In transfer portal world, Lobos still hitting big with high school recruits - Albuquerque Journal

In transfer portal world, Lobos still hitting big with high school recruits

Richard Pitino file picture
UNM Lobos head coach Richard Pitino instructs players during a practice in 2021 at the Rudy Davalos Center. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Get old and stay old.

The transfer portal world has brought with it a new cliché for college basketball coaches to lean on, replacing old standbys like “we’re going to play with great pace” or “we’re going to do things the right way.”

The new go-to refers to the transfer portal where players are allowed to move more freely from school to school. It also moves coaches to recruit older players who have already shown their ability at the college level rather than develop a younger player over the course of a couple seasons into one who can help a team win games.

UNM has built entering Richard Pitino’s third season primarily on the backs of Division I transfers —next season’s starting five could very well be five transfer portal players —and yet high school recruiting is still very much part of the Lobos’ long game.

In fact, while also signing three experienced Division I starters since the end of the 2022-23 season in March, the Lobos have also secured the top-ranked high school recruiting class in the Mountain West. UNM is one of only a handful of non-power conference programs to be rated in the Top 50 nationally with the signing of consensus four-star recruits Tru Washington, a guard from Arizona, and Jadyn Toppin, a forward from Texas.

“We all have to make decisions on are we going to recruit high school kids or not?” Pitino told the Journal in a recent interview. “I don’t want to totally abandon high school kids. And if we have a chance to get a kid like Tru Washington out of Arizona, or Jadyn Toppin out of Texas — two areas that we want to recruit hard — we’re gonna certainly go after those guys.”

In its recent final Class of 2023 basketball recruiting ranking, 247 Sports ranked UNM’s high school recruiting class No. 41 in the country — the highest among Mountain West programs. has UNM ranked No. 46. Only Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati and Gonzaga ranked higher among programs outside the power conference ranks, though Gonzaga is an annual national title contender and widely considered a power program while Cincinnati and Houston join the Big 12, a power conference, this summer.

Lobo signee Washington is ranked in the Top 100 in both 247Sports’ composite rankings and by Toppin is ranked 102 by ESPN and 106 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

UNM is also adding as a walk-on unranked guard Shane Douma-Sanchez from Del Norte.

Pitino said his program “is kind of looking at everything” in the recruiting process — high school players, Division I transfers, international prospects and junior college players. He took two true freshmen (Sebastian Forsling and Birima Seck) in his first recruiting class in 2021 and three in the 2022 class (Donovan Dent, Braden Appelhans and Quinton Webb).

While freshmen around the country getting little playing time have hit the transfer portal quickly after their first season since the NCAA’s one-time transfer rule allows them to play elsewhere without sitting out, so far, only Seck has transferred from UNM — after his second season — among the prep recruits Pitino has brought in.

“The hard part is these players have the right to just move on and leave, and we still have to try to build as sustainable a program as we possibly can without having to add seven or eight guys every single year,” Pitino said. “And it’s hard, but if you look at our conference, like (Boise State’s) Tyson Degenhart (who came in as a freshman), that kid is growing through that program. And whether it’s like Donovan Dent for us, or Quinton or Braden, I still feel like that is still very, very valuable.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The NCAA transfer portal closed last week. What that means is players wanting to transfer now must sit out a year before playing at their next school.

Teams can still add anyone who was already in the transfer portal until the start of the fall semester.

The Lobo still have available two of an NCAA-allowed 13 scholarships remaining. Adding a frontcourt player, likely from the transfer portal who can help with depth immediately is the top priority.

Pitino acknowledges its possible the team sits on the other scholarship until the season begins to possibly offer a player who enters the transfer portal during the coming season. While that player wouldn’t be eligible to play immediately, having the scholarship available for them to enroll at the winter semester break makes signing them much more likely.

SUMMER TIME: Most Lobo players, including newcomers Jemarl Baker from Fresno State, Nelly Junior Joseph from Iona and Mustapha Amzil form Dayton, are expected to enroll in the first summer session of classes at UNM and begin summer conditioning and limited workouts starting June 5.

SEASON TICKETS: Lobo men’s and women’s basketball season ticket renewals began this week. Season ticket holders can log on to their account at and renew their same seats from last season. UNM says all season ticket prices remain the same as in 2022-23.

New season ticket sales begin later in the summer.

CAMPING: Pitino’s basketball camps will be June 5-8 and June 26-29, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day open to kids going into grades 3 through 7. Cost is $200. Among the camp instructors are current and former Lobo players.

ON THE MOVE: Former Lobo forward Jay Allen-Tovar, who left the team after three games last season and transferred to Southern Utah, has transferred again to Detroit. He never played a game for the Thunderbirds, and left when SUU head coach Todd Simon also left to take over at Bowling Green.

• Former UNM manager and Santa Fe native (Capital High School) Isaiah Brooks-Sena has been named the Director of Operations and Scouting for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, following head coach Steve Lutz from Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

• Former Lobo basketball walk-on and UNM graduate Mike Nesbitt was hired last month as an assistant coach at High Point, where his former prep school coach and former UNM assistant coach Alan Huss was named head coach in late March.

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