Junior guard Elijah Brown is leaving the Lobos.
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard from California plans to graduate this semester from UNM, making him immediately eligible to play with another Division I program next season without sitting out.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Anthony Mathis also plans to leave UNM, the Journal has confirmed.
Brown posted on his Twitter page a message to Lobo fans, apologizing for the lack of postseason success and thanking the coaching staff for his three seasons with the program.
“I want to say thank you to Lobo Nation for 3 years that was full of love and support,” he wrote.
“I felt like i was able to grow and learn a lot while I’ve been here. I have to do what is best for me at the end of the day, which is why I will be moving on from UNM for my graduate year. I’m sorry we didn’t have the success you guys deserved and I feel real bad about that, but nothing can change the tradition of what Lobo basketball is. Coach (Craig) Neal, his staff, and my teammates were nothing but great to me and I love them for that. Thanks again. I truly am appreciative of the journey I’ve been on from this game and I’m glad NM was a part of it.”
Neal told the Journal on Monday night he has met with every player on the roster, as is done after every season. Only Mathis and Brown have asked for their release, Neal said.
That would also be the number needed to make UNM’s scholarship situation fit for next season. — four scholarships opening (Brown, Mathis and graduating seniors Tim Williams and Obij Aget) and four incoming recruits.
Brown was on pace to become one of the top scorers in the school’s history despite being with the program just two seasons. When he transferred to UNM from Butler for the 2014-15 season, he had to sit out one season per NCAA rules, but doesn’t have to as a graduate transfer.
He is the second starting guard to use a graduate transfer option to leave UNM in the past two seasons as Cullen Neal, the Eldorado High School graduate and son of head coach Craig Neal, did so last year and now plays at Ole Miss.
Brown, the son of former NBA head coach and current Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, averaged 18.9 points this past season to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. In just two seasons, he had already moved into 18th place all-time on the UNM career scoring list after having averaged 20.9 points per game as a sophomore in 2015-16.
Brown was a two-time all-Mountain West second team selection and was the 2016-17 preseason MW Player of the Year. He missed 26 practices in the preseason with a hamstring pull and had ups and downs with Neal throughout the season.
Shortly after Neal called into question the effort and defense of his team in December, Brown lost his starting job. There was also a heated exchange in late December between the two after players had gone home for Winter break before Mountain West play started.
On Christmas night, Brown tweeted: “I will never give another man the power to take away my passion for the game. I ain’t the one. I got a lot of hoop left in me!!!! #STILL”
Later that week, Neal said all was fine between the embattled coach and star guard when a reporter asked about their relationship.
“I don’t know what you mean by relationship,” Neal said. “I’m his coach, so I have to make decisions what’s best for the team and what’s best for him. I’ve made some decisions. I think everything is fine. I’m not looking back like anything’s wrong.”
Brown later deleted the tweet and was again the team’s starting shooting guard. The two seemed to mend their differences for league play, at least for awhile. By February, when senior forward Tim Williams was injured, it was clear Brown was trying to carry the team himself and at times, struggled to do so under constant double teams of opposing teams.
Brown was suspended for one game last week by the Mountain West for accumulation of infractions under the league’s sportsmanship policy, according to the league. He can not transfer to another league school, so that suspension, now, is a moot point.
After the team’s season ended March 9 with a loss in the MWC Tournament quarterfinals to Fresno State, Brown said he had not yet decided on a transfer, though any around the program had expected the decision for several weeks.
“It’s a long way away,” Brown said of his UNM future after the loss. “I haven’t thought about that for one second. Still trying to get over this.”
Neal also put out a statement on Monday in regards to the transfer.
“We are grateful of the contributions that Elijah has made to our basketball program,” Neal said in the statement. “He has matured and developed over the last three years, which led him to being one of the top Mountain West players the last two seasons. He is an incredibly talented player, who brought a lot of excitement to our fans and to The Pit. No doubt this is a tough decision for all involved but especially for Elijah, but we are a family and we will always support all of our players pursuing their goals. We congratulate Elijah on his upcoming graduation from UNM, which is an awesome accomplishment and wish him nothing but the best.
“I am excited about the upcoming season, as our core of talented young players come into their own, joined by an exceptionally strong recruiting class.”
MATHIS: Mathis, from West Linn, Ore., also plans to transfer. The 6-3 guard appeared in 10 games last season, averaging 2.9 points and 0.8 assists, but showed sharp-shooting flashes (he also won the team’s 3-point contest at each of the past two Lobo Howls).
“Anthony has been a great credit to our program and we wish him nothing but the best,” Neal said in an email. “He will always be a part of our Lobo family and we will support his decision.”
He hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points in 16 minutes off the bench on Feb. 25 against Wyoming, but didn’t play again this season.
Mathis has not said where he might transfer.