Marcus Shaver has never played in the Pit.
And while the Boise State senior who started his college basketball career at Portland has been told all about how loud the arena can get or even about how his head coach Leon Rice’s favorite opposing fan, “Snake,” will be sitting right by the visiting team’s bench the entire game, the veteran guard is expecting to hear one sound more than any when he plays the UNM Lobos on Saturday afternoon.
“Oh, he’ll talk. He’s the same Jaelen. He’s loud. He’s energetic. He feeds off energy,” said Shaver, offering up a scouting report beyond just the basketball play of UNM’s Jaelen House. The Lobos’ starting point guard is one of his best friends since high school in Arizona. They still talk regularly and work out together each summer.
“He’ll try to get under my skin a little bit,” Shaver said. “I’ll probably chirp back a little bit. I usually don’t do that, but when I play against (people who knows me), they eventually get me to talk.”
Shaver, a 6-foot-2 guard averaging 14.0 points for the Boise State Broncos (11-4, 2-0 Mountain West), was the senior leader on the 2017 Phoenix Shadow Mountain High School team that went 27-0 and cruised to a 4A state championship. He led the Matadors in scoring that season at 22.4 points per game.
House, the 6-foot point guard for the Lobos (7-9, 0-3 MWC) who is averaging 15.5 points per game, was a young sophomore star on that Matadors squad in 2017 who averaged 22.3 points per game.
“I’m not sure, honestly,” claimed House on Friday afternoon when asked if he would be his usual, talkative self on the court Saturday knowing it is his close friend he’ll be playing against. “It just depends on how the game’s going. I’m not going to be friendly with him on the court, even though that’s my brother. I’m still trying to go at his neck.”
If the past is prologue, then there’s little doubt what Saturday’s matchup between the two guards will entail.
Since their days in high school and onto their heated summer workouts back in Arizona each offseason, the two have pushed each other to be their best with intense competition.
“Yeah, we would go at it (in high school). We both were like alpha males,” House said. “It would get heated during practices there, definitely.”
While their competitive side may prevent the two from too many niceties on Saturday, both take genuine pride in watching the other enjoy successful seasons.
“He’s great offensively,” House said. “I mean, he’s the whole package. He can score on all three levels. I just got to get into him and make sure he’s not comfortable.”
For Shaver, after seeing House get little playing time for two seasons at Arizona State, he couldn’t be more happy for his friend’s breakout season with the Lobos.
“Everybody (who knows him) knows what he’s capable of and I’m happy that it’s on display right now and he’s getting the opportunity that he is,” Shaver said. “He’s having an amazing year and I just hope it keeps getting better for him. …
“Just not on Saturday.”
House offered a similar sentiment. He wants Shaver to continue to play well this season.
“But definitely not on Saturday,” House said.
PITINO’S BACK: After his two-game COVID benching, Pitino cleared the MWC and UNM health and safety protocols and was symptom free when he returned to the team’s practice on Thursday — the required minimum five days of isolation away from the team.
He was happy to be back.
Were his players as happy to see him back?
“I think they were, yeah,” Pitino said. “… Look, we’ve become somewhat immune to it because sports is just so weird right now, and we just want games, but we’ve got the youngest team in the league, and one of the youngest teams in the country going through a lot of adversity. They need me. That’s not ego, by any means. But I’m the head coach.
“I think they felt the assistants did a great job, but this is on me. This is my program. And when you take that guy away, it is going to be very, very challenging. So yeah, I think it was good to get some normalcy for sure.”
COVID CHAOS: By the time the Broncos and Lobos wrap up Saturday’s game, the fourth Mountain West game already for the Lobos, Wyoming will not yet have tipped off for its scheduled 7 p.m. game at Utah State — the first league game so far for the Cowboys.
COVID-related game postponements have thrown a monkey wrench into the season. After Saturday’s games, assuming they all get played, there will be seven weeks remaining for UNM to play 14 league games and Wyoming 17.