By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
After months of waiting “until next season,” University of New Mexico basketball fans got a taste of what next season will look like on Friday night in the Pit.
And that season, which officially begins with a road game against CSUN on Nov. 6 in Northridge, Calif., looks pretty promising.
There were plenty of ups and downs for the evening, billed as Cherry & Silver, but it turned into one of the only preseason scrimmages that actually had Lobo fans champing at the bit in the Pit.
The crowd? Who really knows?
Lobo fans have been told for the past two decades that 5,000 is actually 13,000 in the Pit (or 20,000 at University Stadium). So there is little way to honestly gauge.
It was announced at 6,700.
Albuquerque Journal Lobo beat writer Geoff Grammer and I estimated there were about 5,000-6,000.
Maybe more. Maybe less. Actually, no chance of the former.
Look for Lobo interviews later today (Oct, 20) on Enchantment Sports.
Tickets were $2, but it was free to just about anyone with a New Mexico driver’s license. Or a voter ID, or something like that.
But unlike most all of its predecessors, the evening actually got more entertaining toward the end. Which team – Cherry or Silver – hence the name of the event – really won can be disputed.
Towards the end, the scoreboard basically went Harlem Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals.
But what the heck would that matter, anyway? These were all Lobos on the floor, and after a sluggish start, it got pretty darn rocking for an intrasquad scrimmage.
So let’s do a few takes, and feel free to agree or disagree by sending your opinion to Mark.EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.
KUIPER SCARE: Co-captain Duane Kuiper, one of the team’s two senior leaders, was injured with about four minutes remaining. It got very silent for a few moments.
The 6-foot-7 Kuiper reached for a basketball pass on a fast break, then went down hard on the floor. He rolled on the ground, then sat up with a limp left arm and pounded his right fist into the floor.
Many thought he came down on the left shoulder, but something actually looked to have tweaked – hopefully not tear – when he reached for the pass. He also got bumped on the play.
Kuiper’s left shoulder was in an ice pack the rest of the way, and he is scheduled to get checked out today (Oct. 20). But after the scrimmage, he did media interviews and said he felt the injury was minor. Head coach Paul Weir agreed with that assessment.
Kuiper is a do-it-all team leader, and could be the glue in putting all the new pieces in place during games.
DUNK NO: The evening started with Anthony Mathis beating Kuiper in the finals of a 3-point shooting contest, and came what probably was the worst slam-dunk contest in Lobo – quite possibly basketball – history.
Each of the five finalists had one minute to complete a flamboyant dunk.
It felt more like hours, as one attempt after another either clanked off the rim or didn’t draw iron.
Freshman Drue Drinnon eventually beat Makuach Maluach in the finals, but the duo went a combined 2-of-7 actually putting the ball in the hole.
The attempted slams more resembled Shaq at the foul line, instead of Jordan taking off from it. In all fairness, it was nearly impossible for the “celebrity” judges to rate the attempts.
One of the four judges was new UNM president Garnett S. Stokes, who was introduced to a smattering of boos by maybe a couple hundred fans.
There’s that cutting of the Lobo men’s soccer team after this year, after all.
And there were about as many people booing as going to the soccer games themselves.
BREAKING BACK: After a pretty stagnant first 10 minutes of the scrimmage, both sides really loosened up and the slams were plenty.
This time, the standard type.
Rio Rancho graduate Clay Patterson, who has transferred from Fort Lewis College and is hoping to be eligible this season, had a beautiful alley-oop to Maluach for one, with the latter also knocking down a key 3-pointer.
A number of Lobos, including Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg – who becomes eligible this season after sitting out a redshirt season – had a few vicious slams off of picture-perfect fast breaks.
UNM has athletic talent to burn, and once it got flowing it looked like a team that will certainly be on the national radar.
WHERE DID YOU GO, TER-REE?: Terry Armstrong, from Scottsdale, Ariz., was in attendance on a recruiting visit. As has been the case many times in the past when word spread that a possible future Lobo was around, a number of the fans chanted his name a few times.
However, the first time the “We want Ter-ree” cheer started, Armstrong had walked up the Pit ramp shortly before.
The chant kind of fizzled when the folks noticed Armstrong wasn’t in the crowd.
Maybe they were just trying to get him back in the stands.
WORKING WEIR: When asked how he felt to be 1-1 in the scrimmage, Weir laughed and said he spent most of the time chatting with fans, but not seeing a great deal of the contest. And why not?
Weir knows everything about everyone of his guys, and sees them scrimmage in practice constantly.
This was a night to relate to those who have put Lobo basketball on the map for more than 50 years. He is one of the most easily most approachable Lobo hoop coaches since Norm Ellenberger – and he just might take UNM a step further than Stormin’ Norman.
NOT THE SIXTH BEATLE: What in the name of Paul McCartney was going on?
At one point, the public address announcer have gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham a shout-out for being in the crowd.
The fans gave their own shout-out.
A very loud chorus of boos reigned down from the stands, but was soon followed by an equally loud chorus of cheers.
If Friday night was any indication, this is going to be one close race in November.
By the way, both Lujan Grisham (Democrat) and opponent Steve Pearce (Republican) are each on record as saying they would endorse bringing back the sports UNM sliced because of its budget, including that men’s soccer team.
Wow. Way to go out on the limb, guys.
Maybe next, they will endorse air.
OLD DAYS: If you grew up in Burque, you couldn’t help but love the trio announced during the evening for being the latest inductions into the UNM Hall of Honor.
Petie Gibson, Willie Long. Sam Scarber.
Time doesn’t fly. It rockets.
As a pavement-scraping, hard-court hoop-loving youngster, I have to say that the 5-foot-7 Gibson was my first Lobo idol, and one of the best short guys to ever play for UNM. Score: 68-66. Sorry Aggies. Legend. I was far from alone in that era.
The best Lobo “big man” 6-foot-7 or under? Long is certainly in the mix with that sweet hook shot and his powerful play.
Scarber brings back memories of another Long, this one, Rocky, with Fred Henry and the wishbone?
Cheers to you, Sam (not Malone). You were amazing.
By the way, those those heights are what I recall, not official. And 50 years later, I’m sure they changed.
Whaaa … 50 years? Ugh.
ONE MORE: As for a quick final take: Last season – when the Lobos were struggling with a losing record – I went on record saying Weir would lead the program to its first Sweet 16 appearance in history (it wasn’t called Sweet 16 in 1968 and 1974).
I didn’t see anything on Friday night that changes my mind.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports journalism for four decades in print, television and radio, and has won more sports journalism awards than anyone in state history. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.