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A month of change, both welcome and unwelcome, for Lobo hoops

Paul Weir has had to deal with lots of changes in his UNM men’s basketball program of late.. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Paul Weir sat courtside in front of a laptop computer.

Even with the backdrop of an empty Pit showing behind him on Tuesday morning, there was still the reality that plenty of eyes are very much still focused on the Lobo men’s basketball program that Weir, now entering his fourth season, is tasked with returning to what it once was.

Never mind August being traditionally one of the slowest “news” months on the calendar for a college basketball team. Weir had plenty to talk about Tuesday in what has, even by Lobo basketball standards, been an unusually tumultuous month for the program since the tragic Aug. 1 shooting death of top 100 recruit JB White to Weir receiving text messages during Tuesday’s call clearing him to announce the addition of two more new players.

“We’ve really tried to just give them an array of people, even though they’re on Zoom … to maybe get them thinking differently or away from the pain of life right now in a lot of ways,” said Weir, referring to the activities he and the school have tried providing the team, including guest speakers like Shaquille O’Neal (a connection of athletic director Eddie Nuñez from his LSU days), campus professors, nationally-known authors and others.

After the shocking Aug. 1 news about White, who was already close with several current Lobos, there was the sudden transfer a week later of leading returning scorer Zane Martin, then the Aug. 14 DUI arrest and subsequent resignation of Brandon Mason, the assistant coach who was instrumental in so many players being on the roster now.

Then, just in the past week, the team has started classes – a handful of them in college for the first time – had a potential starting point guard receive an NCAA waiver allowing him to play this season and added three – THREE! – players since Friday, several days after the semester already started.

Combine it all with the reality of the ongoing pandemic, and it’s clear this has been a heavy month for the program.

“You kind of mentioned JB, and there’s some direct (incidents) that have impacted our program,” Weir said, “but I think we all on this call have people in our lives – family, friends, whomever that are impacted right now as well. I think we’re all dealing with an increased pressure and anxiety in our personal lives and emotionally that we’ve just tried to kind of get them out of.

“When they come to workouts, we turn on a lot more music than we used to. We started with some tennis. We started with just different activities to kind of get them excited. We do yoga. I’m trying to bring in someone to kind of do some meditation work like just trying to give them different experiences and opportunities to get out of the unfortunate tragedies and things you’ve discussed here lately but also just the difficulties of life right now in general.”

NEW PLAYERS: As first reported Friday, but not finalized until Tuesday, 6-foot-9 Valdir Manuel, who played the past two seasons at Harcum (Junior) College in Pennsylvania, is now officially a Lobo, filling the 13th and final open scholarship on the roster.

Manuel, originally from Angola where his parents and uncles have played professionally and on the Angolan National Team, injured his wrist this past season at Harcum and is not fully recovered, but Weir said UNM doctors have no reason to think that won’t happen.

Weir said Tuesday the program, and former assistant coach Jerome Robinson, recruited Manuel out of high school and more recently current assistant Dan McHale continued that.

“I quite honestly feel if we can get him into shape and healthy he’s an all conference type of player,” said Weir.

Manuel and guard Isaiah Marin, who joined the team Friday, fill the two scholarships that, to start the month, had been set aside for White and Martin.

Manuel had signed to play at Penn State until decommiting in June for undisclosed reasons. Penn State coach Pat Chambers, however, said of Manuel when he first committed to the program, “Valdir is going to thrive in the Big Ten with his talent and physical abilities. He creates a mismatch no matter who is guarding him and has the skillset to play both inside and on the perimeter.”

LOCAL FLARE: UNM also announced Tuesday the addition of West Mesa High School graduate Eloy Medina as a walk-on – the fifth on the roster.

Weir said Medina is “an elite, elite shooter” who the coach doesn’t expect to be just a practice body.

“I will say with his shooting ability, he is someone that we’re hopeful at some point in the future, will be able to help our basketball team on the court,” Weir said.

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