There’s a fresh, new look around the University of New Mexico women’s basketball program these days.
The sound is different, too.
Six freshmen and a new set of practice uniforms account for the visual as the Lobos prepare for a 2021-22 campaign that is barely six weeks away. And with only five experienced returnees, one of whom won’t be ready for opening night, fans can expect to see UNM’s newcomers early and often when the season tips off.
“Four or five of them have to play,” Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said, “and one or more will start. There’s a lot of opportunity as far as playing time goes. We’ll see who earns it.”
Opportunity has brought intensity to UNM’s fall workouts, particularly during full-court scrimmages as young players look to make good impressions. All six have had their moments, Bradbury said, including Albuquerque’s Viané Cumber, who heated up from 3-point range and battled senior Jaedyn De La Cerda for top scoring honors in extended intrasquad action earlier this week.
“I love the atmosphere,” Cumber said. “The seniors have been great leaders for us, and I think all the freshmen have brought a new life to the program. There’s a lot of learning going on but we all know there’s playing time available. If we want it, we’ve got to work our hardest.”
As for this season’s audio, UNM recently added three freshman imports from Europe. Rebeka Renczes (Hungary), Zeyno Isil Seren (Turkey) and Paula Reus (Spain) are fluent English speakers, but their accents differ considerably from Bradbury’s Tennessee twang. Add sophomore Kath van Bennekom (The Netherlands) to the mix and team huddles can be quite entertaining, Cumber said.
“The accents are all over the place,” she said with a smile. “You have to pay attention but I love it.”
Renczes, Seren and Reus joined the Lobos in late August and are a step behind their American freshmen counterparts, Cumber, Anayah Augmon and Mackenzie Curtis, in terms of learning UNM’s system. The latter three joined the program in July.
But Bradbury says his young players, including sophomores van Bennekom and Nevaeh Parkinson, are learning and adjusting fast.
“We’ve got some really skilled players, and they’re all progressing,” he said. “This group is already pretty good offensively. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but that’s true of just about every freshman class that walks through the door. We’ll get there.”
UNM’s young players are currently getting extra reps at practice because De La Cerda and Shaiquel McGruder are the only seniors fully practicing.
That will soon change. LaTora Duff is out for two weeks to allow a lingering groin injury to fully heal, and Antonia Anderson is expected to be cleared for contact soon, Bradbury said. Anderson is ahead of schedule in her recovery from knee surgery and on track to be ready for opening day.
LaTascya Duff will likely be out through pre-Mountain West play after undergoing non-basketball-related surgery in August. The procedure was successful, Bradbury said, but a timeline for her return remains uncertain.
“She won’t play in the pre-conference season,” Bradbury said. “We know that.”
UNM’s injured list extends to the coaching staff; Bradbury is recovering from recent shoulder surgery and sporting a sling on his left arm. His rehab is expected to last through the upcoming season.
“I have to be careful because I can’t lift my left arm much at all right now,” Bradbury said. “Coaching with one arm is more challenging than you think.”