New Mexico State University shut down its men’s basketball program indefinitely on Friday night because of what it called “new allegations, separate from the events that took place in Albuquerque late last year, involving potential violations of university policy.”
The school did not elaborate on the new allegations but said they are unrelated to a fatal shooting involving one of its players last year. NMSU added that first-year head coach Greg Heiar and his basketball staff have been placed on administrative leave.
Minutes after that announcement, the school also sent out a statement from the NMSU Board of Regents saying in part, “The board supports the action taken by the university leaders and is confident a full and thorough investigation will be conducted.”
Jeff Goodman, a college basketball writer for Stadium, reported that there have been allegations of “multiple players hazing a teammate” that preceded a complaint to police and the decision to shut down the program, and that the decision didn’t involve the continuing investigation into the Nov. 19 fatal shooting by an Aggie player of a University New Mexico student on the UNM campus. Goodman cited an anonymous source in his report.
A New Mexico State spokesperson said, however, that no players or athletic administration members have been suspended.
The Aggies were scheduled to play Western Athletic Conference opponent Cal Baptist in Riverside, California, on Saturday. The team was in California on Friday preparing to play the game and was making arrangements to return to Las Cruces upon the news of the suspension.
It is the third game canceled, with the apparent potential of many more to come, for Aggie men’s basketball this season.
New Mexico State’s scheduled Nov. 19 contest at the University of New Mexico was called off after, early that morning on the UNM campus, Aggie basketball player Michael Peake shot and killed UNM student Brandon Travis, 19. Police reports indicated Peake, 21, was lured to the campus around 3 a.m. by a female and three males, all UNM students. Three of them reportedly wanted to attack him as payback for his being one of several people seen on video fighting Travis at an Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces.
Police reports later detailed that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, some NMSU coaches and teammates jumped into action.
Peake met up with three of his teammates in a yellow Camaro on campus before police arrived and put his gun and a computer tablet in the trunk, according to police. The Camaro left the scene. Peake, shot in the leg and struck in the leg by an assailant with a baseball bat, was hospitalized and later underwent three surgeries, he said on social media in December.
Those teammates then repeatedly called their assistant coach Dominique Taylor and Heiar. But it would take more than 12 hours before the gun ended up in the hands of the New Mexico State Police who investigated the shooting.
Around 3:45 p.m. on that Saturday — after the basketball team had left town and following a flurry of messages involving Heiar and deputy athletics director Braun Cartwright — assistant coach Taylor met with an officer at the DoubleTree hotel and handed him the gun, wrapped in a towel.
“Coach Taylor explained that Issa (Muhammad), Marchelus (Avery), and Anthony (Roy) told coach Heiar where the firearm was at,” the officer wrote in the report. “Coach Heiar then called coach Taylor and told him where the firearm was at and to go get it.”
The gun, a Smith & Wesson with four unspent bullets in it, had been in a hotel room, but it’s unclear from the report who was staying in that room. Meanwhile, State Police had to intercept the team bus headed back to Las Cruces to search for evidence and recovered Peake’s tablet.
Peake had taken a gun on the team bus to Albuquerque for the UNM game, a violation of university policy, and was suspended indefinitely following the shooting. Neither he nor his teammates who met up with him following the shooting have faced charges.
In January, UNM student Jonathan Smith, 19, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and tampering with evidence related to his role in luring Peake to campus. UNM students Mya Hill, 17, and Eli’Sha Upshaw, 19, have also been charged in connection to the shooting.
Muhammad, Avery and Roy, all Aggie basketball players, were later suspended for one game.
The return game between the Lobos and Aggies in Las Cruces also was canceled. In December, New Mexico State hired a third-party independent investigation of the shooting and the events surrounding it. New Mexico State Police and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office are continuing to investigate.
Meanwhile, the Aggies have undergone one of their worst seasons in years, 9-15 overall and 2-10 in the Western Athletic Conference, a league they historically have dominated.
This came after New Mexico State went 27-7, won a WAC title and scored one of the notable upsets in last spring’s NCAA Tournament, a 70-63 victory over Connecticut in the first round in Buffalo, New York.
After the season, then-NMSU coach Chris Jans left to take over men’s basketball at Mississippi State. Athletic director Mario Moccia then hired Heiar, who had just coached Northwest Florida State College to a junior college national championship.
This is Heiar’s first year as a head coach of a Division I program, though he has been an assistant at Wichita State, Louisiana State and East Tennessee State. He took over an NMSU program that returned only two players from last season’s team. One of those players was Peake.