It’s OK to feel good about Weir, Lobos
Barely 13 months into his job as Lobo basketball coach, Paul Weir has nearly closed the book on Craig Neal’s unstable tenure with the University of New Mexico.
That’s a good thing.
Only two players from Neal’s time here remain on the roster, and both of them (guards Anthony Mathis and Dane Kuiper) will be gone by the end of the upcoming season.
Not even Weir could have imagined such a seismic shift in terms of personnel. This time last year he was dealing with the loss of Neal’s entire final recruiting class, plus the exodus of a handful of others. He had just five months to mold a makeshift roster out of leftover parts from other schools.
All he did with it is win 19 games, finish third in the Mountain West regular season and come within seven minutes of getting the Lobos into the NCAA Tournament. Just like that, he had simultaneously delivered an electric shock to an apathetic fan base while dumping loads of bloated expectations onto his own shoulders.
Enter his latest parlor trick: rebuilding his initial roster with one that’s even better.
In truth, that shouldn’t be all that difficult. He won 19 games with a team that was comically undertalented compared to the penthouse clubs of the MWC.
With all due respect, Joe Furstinger in the middle? A fifth-year graduate transfer at point? A four-year letterman who quit the team once and nearly got thrown off, all in the same month? A bench that probably wouldn’t even qualify as a bench on other teams?
With seven players gone from that team, seven new faces are already on scholarship. The theme with the new guys? Height, speed and talent.
In other words, it’s OK for Lobo fans to feel more than optimistic about the coming season. The team’s Achilles last year was its, well, everything. No bigs, no reliable guard play, no defense.
The bigs issue has been fixed with the addition of four players 6-8 or 6-9, two of them transfers from major college programs. The defensive issue has been address with the same bigs who add rim protection and physical play in the paint.
The guards are the only question. It all seems to hinge on the addition of 6-2 sophomore Erick McGee, the presumed starter at point guard. Unlike last year’s patchwork lineup, Weir had the benefit of breaking in point guard Antino Jackson during the summer when the team was still coming together. McGee isn’t expected to be on campus until the fall, putting added pressure on a player who will be under his coach’s thumb every game, every practice.
Moving forward, it’s OK to feel good about another run at a top-three finish in the MWC. Nevada is next-level good and San Diego State has the recruits to justify the hype.
If Weir’s new faces add up to the potential UNM shows on paper, the 2018-19 Lobo basketball season could be the true return to a sustained run of postseason play.
Then again, it is only May.
One step at a time.
Will Webber writes an opinion column about sports in New Mexico. Contact Webber at 505-603-9467.