two big reasons: One, it’s not related to injury and two, Mathis played in games in the second half of that season, which usually is an easy nullification of any success in earning a hardship waiver.

The Journal has put in a request with both the NCAA and with UNM to see on what specific grounds the waiver was granted for Mathis.

“I am so happy for Anthony,” Weir said in UNM’s news release. “There hasn’t been a more committed member of our team the past two years, and to have him for one more is an absolutely huge boost for our program. …

“Anthony is an amazing player but he is an even better person to have helping to put this program back where it belongs. I am looking forward to the upcoming season and all that we can accomplish with him back for another year.”

After spring classes began Jan. 16, 2017, Mathis appeared in only two games, neither in Albuquerque, for the Lobos — seven minutes in a road win at Air Force in which he hit one 3-pointer and 16 minutes in a road loss at Wyoming in which he scored 13 points and hit three 3-pointers. Both appearances left Lobo fans scratching their heads as to why Neal would never let the sharpshooting guard off the bench.

The news means UNM is possibly as many as two scholarships over the NCAA allowed 13 now for the 2019-20 season. While every other team in the Mountain West Conference has at least one, and several teams have multiple players who have entered the NCAA transfer portal indicating their desire to transfer to another school, the Lobos have not had any do so thus far. But like all programs, UNM has recruited as though at least a couple players would leave.

UNM still awaits a decision from junior forward Vance Jackson on whether he will return to school as he is now in California testing the NBA Draft waters. If he stays in the draft (the deadline is May 29 to decide), that would open one scholarship.

Another possibility the Journal has learned is that one player with the team could opt to become a walk-on for the season and play without an athletic scholarship, though that has not been officially confirmed by UNM.

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