Lobo guard Keith McGee is opting out of the rest of the season.
The senior guard from Rochester, N.Y., made the announcement on Wednesday via social media, citing concerns over mental and physical health as the program has been relocated out of the state due to a public health order in New Mexico that prohibits college teams from practicing or playing games.
“Due to COVID-19, I have decided to opt out of this season,” McGee wrote in his social media post. “What our team has experienced this year has had a major impact on my mental and physical well being. My health and safety is more important than the game I love right now.
“To my teammates and coaches, you guys have been a great support system. Thank you Lobo nation for all the amazing memories these last 3 years. This place will always be in my heart and I will forever call the Pit home. Go Lobos! – Keith McGee”
— Keith🏀 (@why_notkeith) January 13, 2021
New Mexico remains the only place with a health order at the state level that prohibits its college teams from even practicing. Some jurisdictions in California have similar orders at the county level that have forced fellow Mountain West Conference team San Jose State to relocate to Arizona for the time being to practice and play.
San Jose State’s top player, Seneca Knight, opted out and transferred to LSU a few days later, the week the Spartans relocated to Arizona for the season.
The Lobos and NMSU Aggies (to Phoenix) have relocated out of state for the season. For the Lobos, whose football team spent six weeks to play its season based in Las Vegas, Nev., the women’s team has opted to play all road games this season — essentially hopping from city to city weekly to wherever their next game is. For the men’s team, the Lobos lived much of the past eight weeks in Lubbock, Texas, where the team practiced when renting available gym time at either Lubbock Christian University, where they also paid to host four games over the past two weeks) or in nearby Levelland, Texas, at South Plains (Junior) College, coincidentally where McGee played for a season before transferring to UNM three seasons ago.
The team also spent a week in Houston for three games and practices, almost a week in Boise, Idaho, where they played two games, and is now in St. George, Utah, where they play Dixie State University Wednesday night and will practice and host San Jose State next week at DSU’s Burns Arena for two games. The Lobos play UNLV for two games this weekend in Las Vegas, Nev., a roughly two-hour bus ride from St. George.
Meanwhile, the performance on the court has been historically bad for the team. The Lobos are 3-6 overall coming into Wednesday night’s game. That includes an 0-6 start to league play, the worst start in the Mountain West Conference era (started in 1999-2000), and all six league losses have been by double digits deficits.
McGee played in eight of UNM’s nine games this season where the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 5.9 points and 2.1 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. His 11 3-pointers are tops on the team.
The NCAA has already determined that this season will not count against players’ eligibility, whether or not they play.
Though he did thank fans for the past three years and said he will forever call the Pit home, it isn’t clear yet if he plans to graduate and move on from college basketball, transfer to another program or try to return to UNM next season. All scholarships decisions for next season are determined in the offseason.
His scholarship will be honored through the end of the semester.
McGee complained on social media about a lack of playing time and shots available after the Dec. 31 loss to Nevada in Lubbock, apologized the following day to his teammates and praised the team after the next game, saying things were starting to turn around for the whole program.
McGee also had issues last season with being publicly upset with his lack of playing time and after Weir was asked by media about his actions on the end of the team bench, McGee immediately took on the very visible role of cheerleader and bench energy booster, often seen dancing on the bench after big plays.
But it remained clear, he was never happy with his playing time and the circumstances the team is facing this season have been no secret for both the men’s and women’s programs.
Mike Bradbury, UNM’s women’s coach, said on a news conference in late December it was unfair to treat his players like prisoners, making them stay in hotel rooms all day except for when they’re allowed out to practice and play games (meals are even eaten in rooms).
Paul Weir, the Lobos men’s coach, has been open about the mental stress his players have shown during their time in Texas.
Last week in Lubbock, Weir said of the team’s unique circumstances: “It has been challenging, and the last few days have been, I think, the first times that if any player, any coach sat down with you and was honest with you, they’d say we’ve hit a wall here. So we’ve got to figure out a way to fight through it and get up off the mat and keep pushing forward.”
It remains unclear if or when the state of New Mexico’s health order might be amended to allow for college teams, which still adhere to three times per week PCR testing even though the NCAA does not require than level of testing, to return to their home cities for practice purposes.
New Mexico United, the state’s professional soccer team, played its entire 2020 USL Championship season on the road, but was allowed to return to New Mexico between games for practice and training without the mandated 14-day travel quarantine.
College sports are not allowed the same, per the state’s “All Together New Mexico” re-opening guidelines.