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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Two seasons ago, when New Mexico surged into the national spotlight behind coach Steve Alford and a gritty group of overachievers, it took many people by surprise.
Now the Lobos are getting some preseason hype and Alford is relishing the opportunity to deliver on those projections when the regular season starts at home Nov. 11 against New Orleans.
“There’s obviously some good expectations and when you look at us on paper, that’s kind of what we’ve told our guys,” he said. “Looking on paper, we look pretty good, but you have to go play the games and that’s what’s fun right now, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and get your team right at both ends of the floor.”
New Mexico is coming off a 22-13 season in which it reached the second round of the NIT, but things appear to be in place for it to produce a much better record and postseason result this season.
“You want to be talked about preseason and the more preseasons that you can have where you’re in the top 50 and you’re doing those types of things makes for a very exciting preseason,” Alford said.
The returning talent and the promise of the incoming players should make this an exciting season.
“We have a chance of being really good and meet expectations and be better than the year before,” said shooting guard Kendall Williams, who was the Mountain West freshman of the year.
Williams is one of the players that Alford is banking on to produce big numbers for the Lobos after starting all but one game last season and averaging 11.6 points and four assists per game.
But it’s the intangibles that Alford is seeking. “Kendall is our most vocal guy and we need his vocal leadership,” the coach said. “We need consistency out of him and leadership.”
The Lobos will have a new starter at point guard for the first time in four years as Dairese Gary has completed his eligibility and now is a graduate assistant coach.
Jamal Fenton, who stands 5-foot-9, is the most-likely contender for the position after filling that roll in the NIT games after Gary went down with a knee injury.
“I think this is the best team we’ve had so far,” Fenton said. “Height-wise, talent-wise and just speed because this team is going to have a lot of speed. The difference with playing faster is you have to make good decisions.”
Center Alex Kirk will almost certainly redshirt after undergoing major back surgery in the summer.
That leaves Mountain West newcomer of the year Drew Gordon, senior A.J. Hardeman and sophomore Cameron Barstow as the only experienced interior players.