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Lobo hoops notebook: Freshman Johnson’s potential, talent hard to ignore

UNM guard Javonté Johnson has been impressive in offseason workouts, leading coach Paul Weir to see the need to “temper expectations” for the Colorado Springs freshman. (Courtesy UNM Athletics)

Even before his time as a men’s basketball head coach at New Mexico, Paul Weir saw how fan expectations of young Lobo players could sometimes, to put it delicately, get out of hand.

Unrealistic, and often unfair, comparisons to former Lobos playing in the NBA or who put in years of work to become stars in the Mountain West remain commonplace for UNM basketball fans when talking about the team’s new recruits.

So Weir is trying hard to not fan the flames about Javonté Johnson, the 6-foot-6 freshman guard from Colorado Springs. But from developments in offseason that have been closed to the media, several people around the program have told the Journal he has the makings of a potential breakout star.

“Yeah, he’s hard not to be excited about,” Weir said. “I am doing everything I can to temper expectations. Particularly, I know how this community can get. He’s a young kid. He’s a phenomenal person. And I’m trying to protect him as best I can.”

Then again, even Weir can’t help himself when asked directly about what he’s seeing so far from the newcomer.

“He’s going to be terrific,” Weir said. “He is ready to go, he’s ready to roll. He can score all three levels. He’s got a college body. He is probably, you know, day in and day out our hardest worker, if not one of them. He’s everything you’d want in a player. I think he’s gonna have an amazing career here at New Mexico. And I’m ecstatic about him. We hit on him and we feel that way.

“At the same time, I don’t want to be too outward about that, for his sake. And for the fans as well. … I want to do my best job coaching him and bring that out of him. But he’s an undeniable talent, and I really look forward to coaching him.”

HAPPY DAYS: UNM’s newly hired special assistant to the head coach, Dave Pilipovich, told the Journal that one of his first observations is how happy the Lobo players seem to be.

“It’s a good young group of men and some talent – I see a talented group,” Pilipovich said. “And I see kids walking around the office, you know they have their masks on, but you see they’re are laughing and having a good time. They just seem to be a connected group, and that all starts with Paul, the way he’s brought them together and the opportunity to love to win again. That’s a neat thing to see.”

FURSTY LOVE: One of the more remarkable stories in recent Lobo hoops lore is the coming out party forward Joe Furstinger had in Weir’s first season. Based on Furstinger’s production and role through his first few seasons at UNM, a memory Pilipovich shared of that 2017-18 season might still catch some Lobo fans off guard.

The 2017-18 Lobos were picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West, actually finished third and rode a seven-game win streak into their league championship game appearance. Pilipovich noted that his team’s Feb. 10, 2018 upset of the Lobos at the Academy was due in large part to the absence of Furstinger, suspended after starting a scuffle the game prior against Boise State.

“The key to us winning was that Furstinger didn’t play,” Pilipovich recalls. “Timing is everything and he had to sit out. Defensively, he blocked shots, aggressive, he played with a motor – just a tough son of a gun. I loved Joe Furstinger. You wanted him on your team, not playing against him.”

Furstinger is playing this season for Polpharma Starogard Gdanski, a professional team in Poland. On Thursday, he had 13 points, four rebounds and a block in 18 minutes of play in a two-point loss.

TALKING ‘BOUT PRACTICE: The same public health order that led UNM leadership to no let the Lobo football team play its schedules season opener on Saturday at Colorado State also has UNM’s men’s and women’s basketball teams limited in practice.

While the NCAA opened practice nationwide Oct. 14 with Division I teams allowed 30 full team practices over the 42 days before the Nov. 25 opener, both UNM and NMSU, after one or two initial practices, are now limited to training in groups no larger than five.

WOMEN’S CLINIC: The Lobos will host its second “Women’s Walkthrough” on Nov. 10 — a virtual event offering behind the scenes looks at the Pit facility and talks with coaching staff aimed at offering a better understanding of the program and what players and coaches do.

The registration deadline is Feb. 6 and the event is $20, free for UNM students. More information is available online at GoLobos.com/Walthrough.

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