Outside shooting was, to put it gently, not a strength of the UNM Lobos last season.
And while there is much excitement and optimism around the recent recruiting run the new UNM Lobos men’s basketball coaching staff has been on, nothing quite checks the shooting box quite like the news the team got Monday.
K.J. Jenkins, a 6-foot-2 guard from Canton, Georgia, who played this past season at Kilgore (Junior) College in Texas, announced via social media on Monday he would be transferring to play next season for the Lobos. The seventh member of new coach Richard Pitino’s 2021 recruiting class will have three seasons of playing eligibility remaining.
Unlike some of Pitino’s recent transfers from Power-6 conference programs, Jenkins’ path isn’t about coming with a ton of hype behind his name or stars next to his recruiting profile. The 2018 graduate of Creekview High School worked his way over the past three seasons onto the national radar, redshirted the 2018-19 season at Division II North Georgia, and became the 2020 Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year playing for the Nighthawks before transferring to Kilgore College.
This past season at Kilgore through 24 games, Jenkins averaged 16.6 points, 2.7 assists and was among the best in the country in both free throw percentage (87.5%) and, most important to the Lobos’ needs, 3-point shooting (46.2%).
“KJ is special. He’s got a unique gift to shoot the basketball. There’s not very many kids that can shoot it like he can shoot it at any level,” head coach Brian Hoberecht told CBS 19 in Tyler, Texas on April 14 after the Rangers won the Region XIV championship and qualified for the NJCAA Men’s National Championship tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
In Kilgore’s loss in the first round of the NJCAA National Championship, he put up a season-high 34 points and capped his season having hit 90 of 195 3-point attempts (46.2%).
The 11 returning Lobo players who saw action this past season — three walk-ons and eight scholarship players — hit a combined 72-of-293 3-pointers (24.6%). If senior Makuach Maluach doesn’t return, which remains a possibility, that number for returning Lobo players drops to 48-of-212 (22.6%) from 3-point range.
The best 3-point shooter, statistically, of the other new Lobo recruits is guard Jaelen House, who hit 23-of-59 (39.0%) of his 3’s at Arizona State this past season.
The Lobos — old and new players together — start summer classes and practices June 6.
There are currently nine scholarships players on the Lobos roster and seven new players on their way. The NCAA allows 13 scholarship players per season for men’s basketball.
The NCAA granted anyone who played this past season a blanket waiver of an extra season of eligibility. Should a senior like Maluach choose to return (he hasn’t made an official decision and was still practicing with the team as recently as last week), that player’s scholarship would not count toward the 13 scholarship limit.
So, as of this writing, the Lobos are sitting at 15 scholarship players — seven newcomers and eight returnees. But one of the returning players is Assane Ndiaye, like Jenkins a transfer from Kilgore College. Ndiaye was never medically cleared to play at UNM last season and he likely won’t return if not cleared.
That would still leave UNM at one over the allowable number of scholarships for next season, though roster movement at UNM and pretty much every other Division I program is common now through July.
As it stands now, here is a look at the potential 2021-22 Lobos roster:
RETURNING (9* scholarship):
• G Jeremiah Francis III, 6-1
• G Javonte Johnson, 6-6
• G Eloy Medina, 6-3 (walk-on)
• G Clay Patterson, 6-1 (walk-on)
• G Saquan Singleton, 6-6
• G Kurt Wegscheider, 6-4
• G/F Emmanuel Kuac, 6-7
• *G/F Makuach Maluach, 6-5 (if the senior returns, would not count against team’s limit of 13 scholarships)
• F Jordan Arroyo, 6-7 (walk-on)
• F Rod Brown, 6-8
• F/C Valdir Manuel, 6-10
• C Assane Ndiaye, 7-1 (not cleared to play last season)
NEWCOMERS (7 scholarship):
• F Jay Allen-Tovar, 6-9, transfer from Salt Lake Community College
• G Jaelen House, 6-1, transfer from Arizona State
• G K.J. Jenkins, 6-2, transfer from Kilgore College (Texas)
• G/F Jamel King, 6-7, Bella Vista Prep (Scottsdale)
• G Jamal Mashburn Jr., 6-2, transfer from Minnesota
• F Gethro Muscadin, 6-10, transfer from Kansas
• G Taryn Todd, 6-5, transfer from TCU