The 2004-2005 University of New Mexico's Lobo Basketball Team
was another Lobo team and another time - though not so very long ago.
It is a story of tragedy and triumph, somehow all held together by a
most resilient type of glue, that they called brotherhood. That their
story is also our story, goes without saying. Because if you
don't know your own story, then you have forgotten the face of your
father. Some current Lobo fans refuse to recoginize these things. They
claim to live only for today. How poor tomorrow must then be for them.
This is (hopefully) as real as life and death gets for those folks,
but the truth is, these things will eventually land much closer to home
for all of them.
three years, a group of young kids saw it fall upon them like a meteor
they still somehow managed to accomplish victory, friendship, and beauty
beneath such a bombardment, is ideed an inspiration for Lobo teams to
is an inspiration for all of us, in fact.
the United States entered World War II, the U.S. government turned to
ordinary Americans and asked of them extraordinary
service, sacrifice, and heroics..."
excerpt - taken from Tom Brokaw's bestseller, "The Greatest Generation"
can't help but remind me of the 2004-2005 Lobo basketball team. Arriving
back today from a disappointing result in the biggest game of their young
lives - in a sense, we have asked those very same things of these young
men under the guise of collegiate athletics.
even in defeat, they have delivered those things above and beyond the
call of duty, makes them the greatest Lobo team ever in my mind.
three years removed from the dark times that threatened to put a Lobogate-like
drought on our postseason hopes, a team was put together by a fine young
man and coach, that has brought honor and dignity back to the Pit. And
just like those people that made up that Greatest Generation, these were
not superhuman athletes or even famous people. They were simply good,
smart, hardworking kids with athletic dreams and goals. Some were castoffs
from other teams. Some were heavily traveled - never comfortable in their
surroundings. Some had been forced to take the long road to Division 1
- through junior colleges, community colleges or prep schools.
they all had in common though, was some sort of inner compass that eventually
led them to play together for Ritchie McKay at the University of New Mexico.
While there, they would meet brothers that they never even knew they had
before. One of those brothers, Senque Carey, would go down paralyzed from
the neck down before they barely got to know him at all. Though he would
later regain his full mobility, he would never play basketball again.
Another brother - Mark Walters, would blow out a knee after that first
year, and struggle to return to form the very next season, all the while
being tangled in a jungle of severe depression.
but those were the lucky ones - believe it or not. As in any story of
triumph, there is a flip-side to this story darkened by personal tragedy.
Coach McKay conducted his very first informal practice after taking over
the reins from Fran Fraschilla, Patrick Dennehy abruptly walked out on
it, in an attempt to show the coach his disdain for the direction and
changes that the new coach wanted to put into place. Already wary of Dennehy
from his past behavior, the coach told him to just keep on walking.
soon transferred to Baylor, where he would be murdered by a fellow teammate
under circumstances that still aren't entirely clear. What is clear
however, is that the pressure to win in college basketball at all costs,
tempted the winningest coach in UNM history - Dave Bliss, to break the
rules and cheat at Baylor - ultimately leading to an attempted cover-up
of the facts surrounding Dennehy's death.
had seen something similar to that deceit before with Norm Ellenberger,
and later on to a much lesser extent, with Fran Fraschilla. In choosing
a moral man such as Ritchie McKay to salvage the mess that had been made,
Rudy Davalos was taking the high road for our team.
the same time, the fans and the media acted like they had just been slapped
across the face. This was just not the shortcut back to the top
that they had hoped for.
goodness, for those roads not taken.
Head Coach Ritchie McKay was a second-generation Lobo, as his late
father had played for the team in the early sixties. He had wanted this
job all of his life - even if most people at the time did not want him.
For McKay, his faith is often a difficult path to follow, but he maintains
it all the same. For many fans, the path that they had beaten out traveling
to support their team, was also difficult to follow these days. In fact
- for many, it had became untraversable.
- which had been in decline for quite sometime by then, fell even further.
This might have deterred some coaches, but not Ritchie McKay. He knew
exactly what kind of team he wanted representing this university,
and he worked tirelessly towards that end. Unfortunately for the young
coach, more tragedy was waiting just around the corner.
sometimes slip through the cracks - or as in Dennehy's case, they jump
right through them.
a kid can get swallowed-up by those fissures without even realizing it.
Feeney was a bright light that attracted new friends like moths on a summer
night. An early McKay transfer with a very promising basketball future,
there wasn't anything that William Patrick Feeney wouldn't do for anyone
that he came in contact with.
wish that "Fat Rocks" had kept some of that charity for himself.
a dark, August night, Billy Feeney - despondent over some personal issues,
became intoxicated and slipped into a deep depression. His teammates -
sensing their brother was in need, went out looking for him. They found
him talking to his sister on his cellphone in an Albuquerque alley around
3 a.m. - just two hours before he committed suicide.
was drunk and distraught," Danny Granger said of his best friend. "We
tried to get him in the car. We talked to him for an hour and a half.
He finally said he was going to walk to the bus station a block and a
half away and go to Colorado."
had no clue he was going to do that," Granger added, referring to the
suicide. "I should have gotten him in the car. I went home after we talked
to him, and he called and said he bought the bus ticket. The last thing
he said to me was, ‘Thanks, man, I love you."
also called the coach, between 4 and 5 a.m. speaking with him for about
half an hour. Billy told him that he was calling from a bus station and
he had purchased a ticket and was going home to Boulder, Colorado. because
of some personal issues.
the news would come out that Billy Feeney never really caught that bus
family while immersed in grief and knowing the closeness of the team,
chose his extended family to be the pallbearers at Billy's funeral.
an emotional and tearful service, they laid their brother to rest.
McKay spoke about how Feeney had the "rare ability to make us all
laugh, but never at the sake of another's feelings. He had a way of making
you feel important...he would absorb your pain."
was God's gift to Billy," the coach said, ultimately breaking down.
that is why, this is the greatest team.
on from such a difficult year would test the very best of men, but move
on in fact, this team did. With few scholarship players, and with two
more Fraschilla recruits transferring out, things did not get any easier
that second season for the family. Though they would pull out four more
wins that season - 14 as opposed to just 10 the season before, many of
the natives had moved beyond the restless stage and were inching towards
recruits who had yet to play a game here, were villified on Internet message
boards. A coach who had seen more than enough adversity to last a lifetime,
was being crucified by those same folks, and the local media were not
doing him any favors either.
lot of players and coaches would surrender to those kinds of things and
just play out the rest of their rides and contracts.
not this family.
was a tale of two teams: The one that nobody believed in and the one that
always believed in themselves.
the end, it would be the latter who would prevail triumphant over them
on, Lobo fans were greeted with the news that we had once again played
bridesmaid for our top two recruits, Ben Allen and Shaun Green. The schedule
was of course, picked apart as it is every season. Never mind that it
hasn't gotten any easier to convince teams to play us here through the
the family simply took care of business. By the end of the season, the
crowds were returning, and the pride and dignity were restored after three
long, arduous and mostly thankless years for this coaching staff and team.
best record in team history at 26 wins and 6 losses
longest away from home winning streak in 27 years
Conference regular season wins in 7 years
MWC Tourney Championship since 1996
NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999
might be tempted to think that all of this was accomplished because the
misfortunes of the past had not crept into this season. You would be wrong.
greatest all-around player this school has ever had - Danny Granger, missed
three games with a knee injury. All three were losses. Starting point
guard Kris Collins was lost for the entire season early into conference
play, with a broken foot.
tragedy was not finished with our kids just yet, either. The father of
Lobo basketball - Bob King, would pass away from a prolonged illness just
as this team started conference play. If any generation of Lobo fans could
truly be called "The Greatest Generation", it would be those
who stood alongside this great coach during the 1960's, as he put Lobo
basketball on the map.
King would have recognized the father inside of the son now coaching his
were kindred spirits.
last summer, yet another Lobo would be tested by the loss of a loved one.
As Alfred Neale watched by helplessly, cancer claimed his beloved mother
after years of personal sacrifice for her children. Few would know about
it outside of the team at the time, as Al kept his grief private and between
his Lobo family until the season had passed.
would have wanted it that way. She had such grand hopes and dreams for
her devoted son.
that is again why, this is the greatest team.
in Nashville, Tennessee for the NCAA tournament, hopes were sky-high,
with the team receiving more hype than it had in several years. Bandwagon
fans were out in full force - neither recognizing nor comprehending the
trials and tribulations that this family had been through just to get
halftime, it seemed that Lady Luck had forsaken us once again. Shots weren't
falling and a tenacious Villanova defense seemed to have broken the hearts
of our team.
it might have seemed that way to those who don't know any better, but
this team had borne the weight of a thousand heartbreaks and disappointments
over the course of these past three seasons.
had been no quit in the family then, and there would be no quitting in
the family today.
the second half, a seemingly insurmountable lead became just one basket
away from being a one-possession game. Mark Walters played as if his heart
was going to explode, driving into the lane and refusing to be stopped.
Exhorting his teammates to continue up that hill, their charge
simply ran out of gas and time.
only for this one year.
that is what families do. Leave a solid foundation for future family members
to succeed and prosper beyond what they themselves have accomplished.
service, sacrifice, and heroics. Is
there really any other way to describe this team?
am so proud of them. In three years of blood, sweat and tears, they
have never let themselves, the school, nor us down....not even once.
all...each and every one. And I don't need stupid Dickie Vitale or a banner
to tell me that.
the journey of this extraordinary family ended in Music City, I can think
of no better way to put a coda on this story, than with these words from
Garth Brooks. I dedicate them to the greatest team ever for me: The
2004-2005 New Mexico Lobos.
now I'm glad
The way it all would end
way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance