LAS CRUCES — Only a true basketball diehard would know what the acronym NNMC stands for. But perhaps it’s time everyone got in on Northern New Mexico College, because this is now the state’s hottest pipeline for future collegians.
Toward that end, say this for the tiny NAIA school in Espanola: they’re looking to make a splash.
Not only will the men’s basketball program play four Division I programs next season — including a matchup with New Mexico State — but head coach Ryan Cordova has made it his mission to keep it as local as possible.
No fewer than six New Mexicans signed letters of intent to play with NNMC next season. Five of them were at Onate High School on Thursday night for the annual North-South All-Star Game.
“It’ll be like playing high school again,” said Santa Fe’s 6-foot-5 post, Orlando Echave. “Only tougher competition.”
Cordova is a former head coach in Gallup and a former assistant at Espanola Valley.
While he didn’t land the cream of the 2010-11 crop, such as Division I signees Mike Holyfield of Manzano and P.J. Horgan of Cleveland, he didn’t do too badly for himself, either.
Five members of the North will be headed to Espanola next month to start their college careers.
The prize catch among the recruits was former Espanola Valley guard Rodney Coles, whose exploits in leading the Sundevils to the Class 4A state title last March are already legendary in Rio Arriba County. He scored his team’s final 14 points, all in the final 2 1/2 minutes in a 55-51 win over Goddard.
“Even when I went into my junior year, he was looking at me right away,” said Coles, whose father once coached Cordova in football at McCurdy, which is also in Espanola. “He knew I could play, so he went after me right away.”
The presence of Coles and Echave certainly should bolster NNMC at the gate, but Cordova was not shy about venturing further south.
Sandia’s Nic Sheridan, Manzano’s Erik Bouma and Valley’s Mario Flores also signed with NNMC, as did Cleveland’s Bryce Abeyta, who was the only one of the six not in the North-South game.
“It’s close to home, and I didn’t want to stray far,” said Sheridan.
Sheridan, Flores and Abeyta sort of made a collective decision to go to NNMC, Sheridan said.
“It’s a four-year college, and you get to play Division I schools,” he added.
Northern New Mexico College hopes to jump to NCAA Division II within a couple of years.
As for whether any of the new recruits can step in and make an impact, that remains to be seen.
“It was a small school, and there’s a better education with smaller classes, and that jumped out to me,” said Flores, the second-leading scorer in 5A last season, second only to Clovis’ Lathan Lieb. “My coach, (Joe) Coleman, told me about it. I had never heard of it before.”
Bouma, like Sheridan, liked having home be only a 90-minute drive away.
“I didn’t want to drive six hours, seven hours,” he said. “I think it’s gonna work fine (with all the newcomers). We’ve all seen each other play.”
And with a couple of neighborhood kids in Coles and Echave, they probably won’t be playing to an empty gym. The NNMC gym, in fact, is smaller than the one at Espanola Valley.
“We’ll get more support,” Coles said. “More than they have in the past. It’s a good opportunity.”
Said Echave: “This is going to be a young team, a tough team.”
THURSDAY NIGHT: The South’s big three — Oñate teammates Terrel de Rouen and Tim Jacobs, along with Clovis’ Lathan Lieb — combined for 59 points as the South pulled away in the second half for a 95-75 victory
Playing together for the final time as teammates on their home floor, de Rouen led the South with 23 points. Jacobs added 16, and Lieb scored 20.
Manzano’s Holyfield led the North with 19 points. La Cueva’s Kory Alford added 13 and Sandia’s Sheridan 11.
FUTURE RIVALS: While Terrel de Rouen will walk on with New Mexico State next season, his backcourt running mate with Onate, Tim Jacobs, will be walking on down the road at UTEP. But the only Division I signee who played Thursday night was the 6-10 Holyfield, who is bound for Sam Houston State.
OPENING NIGHT 2011: Next fall’s season-opening boys game at the Pit is certainly marquee. Onate coach Saul Perez and Espanola Valley coach Richard Martinez confirmed Thursday that their teams will square off in the Pit in November.
(As seen in the Albuquerque Journal on Friday, July 29.)