The “team motto on a team T-shirt” game hasn’t always played well in these parts – at least not since the infamous “Unfinished Business” push of the 2013-14 season.
Yes, Lobo basketball annually still has used a team mantra or rallying cry as a daily reminder of the team’s core values. They just haven’t always made it very public.
The 2019-20 season had a rather negative feel – both with general frustration about off-court issues piling up and less-than-expected results on the court after a stellar start to the season. That led into the seven-month COVID-driven uncertainty every team is now facing.
Now, the program is back to hoping that, maybe more than anything, one simple message will be reinforced.
And it’s even found its way to T-shirts the entire team has.
“I usually wear a T-shirt every year that is kind of our slogan,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said last week during a Zoom call with local reporters while gesturing to the shirt.
“That is ‘Love to Win.’ I’m really trying to get these guys to embrace and enjoy winning. I think being a part of Lobo basketball sometimes can be can be stressful, it can be anxious, particularly on the young men. And winning sometimes becomes a relief and enjoying the moment becomes a relief. And I’m really trying to get everyone to savor it.”
The shirt is black with the words “Love to Win” in turquoise on the chest with the Lobos’ logo shining through the background.
The 2019-20 Lobos, not that most fans need the reminder, started with a 13-2 record and as of Jan. 11 were still 15-3 and 4-1 in Mountain West Conference play. But two starters were kicked off the team. Another starter who was injured at the time hosted a party the same night the team lost a game in Reno, Nevada, only to fly home and have most of the roster then go to the party. There, two people, including a Lobo softball player, were shot. And, the team at one point lost eight of nine games to finish with a 19-14 record, which was still the best record the program has had in six years.
It wasn’t fun by the arrival of the offseason. There’s been almost total roster turnover, and two assistant coaches, a special assistant to the head coach and the strength coach have all left for various reasons.
Oh, and then there’s the whole COVID factor of not being with the team all offseason and the accompanying uncertainty about when they can be allowed to practice for the coming season.
Weir and his staff put in a lot of offseason effort not only to piece together a roster they are genuinely excited about, but to keep the players’ minds right and the mood light with a wide variety of guest speakers on Zoom, including Shaquille O’Neal.
“I think just through this pandemic, you have time to sit and think and reflect about you, yourself, your team, where it all sits,” Weir said. “And I’m really hopeful that this team can just enjoy winning and taking and embracing where we’re at and not letting the pressure of this community and the expectations kind of getting on guys. That’s something I have to do a better job of, and obviously our team as well.”
NEW ADDITION: UNM on Tuesday announced the hiring of Aki Collins as director of basketball operations, filling the vacancy left by the promotion to assistant coach of Ralph Davis.
Collins spent the past five seasons as an amateur evaluation scout for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and was a college assistant coach at Memphis, Marquette, Fairfield, Marshall, Howard and Colorado prior to that.
“Aki’s experiences in both college and the NBA are going to be an amazing resource for our student-athletes,” Weir said in a news release. “To add someone of his coaching background to our staff will help push us forward this year and beyond.”
SCHEDULE: The Lobos are still hoping to have a nine-game non-conference schedule, with the NCAA saying the season should start Nov. 25. But without being allowed to practice currently, and state public health order guidelines putting a big question mark on activities in the state, the Lobos still don’t have a schedule it can confirm, deputy athletic director David Williams told the Journal on Wednesday.
UNM still plans two games against New Mexico State and a home game vs. UTEP, with none of those dates confirmed. Also, Williams confirmed both UTEP and UNM have agreed to work together to extend the home-and-home series that had UTEP playing in Albuquerque this season so that the Lobos can have a future home game when fans will be allowed back in. That is unlikely this season.