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Lobo basketball: Newcomers still adjusting to grind

Twenty minutes after last week’s win over Alabama A&M, University of New Mexico sports information director Frank Mercogliano was trying to track down senior Cameron Bairstow for a call-in radio show.

The 6-foot-9 power forward wasn’t in the locker room getting dressed to go home.

He wasn’t in the training room getting treatment for any injuries.

Instead, Bairstow was found alone lifting weights, still wearing his Lobos game jersey, a picture Mercogliano sent out to the world on the team’s Twitter account.

It was anything but atypical for Bairstow.

For that matter, the constant state of preparation of the No. 22 Lobos’ four returning starters is something head coach Craig Neal is hoping will start to rub off on his otherwise young, inexperienced team that includes five newcomers experiencing their first taste of Division I basketball.

The fact that there have been eight days between UNM’s Nov. 9 win over Alabama A&M and Sunday’s game against Charleston Southern, while helpful in teaching the newcomers, probably hasn’t helped them keep focus.

“That’s been the biggest adjustment has been trying to get them (the new players) focused after an off day and what we do after games,” Neal said of his new players, including junior college transfers Deshawn Delaney and Arthur Edwards, as well as freshmen Tim Myles, Obij Aget and Cullen Neal, the coach’s son.

“It’s a grind, not only academically, but also playing-wise. They have got to figure it out. To this point, they haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Senior Kendall Williams said learning to quickly turn the page after a game, whether it was a win or a loss, and start preparing for the next one is something he struggled with earlier in his Lobos career, too.

After a game as a freshman, Williams said he would “probably play some video games with the guys and stay up later than I should,” but now he has learned that to play at the highest level you’ve got to keep yourself ready at all times.

“It took me awhile to pick up,” Williams said. “It happens. It happens with guys who are new to our system and new to this level of basketball. You get done with the game and, human nature is we’re college guys and we want to relax and maybe take the next day at practice easy. You still want to be mentally engaged … even if you’re beat down from the game before.”

Williams said the team’s managers always have the next game’s opponent scouting report hanging in the Lobos’ locker room immediately after a game. It’s something the returning starters know to start studying right away.

“No time to sulk, no time to celebrate,” Williams said. “It’s time to focus and get ready for the next game.”

MORE PANCAKE: Neal on Friday confirmed he will again start sophomore Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas on Sunday against visiting Charleston Southern. Thomas also started last week’s regular-season opener against Alabama A&M, playing 21 minutes, scoring two points on 1-of-4 shooting and dishing out two assists. Edwards and Delaney are still in competition with Thomas for the third starting guard position opposite Williams and Hugh Greenwood.

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