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Pitino Blog: Summer 2022

Good morning Lobo fans,

A year has passed since I took the job as the Lobo men’s basketball coach and I thought now would be a great time to address my thoughts on New Mexico, the state of the program, recruiting, and some other fun things we have discovered during our time in the Land of the Enchantment. Hope you enjoy!

Thoughts on Albuquerque, New Mexico
The only time spent in Albuquerque for me was in 2005, for a few days when Louisville won the regional to go to the Final Four. I remember The Pit being amazing and could tell this state loved college basketball. Fast forward 16 years later and I was getting off a plane to be introduced as the new head men’s basketball coach at the University of New Mexico. Truthfully, my head was spinning. I had just been fired after eight years in Minnesota and didn’t know what lied ahead. My family was engrained in the Minnesota community and I knew a move would be hard on them, but I was eager to get back on the horse and show that I can win. I wasn’t bitter or angry. I didn’t want to sit out and not coach. I told myself if a top four job in a conference became available I would jump at it if the situation was right. New Mexico called and I had to listen. I was appreciative that Eddie Nunez and President Stokes believed in me. Taking this job was a no brainer.

People ask me all the time about how I like Albuquerque. Every day that goes by I grow to love it more and more. There’s just something about this state. The people are so friendly and down to earth. Our family has met amazing friends. I can’t tell you how sick my friends and family back east are of me sending them sunset pictures every night. We love the weather, the beauty, and all that New Mexico has to offer.

Our favorite restaurants (in no particular order)
 – Antiquity
– Campo at Los Pablanos
– Farm and Table
– High Noon
– Vernon’s Steakhouse
– Il Pinto
– Farina
– Savoy
– Dion’s
– Sadie’s

Staff update
I am very proud of the staff we have put together. We needed guys with contacts in certain geographical areas that make sense for New Mexico and the Mountain West.  Isaac, Eric, and Tarvish bring experience on the court and in recruiting. Dave Pilipovich has been a valuable resource for me on a daily basis. Danny Walters is doing a great job in the video room. We hired Ben Felz in the training room. Ben was with me for seven years at Minnesota and does a phenomenal job. Matt Flores has done a tremendous job in the weight room this summer. The MVP of the office is our administrative assistant, Peyton Stephens. The beauty of this staff is there are no egos. Everybody is pulling together to build the strongest program possible. Staff chemistry, much like team chemistry, is crucial.

Recruiting update
New Mexico basketball has a brand. Recruits know about The Pit and our rabid fan base. We did a great job of addressing specific needs in the transfer portal as well as adding some very good freshmen. It was nice to not recruit off of Zooms anymore. The fall will come soon and we will bring our top targets on campus once again. We will look to add one or two high school seniors in the fall then be patient for transfers in the spring.

When putting together the non-conference portion of our schedule I had one thing in mind, the fans. We have to reclaim the magic of The Pit. Winning always helps, but I wanted to do my part to add some fun, intriguing games. Obviously the Iona game is one that people ask about often. We also started a home and home with SMU, brought back the Lobo Classic, and will play at Saint Mary’s. Not to mention an always interesting series with New Mexico State. We also tried to schedule teams that would be picked top three in their league. We will be challenged early.

Below I will break down my thoughts on each individual player from practice this summer. Enjoy!

Morris Udeze: Will be one of the best bigs in our league. Had a tendency to get in foul trouble last season. Important that we work on that because when Morris is on the court, he’s extremely productive. Great leader!

Jaelen House: Confident. The addition of Donovan Dent has really helped him. Those two battle everyday. It’s fun to watch. Dynamic guard. Has also had a very productive summer in the weight room.

KJ Jenkins: Has been hobbled a bit with a hip issue so we have held him out for a bit. Hopefully that rest will pay off when we come back for the fall. Productive scorer.

Jay Allen-Tovar: Has done a great job of putting on weight this summer. He will be able to slide back to his natural position at the 4. Has to continue to embrace the physicality of the game.

Birima Seck: Birima’s instincts are terrific. His competitive spirit runs high. He continues to work hard in the weight room. Needs to keep working on developing consistency with his jump shot. Amazing attitude.

Sebastian Forsling: Was gone all summer playing with his national team. The daily competition of going against Morris everyday is going to pay huge dividends in the end. Another infectious attitude.

Emmanuel Kuac: Still rehabbing from his injury this past season. I know how hard it must be for Eman to sit on the side and rehab, but he’s putting in the work.

Josiah Allick:  Strong, confident, leader. We needed to add size and physicality to our front court and we achieved that objective. We are being patient with Josiah as he rehabs from a prior injury from last year. I have loved what I have seen thus far.

Jamal Mashburn, Jr.:  Love the confidence and drive that I see from Mash on a daily basis. He’s never satisfied. With both Mash and House, we have talked to them about making plays for others, but also not losing that aggressive mentality which makes them so dangerous. Mash has also done an amazing job in the weight room.

Javonte Johnson: MVP of the summer in my book. Consistent in every phase. When he shoots, I’m disappointed if it doesn’t go in. In the best shape of his life.

Donovan Dent: Best passer on the team. Sorry Mash. Sorry House. Well coached, winner. Going to make an impact. Phenomenal attitude.

Braden Appelhans: Shooter with size! Great combination. Missed a little time with a thumb injury but has been very impressive when healthy. Braden’s future is very bright.

Quinton Webb: Best athlete on the team. Has done an amazing job in the weight room in a short amount of time. Going to be a very good player. Coachable!

Safi Fino-A-Laself:  Great walk on. Can really shoot it. Needs to work on being more of a point guard than an undersized two.

Mac Manzanares: Terrific addition to our program. He gets the unfortunate assignment of guarding Morris in practice. Never complains, always battles.

The guys will go home for three weeks and be back here in late August for the start of school. This place is will be special again. We can’t get to where we are going without our fans. See everyone at University Stadium in September. I know Coach Gonzales will have the boys ready to compete!

Go Lobos,
Richard Pitino