EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of an 11 part series previewing the University of New Mexico’s 10 Mountain West Conference opponents and their non-league schedule breakdown. The order of MWC teams will publish daily in reverse order of the preseason medial poll. To see list of all previews, CLICK HERE.
One by one, Mountain West Conference coaches were shuffled from room to room to speak to various members of the media Oct. 8-9 in Colorado Springs at the league’s annual gathering.
No coach had more energy, or was required to actually introduce himself to more people, than first-time head coach Dave Wojcik.
With the rebuilding job he landed at San Jose State, the former Boise State assistant will need every bit of that energy to survive the season ahead.
“We’re going to hopefully be competitive right now and win right now, but I’m a realist and I know what the league is about,” said Wojcik, who was part of rebuilding projects as an assistant at Boise State, Tulsa, Xavier and Loyola in Baltimore, Md. “Year three for me in my mind is what I’m targeting.”
The Spartans went just 3-14 in a depleted Western Athletic Conference a season ago (SJSU was 9-20 overall) and lost eight players off of last year’s team between four seniors and four transfers. Preaching patience may be in order in the bay area. The fact the team was the clear pick for last place in the 11-team league in the preseason media poll didn’t surprise the new coach.
But Wojcik, whose team has six freshmen and only one senior, won’t stand for writing off the season entirely.
“I’ve got a lot of young guys, but we’re going to compete,” Wojcik said. “We’re going to challenge people. Everyone says you’re going to have to wait a few years, but I want to win now. It doesn’t say that in the rule book not to win.”
Leading the charge will be the team’s lone senior, 6-foot-9 forward Chris Cunningham who nearly averaged a double-double (10.7 points, 9.0 rebounds) while starting 29 games a season ago. He and fellow returning starter D.J. Brown, a 6-2 guard who averaged 9.2 points and 3.7 assists last season) are the two known commodities.
The rest of the roster, while featuring some promising prospects like freshman guard Jalen James, who starred at the same La Lumiere prep school in La Porte, Ind., as Lobo freshman Obij Aget, has little to no Division I experience.
“From my standpoint, it’s going to be getting my guys to understand the pace of the game and the strength of what these guys are like,” Wojcik said, before turning to the Lobos and junior center Alex Kirk to emphasize his point. “Kirk, Alex, right? Boy, I’m telling my guys you’ve got to understand that kid’s strong. He’s a tall drink of water and you’ve got to match his physicality. But I can say that all I want every day, but until they go through it and experience it, it’s not going to really mean anything to them.”