Today was media day for the UNM men's basketball team and the first opportunity for the media to actually check out Coach McKay's real practice for his players. This year signals somewhat of a new beginning for McKay's Lobos as they lost 3 pretty good players from last year's team. Troy DeVries, Al Neale, and some guy named Danny Granger.
With the loss of these 3 guys many fans and MWC media members have this UNM team in a rebuilding year mode. Not so says this year's players, "I think we have a great opportunity to prove some people wrong this year, says Sr. David Chiotti. "We have the pieces in place to make another run in the tournament and I don't think of this as a rebuilding year, but a year to advance further than last year and build off of last year's accomplishments," adds fellow Sr. Mark Walters.
David Chiotti goes through Coach Mc Kay
I also spoke with Coach McKay about this year's team and here is the interview I had with Coach.
Coach another season starts and while you don't have a whole new set of young men to coach… You have a whole new set of young men.
Yeah… We have a lot of different faces and different pieces. I think the best thing we can do is not compare this year's team with last years… nobody is comparing last year's team to our 2nd year when we went 14-14 and every year brings a new season of challenges… I love the leadership of (David) Chiotti, (Mark) Walters, and Jeff Hart. I'm excited of the new editions of (Joel) Box, (Kyle) Prochaska, and the improved (Kris) Collins.
Is the trick to get them to work together?
Yeah… that's part of the equation. We have some good pieces, some versatile pieces, and how we get blend and the chemistry we have is the key. Last year's team was very unselfish, can we get this team to play the same way? Are we as committed to the whole as we are to the individual parts? In team sports that is always the equation.
Coach the first couple of years here were tough on you, your staff, and some of the players but with the great run you had last year, the MWC Tournament championship run, and your 1st NCAA tournament game do you feel you have turned the corner as a program?
Yeah… obviously being in the NCAA tournament really helps your confidence and our players have an expectation to win. What changed for us last year is the way we played on the road. We showed up to games expecting to win and when we got into a crisis situation on the road we had the leadership and resolve to get over the hope. You also don't get a player like J.R. Giddens, Aaron Johnson, and some of the other players we have attracted here without some momentum. Now human nature is that when you have success is to let up and from the leadership on down, we are not going to let that happen.
Coach you mentioned some of the new players you were able to bring in, do you feel they came because of last year's NCAA run?
I think it has a lot to do with it. Toss in Danny Granger's success here and the fact that he transferred here and was successful makes us attractive to other transfers, but also the character of our group… when a player comes in to visit and sees the way our players interact with one another, I believe they really like that.
Coach what are your team goals this year?
Every year we have a chance to represent UNM we want to be in the NCAA tournament. I wouldn't be disappointed if we are in post season ever year, but our goal is NOT the NIT our goal is the NCAA tournament, but it doesn't happen every year. It is so competitive, there are 327 D-I basketball teams and 65 bids for the tournament, but it is harder to get to the NCAA tournament for men's basketball then any other major sport.
Coach what do you tell the casual fans that look at this team and comment that Danny is gone, that this is a rebuilding year, that are sitting on the fence deciding whether to purchase a season ticket or not?
I would remind them how people felt we would be worse our 2nd year because we didn't have Ruben Douglas when he led the nation in scoring. In college basketball you have some departures… whether it is guys graduating, going to the NBA, or different endeavors. I think our fans are going to love Mark Walters and David Chiotti plus some of our new guys we have added. I think it is a good time to be a Lobo basketball supporter because we have some momentum here. The leadership is as invigorated as ever to continue to further this program and get it to where it has never gotten before. That is when I get to sit back in a chair and take a day off…
In the next couple of days I will be transposing some interviews I conducted with some of the players on this year's basketball team and posting them up on the website, so please keep checking out TheRedMenace.com for the interviews and listen to Red Menace Radio Monday-Friday on 106.3 KAGM for some of the interviews to played during the show.
After today's media day we went down to The Pit floor to watch Coach McKay run the guys through practice and let me admit something here right now, I'm not as in tuned to what is happening on the basketball floor as I am when covering Lobo football. I don't get everything that is going on right now but give me some time, or perhaps I should take the advice of Asst. Coach Scott Didrickson and take former Albuquerque HS Basketball Coach Jim Hulsman's basketball class there at UNM. Coach D. said that Coach Hulsman really teaches the class and makes the students work hard. No word if he still wears the green jacket however.
I didn't spend as much time watching the guards this afternoon as much as I would have liked to. I'm not going to lie; I'm a huge fan of the big fellas. Nothing on the basketball court gets me going as seeing big guys post up, and take the ball to the rack, so I was impressed seeing some of the drills that Coach McKay puts the big guys through.
The easiest way to describe this drill is that two basketballs are put on the left and right side of the lane and the post player picks up the 1st ball and slams it home, followed by the 2nd, 3rd, etc. etc. etc. There is a little something extra however as the player gets closer to the end of this drill Coach McKay has a football tackling pad that he swings and hits the player with in the hands, chest, and stomach to try and dislodge the ball and/or throw him off the dunk.
Daniel Faris will not redshirt. The guy has bulked up and is very aggressive down low, he works hard and as his body fills out he will become the next David Chiotti.
Kyle Prochaska is another hard working pesky sort of player that throws his body around for rebounds. I don't know what his scoring ability is at this point, but he works hard and will be called upon this season for some minutes.
Joel Box has a nice mid-range shot and while I noticed he did take some 3's, his mid-range shot is going to be the shot that makes Joel a player to be reckoned with. Did I mention he could body up as well?
Joel Box takes on Coach McKay
David Chiotti is going to have one hell of a year in my opinion. The guy is just a blue collar out work type of player that just loves to get physical down low.
McKay and Didrickson also put the players through some post up drills and I was once again pumped to see the footwork and abilities of both Box and Chiotti, not to mention their ability to shot the mid-range jumpers.
Coach McKay also separates the team into a black and white team (practice jersey colors) and runs tons of drills. Please forgive my basketball ignorance here but the best way to describe these drills are 5-4 transition drills that forces players to play transition defense, plus a scrimmage type thing that had specialized scoring. I didn't catch all the scoring but it was something like this: If you picked up a steal your team scored 4 points, an offensive rebound gave your team 4 points, transition hoops scored you bonus points, as did hustle plays… I spoke with Coach D. this morning and he told me that they use this drill to emphasis to the defense how important it is NOT to give up offensive rebounds and to get back on transition plays. (Like I said, I'm ignorant when it comes to a lot of this stuff.)
No transition hoops says David Chiotti to Tony Danridge!
Of course this was all under the watchful eyes of McKay and his assistants and if your team lost in these scrimmages, or if an individual player made an error that player or team had to sprint up the ramp and back down. If it wasn't a full sprint the player could expect another run…
Once again I'll investigate these drills and all the rules as I get more opportunities to talk to the coaches and of course watch more practices. Plus I would like to take some more time to check out some of the guard play and UNM's 3 points shooting ability. Something that at this point is another big question mark for this team.
Today isn't about negative though, it is about the positive of this basketball program and what McKay and co. have done to build this program so I will end this with a quote from Mark Walters talking about the chemistry of this year's basketball team, and let me say this he isn't the only player that expressed this sentiment, these players don't just pay lip service to these words, they live it.
"I've got 13 brothers on this team and I feel like I can take on the world." –Mark Walters
**November 18th is coming soon and with South Carolina State comes a visitor from Australia by the name of Stephen Weigh. Help us fill The Pit and welcome Stephen to Lobo basketball.