Lobo basketball adds versatile graduate transfer forward for coming season - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo basketball adds versatile graduate transfer forward for coming season

Alabama forwards Brandon Miller, left, and Noah Clowney, right, try to box outTexas A&M-Corpus Christi forward Isaac Mushila during their NCAA Tournament game in Birmingham, Ala., on March 16. Mushila on Monday announced he is transferring to UNM for the 2023-24 season.. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

When you see the 2023-24 UNM Lobos run down the ramp for the first time next season, odds are good Isaac Mushila won’t be the one you’ll be expecting to be the best rebounder on the court.

Once the games begin, it won’t take long to see that you were probably wrong.

Listed as 6-foot-5-inches tall, the senior who announced Monday he is transferring from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to use his final season of collegiate eligibility to play at the University of New Mexico has been dominating the boards at every stop he’s made since coming to the United States from Lubumbashi, Congo, in 2016.

“I trace the ball with my eyes first and then use my strength and ability to get off the ground fast to beat those taller guys,” Mushila told the Journal on Monday when asked about his knack for rebounding in a game where he is rarely the tallest player on the court.

Mushila averaged 14.5 points on 53.7% shooting for the Islanders this past season to go along with 9.9 rebounds per game while earning All-Southland Conference first team honors and helping lead the team to a league regular season and tournament title and the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory — a 75-71 “First Four” win over fellow No. 16 seed Southeast Missouri State.

“Isaac is a versatile and fierce competitor,” Lobos coach Richard Pitino said in a news release. “He is a winner on and off the court and will make an impact for us next season.”

Mushila, a graduate transfer forward who has one season of playing eligibility remaining at UNM, becomes the fourth Division I transfer to join Pitino’s team this offseason, joining 6-9 center Nelly Junior Joseph from Iona, 6-9 forward Mustapha Amzil from Dayton and 6-5 guard Jemarl Baker, Jr., from Fresno State.

They join six returning players and a freshman class of two four star recruits — 6-2 guard Tru Washington from Arizona and 6-8 forward Jadyn Toppin from Texas — and high-scoring 6-1 Del Norte High guard Shane Douma-Sanchez, who is joining as a walk-on.

“I chose UNM because I believe strongly in coach Pitino and the goals his has for the team and this upcoming season,” Mushila told the Journal.

UNM went 22-12 this past season and lost in the opening round of the NIT — the program’s first postseason of any kind since 2014.

As for Mushila, he’s played in the past two NCAA Tournaments for TAMCC, which had some UNM ties on the coaching staff. Former UNM assistant Ralph Davis is an Islanders assistant coach and former Lobo manager Isaiah Brooks-Sena was the team’s video coordinator.

After 15 point, 12 rebound game in the NCAA Tournament win over Southeast Missouri State, Mushila had 16 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to South Region top seed Alabama.

It’s safe to say Mushila’s path to the Pit is the first of its kind.

He moved to the United States in 2016 from Lubumbashi, Congo, after impressing the organizers of a basketball camp held his home country. He attended Spire Academy, a prep school in Ohio, and went on to play junior college basketball at Gillette (Wyo.) College for a year then at Western Texas in Abilene. At both those schools, Mushila played on teams where former UNM Lobo student manager Estevan Sandoval was an assistant coach (both went to Western Texas the same season).

He joined Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for the 2021-22 season, where he earned Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year and was twice named all-conference.

Mushila ranked first this past season in Southland games in defensive rebounding rate (12th nationally among 363 Division I programs), first in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (19th nationally) and first in free throw rate (19th nationally).

He also brings with him to Albuquerque a psychology degree, which he just earned this spring and had a 3.43 grade point average, earning him the Southland Conference’s Student Athlete of the Year award in March.

“I am intrigued by human behavior and mental processes, more specifically in athletes, and how playing a specific sport affects someone’s daily influence with athletic performance,” Mushila said in an article posted to the TAMCC website.

ONE TO GO: The Lobos have one of an NCAA-allowed 13 scholarships remaining open for the coming season.

Pitino has told the Journal what the team will do with it remains wide open, including the possibility it goes unfilled entering the coming season, which would allow the Lobos to add a mid-year transfer, if one becomes available after the fall semester begins.

There is no deadline for the Lobos to fill the scholarship.

WAIT A SECK: Former Lobo Birima Seck on Monday announced he has transferred to Fairfield (Conn.) University to play his final two seasons of college basketball.

The 6-foot-11 Seck, originally from Senegal, was recruited two seasons ago to UNM out of Dream City Christian School in Glendale, Ariz. He averaged 0.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in 46 games played over the past two seasons for the Lobos.

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