He has coached a game in the Pit nine times through the years – the past eight occurrences coming as a Mountain West assistant – and made that long walk amid the boos raining down on the visiting team’s bench on the north end of Bob King Court.
“No matter when we’ve come here, it’s always been a battle. And it’s always a fun environment,” said Tarvish Felton, hired just over a month ago as the third assistant coach for the UNM Lobo men’s basketball team.
“If you like to compete and like playing in these kinds of venues, this is where you want to play. And so having that in my mind on daily basis, and now being able to be here and hopefully having them cheer for us instead of against us and having (super fan) Snake be for me instead of at my throat when I get off the bus every time, it’s a welcome, welcome look for me.”
Felton sat down with the Journal recently for podcast interview – Episode 48 of the “Talking Grammer” podcast. It ranged from his intimate familiarity with the Mountain West, his thoughts on the makeup of the current Lobos roster and what he took from working with coaches like Stew Morrill and Justin Hutson.
Felton’s previous 14 seasons in coaching were spent on the staffs of two programs familiar to Lobo – and New Mexico State Aggie – fans.
He coached for 10 years at Utah State – seven under the legendary Morrill and three more under Tim Duryea. Felton most recently spent the past four seasons working for Hutson at Fresno State – where, among other things, he recruited and worked closely with 2022 first-team All-Mountain West center Orlando Robinson, now on the NBA’s Miami Heat roster.
Though he’s only been in Albuquerque since August, Felton says he can see pieces in place for good things from this Lobo roster.
“We have the pieces necessary to be one of the best teams in the league,” Felton said. “… It’s going to be about if they’re going to have the energy that it takes to survive the league, because this league will eat you up. You can go to San Jose and you could go to Air Force and get your butt kicked, and then have to come home and play Boise or San Diego State. … And that’s going to take energy. That’s going to take discipline. It’s gonna take some maturity. If we can grow and have that, then we will have a chance. We’ll have a chance.”
FAMILIAR FOE: During the first part of his time on staff at Utah State, Felton knew well about the strength of New Mexico’s other Division I basketball program. Prior to Utah State and Nevada joining the Mountain West, those two along with the New Mexico State Aggies had as heated a three-way rivalry in the Western Athletic Conference as any mid-major league.
“I wasn’t there for Reggie (Theus’) year, but when Marvin (Menzies) took over and from then on it was just a battle every year,” Felton said. “Those two teams (NMSU and Nevada) were always right there – one of the three of us were always either in the championship or playing each other in the semifinals.”
Felton said he looks forward to a return this season to the Pan American Center – “always a tough place to play.”
JUSTIN TIME: Felton spent the past four seasons as associate head coach at Fresno State under Hutson, who was a longtime San Diego State assistant often credited for crafting the Aztecs’ defense.
“I think he has a tremendous basketball mind for both ends of the floor,” Felton said. “People kind of know him for defense, but I think he knows and understands the game and how it’s played. …
“Being with him every day, just watching his attention to detail and never letting anybody in the program be less than what his standard was.”
STEW, TOO: On what he took from his seven seasons working with Morrill, who has 620 Division I victories, Felton said:
“His common sense approach to everything. He didn’t believe in doing something that wasn’t going to be done in the game. …
“And then just the way he built his teams. He knew how to put teams together. He knew how to make the pieces fit on the chessboard be able to combine the different characters that we had in our program.”
HIS ROLE: So what does Felton see as his role with the Lobos, beyond just his MWC knowledge?
“Coming from a defensive-minded program that we had at Fresno State, I think Coach (Richard Pitino) is probably looking for me to help in that area,” Felton said. “And continue to try to get some good players in here.”