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UNM women’s basketball: Wait ends for freshman Watts

Autumn Watts doesn’t number patience among her virtues on a basketball court.

A rising freshman for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, Watts didn’t wait around to commit to a school and didn’t enjoy waiting for summer workouts to start.

University of New Mexico women’s basketball freshman Autumn Watts (UNM contributed photo)

Watts, a 6-foot forward from Colorado’s Highlands Ranch High School, became the first member of UNM’s 2019 recruiting class when she committed in May 2018. She then helped Highlands Ranch to a 25-2 season, though the Falcons suffered a 53-52 upset loss to Cherry Creek in Colorado’s 5A semifinals.

Since then she’s been beyond eager for her Lobo career to start.

“It feels like it’s been an extremely long wait,” Watts said after a recent practice. “I committed early because I like the school and this is where I wanted to play. It took forever to get here, though. I’m glad we’re getting started.”

Watts and point guard Corina Carter were the first members of UNM’s touted freshman class to get started. Post Azaria Robinson is recovering from knee surgery, while wing Andriana Avent and post Celine Dupont have not yet arrived in Albuquerque.

It’s a head start for Watts and Carter, both of whom could be in position to earn playing time in 2019-20. The Lobos lost starting posts Jaisa Nunn and Nike McClure (both seniors) from last season, while All-Mountain West point guard Aisia Robertson is recovering from ACL surgery and could miss the start of this season.

Much remains to be determined about UNM’s lineup. The Lobos will get an early jump when they play two games as part of an international trip to Europe in late July.

Still, rising junior Antonia Anderson smiled when asked about her team’s prospects.

“People should be excited about our new players,” Anderson said. “Autumn’s in here grabbing rebounds and playing physical, and I played with Corina in San Antonio before I got here. I know what she can do. We’ll be a fun team to watch, I’d say.”

Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said his first impressions of Watts and Carter have been positive.

“So far I love them to death,” he said. “They’re super-talented, came in with great attitudes and they’re working really hard.”

From last year’s 24-7 team, the Lobos have three returning starters: Robertson and rising sophomore guards Jayla Everett and Ahlise Hurst. They’ll also add transfers Bride Kennedy-Hopoate (a 6-4 post) and Najala Howell (a 5-10 guard), who sat out last year under NCAA rules.

Anderson, who was UNM’s first player off the bench in most games last season, hopes to play an even larger role this fall.

“I just want to take the next step,” she said, “whether that’s starting or playing a lot of minutes off the bench. I want to bring my numbers up.”

Watts, meanwhile, knows she has to adapt to battling college players in practice every day. She knows earning a consistent role may also require patience.

“College ball is different, faster,” she said. “All these players were all-stars in high school, and they’ve not going to give you anything. I just have to be confident, work hard and shoot when I’m open. I’ll figure out where I fit in.”

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