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Lobo hoops men begin work in earnest in Texas

Lobo players, from left, Jeremiah Francis (11), Rod Brown (5), Kurt Wegscheider (30), Emmanuel Kuac (4), Isaiah Marin (32) and Saquan Singleton (5) run at practice on Friday in Levelland, Texas. The player obscured by Brown could not be identified. (Courtesy of UNM Athletics)

For the third time since Oct. 15, the New Mexico Lobos basketball men held their “first” practice of the 2020-21 season on Friday night.

This time, it wasn’t in the Pit, where they held a practice Oct. 15 before practicing in Bernalillo County became prohibited due to the spiking COVID-19 case count put preseason full-team workouts on hold.

And it wasn’t in the John B. Salvo gymnasium at Moriarty High School, where on Nov. 6 and 7, the team got in two more practices before that option also became a no-go due to the state’s public health order.

Now, with the NCAA college basketball season start date coming on Wednesday, the Lobos on Friday night “started” again with a full-team practice in the Texan Dome at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas.

Friday was practice No. 4 of the preseason, and Saturday brought on practice 5.

The NCAA allows 30 preseason practices over the 42-day run-up to the season.

All but two players were said to have participated with the Lobos. Two weeks ago, those two tested positive for COVID-19, have been isolated from the team much of the time since, have since tested negative in all subsequent tests and are awaiting final clearance via heart testing to get back on the court. The team’s travel party includes coaches, trainers and an academic adviser.

The Lobos don’t yet have a non-conference game to prepare for and, instead, are merely trying to take the next steps of implementing the offense and defensive schemes as a full unit – things they were able to do only in a limited capacity in film sessions or group workouts of five or fewer over the past month.

It remains unclear when the Lobos might schedule a game, or even if they will.

“The likelihood is that … there’s a good chance we will not be playing non-conference games this year,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said last week.

The Dec. 3 Mountain West Conference opener at Boise State, followed by a Dec. 5 game, also at Boise State, is unlikely to go on as scheduled due to the late start of the Lobos’ regular practice schedule. UNM was the lone team not even allowed to practice when the schedule was released, and yet was assigned the first league game of the season. Most other schools start conference play later in the month.

“It is something that I’m not in support of,” Nuñez said of the Dec. 3 and 5 series at Boise State. “… That was a game that unfortunately wasn’t going to work for us. For us to play Boise in such a short turnaround really doesn’t put our student-athletes in the best position to be successful. And so we are working with the conference office (and) with Boise. They’ve both been really good and understanding. … We are going to play them.”

NESTOR AND KING: Two players have signed in the past week to join the Lobos for the 2021-22 season.

As reported Nov. 13, Jamel King, a 6-foot-8 small forward from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who is playing this season at Bella Vista Prep School in Scottsdale, Ariz., was the first verbal commitment for the Class of 2022 for the Lobos and now has signed his National Letter of Intent.

So, too, has 6-9 stretch-forward Nestor Dyachok of Moscow, who is playing this season at Bishop Walsh School in Cumberland, Maryland.

Dyachok, who has international competition experience playing for the Russian junior national team, announced his commitment to the Lobos quietly Wednesday in a 5:58 a.m. (MT) tweet with a picture of him in a Lobos jersey and this message: “I want to thank @UNMLOBOS, @UNM and Coaches during this crazy time to give me an opportunity to play in the best college league in the world since the next season…GO LOBOS!”

Dyachok is more of a shooter with 3-point accuracy than low-post big.

They are the first two signees for the Lobos for 2021 and this season’s Lobos roster has just two seniors – Makuach Maluach and Keith McGee. But the NCAA has already granted players in this uncertain 2020-21 season another year of eligibility if they so desire, so trying to keep track of Lobo scholarship availability or whether the NCAA plans to grant expanded rosters next year is unclear.

AROUND THE MOUNTAIN: Colorado State on Thursday announced a contract extension through the 2025-26 season for third- ear coach Niko Medved, whose Rams have a preseason All-MWC point guard in Isaiah Stevens and were picked to finish fifth in the 11-team league.

On Friday, the Rams announced two people in their “Tier 1” (coaches, players, managers and trainers most directly in contact with the team) tested positive for COVID-19, and the team has “paused” activities until Dec. 2.

Like UNM, the Rams were one of four teams the Mountain West chose to start the season on Dec. 3 and 5, the Rams with a two-game series at preseason league favorite San Diego State. Those games are unlikely to be played then if the Rams are coming off a two-week off period on the day they would be traveling for their opener.

CSU was supposed to start the season Wednesday in a tournament at Oregon State and has canceled its first three games as a result.

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