Sebastian Forsling hasn’t yet found his go-to Albuquerque restaurant for pickled herring like he’s used to back home in Sweden.
But the 7-foot freshman on the Lobo basketball team has no other culinary complaints since he arrived less than two months ago to start his college career at the University of New Mexico.
“I love spicy food, so I actually like the food out here,” Forsling said after a recent practice. His rosy cheeks and youthful grin served as needed reminders that as the tallest member of the Lobos roster towered above a scrum of reporters, he’s also one of the youngest and certainly the one with the steepest learning curve off the court. He is adjusting not only to a new country and college life, but a crash course adjustment to a new brand of basketball different from the European game he’s grown accustomed to playing for the Swedish junior national team.
But he’s picking things up quickly, already fully embracing the make-or-break test of any New Mexican: He loves chile.
“I love the heat, the flavor,” he said.
A fondness for heat could serve Forsling well as he and the rest of the highly inexperienced Lobo front-court players will be forced into a trial by fire type of season. It includes a closed-door scrimmage next week in the Pit, an open scrimmage Oct. 30 and an exhibition game on Nov. 5 before beginning in earnest against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 10.
The Lobos’ roster shows five players standing 6-feet-9 inches or taller. (Last year’s team had two.) And while you can’t coach height, the saying goes, it would be nice if the Lobos had some experience in the front court.
There has been no indication when a still unspecified disciplinary matter being handled by UNM’s main campus might be resolved to allow Valdir Manuel, a 6-10 returning forward who played in 20 games for UNM last year, to be released from his indefinite suspension and return to the team.
That leaves competing for time in the post two freshmen in their first collegiate seasons – Forsling (7 feet) and Birima Seck (6-11) – with junior college transfer Jay Allen-Tovar (6-9) and Kansas transfer Gethro Muscadin (6-10).
Only Muscadin in that group has played a Division I game, but it was only 11 games, and he has attempted just two shots at this level.
New Lobos coach Richard Pitino and his mostly new first-year staff know there is plenty of work yet to be done with their big men – especially with Forsling, who got the latest start of all of them as visa issues delayed his arrival from Sweden until the week classes started at UNM.
“I think anytime you get an international kid who didn’t play high school basketball here (in the United States), there’s a transition period,” Pitino said. “And that’s gonna take some time. We put in a zone the other the day and he said, ‘I haven’t played zone my whole life.’ … How to screen is different than how to screen overseas. The good part about a lot of international kids and Sebastian … is they’ve got skill. Offensively, they know how to play, they can dribble, pass and shoot. But for him, it’s now understanding the American game.”
Forsling speaks Swedish and English fluently. He noted his mom lived in New York for six years before he was born and introduced him to American English while many kids in Sweden are taught British English. He masterfully articulated to reporters last week in his first college interview two things: He understands the work he has in front of him, and he also doesn’t lack for confidence.
“My goal is to contend for the Freshman of the Year in the Mountain West. That’s a logical answer,” Forsling said when asked his season goals. “But I just want to get better every day when I get on practice court. As a freshman, I got to gradually get better every single day.”
As for what type of player Lobo fans can expect from the new towering 7-footer, Forsling said it has less to do with stats and more to do with team results.
“I’m that guy that likes to connect dots with everybody,” he said. “If it’s a pass, if it’s a screen, I just bring my own type of (style) to the game.”
And that includes leadership, something he says he has been growing more comfortable with by watching Lobo teammate Saquan Singleton.
“I can learn from everybody, but the one that’s really taking me under the wing is Saquan,” Forsling said. “He has been great to me. He’s been showing me around ever since Day One. He was the first to text me when I got here. He even texted me before I came here. I want to learn to be leader. At my old academy, I was a leader. But at the college level, it’s different. And I’ve got to learn every single day. I can learn from the best.”