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Lobos on Lobos: Before it gets competitive, it’s been congenial

Kenny Thomas, right, embraces Anthony Mathis Thursday at Bosque School as the two UNM alumni are preparing for Sunday’s Lobos-on-Lobos exhibition basketball game at the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Brandon Mason’s text message on Friday afternoon read like a cry for help.

“I can’t walk. Played 2 games. I’m hurting bad.”

Mason, the 39-year-old former New Mexico State Aggie player and UNM Lobos assistant coach, among numerous other playing and coaching stops through the years, is setting up for the third time a mid-summer Lobo hoops alumni all-star event, which will be played Sunday in the Pit.

Thursday night, short on players, Mason stepped in to play a few games at Bosque School in advance of Sunday night’s main event.

Luckily for Mason, and for those eager Lobo fans planning to attend Sunday’s game, many more former Lobo players made their return to Albuquerque on Friday – some flying in, some driving in.

“Fully loaded,” Mason added Friday evening, knowing a good 20 Lobos or so are available.

Sunday’s all-star game, which starts at 6 p.m. (doors at the Pit open at 4:30 p.m.) pits two teams of former Lobos against each other. One of the two rosters represents the 10 players who next week head to Wichita, Kansas, to start their run in the $1 million, winner-take-all TBT (The Basketball Tournament) that takes place from July 16-Aug. 3.

While Sunday will likely get heated on the court, the feel so far this week at large dinners, open gym workouts or late-night gatherings has been that of a family reunion.

“I’m having a lot of fun, man,” said J.R. Giddens, the 36-year-old who is now the head coach of the Northern New Mexico College women’s basketball team and who will be one of the elder statesmen playing on the TBT team. “I miss my brothers. I miss hanging out with these guys. I miss fighting them in practice. I miss laughing with them about how we fought in practice and all types of team bonding and stuff. It brings back old memories, you know?”

COACH KENNY: When the time to step up the intensity and focus on TBT comes, what type of coach will former Lobo great and NBA player Kenny Thomas be like for The Enchantment?

“I think I’m even-keeled, to a certain extent,” Thomas said. “If guys are not doing what they’re supposed to do, they’re not going to play. We’re representing the state and we’re representing Lobo basketball. We only have a couple of weeks, so we’ve got to be professional. The guys are gonna have to play defense, and we’ll see what happens.”

POINT GUARDS: A coach’s best friend on the court is a great point guard. And in a short-notice, short-prep time format of players from around the country coming together to play in an event like the TBT, quality point guard play – floor generals – helps control the chaos and confusion.

“We’ve got two good facilitators,” Thomas said. “And it’s one of those things – it’s a short amount of time. These guys are professionals, or they’ve been trying to be professionals, so having those guys helps us come in here and do what we got to do.”

And it’s not just coaches. Lobo scorers of any generation understand the value of praising their point guard.

“I’m really having a lot of fun playing with Jamaal Smith,” said Giddens, his teammate at UNM in 2006-07 and 2007-08. “He’s a point guard, and he’s been throwing me a lot of lobs and showing his passing ability. Playing with a guard of that magnitude – he’s still playing at a high level.”

Earlier, Anthony Mathis said of his 2017-18 Lobo teammate Antino Jackson: “He will always be one of my favorites that I’ve ever played with because, every single time he thought I was open, even if it was for a split second, he was like, ‘Anthony, shoot!’ I’m like, ‘Bro, I don’t even think I’m open, but PL.'”

SOME ADDS, SOME DROPS: Former Lobos JaQuan Lyle and Joe Furstinger are two players who had to cancel and won’t play Sunday, though former walk-on Chris Perez, who lives and is a teacher and coach in Albuquerque, will be participating.

TICKETS: Mason and some of the former Lobo players hopped this past week from gym to gym around the metro area handing out around 500 free tickets to youth basketball players.

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