By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
It was one of my first seasons on the Lobo basketball beat, and one of my first road trips covering the team. I think, sometime in 1999.
I do remember it being in El Paso, the night before a game against UTEP. I finished up my work in the hotel room late that night, then headed out for a meal. Probably about 11 p.m.
I can’t remember all the details, but I met a friend, and we were asking an employee behind the Marriott from desk what restaurants were still open. About that time, the elevator doors opened, and a trio of Lobo players came out, stopped and froze when they saw us.
“I’m off duty — and I’m not your coach,” I said. But they got right back on the elevator, and headed upstairs.
Less than a minute later, a Lobo assistant coach came out another elevator; his head spinning around in every direction like an FBI agent heading into an active crime scene. A few seconds later, he was heading back up the elevator.
Such is the cat-and-mouse game between college basketball players and the coaches assigned to do bed-checks on road trips.
I haven’t been on the beat for a few years, so maybe much has since changed in college basketball. After all, there’s no longer any controversy in the NCAA Tournament selection process, right?
I’ve never covered Paul Weir’s Lobos on the road, but from what I’ve seen of the coach, I imagine he knows all the tricks — and all the ways to keep his guys in line. But there are, obviously, still a whole bunch of stuff that can make life difficult on the road. Not to mention the game itself on the opponents’ home floor.
The Lobos opened the season with a road game — which is a great idea — and escaped with an 87-84 win against CSUN on Anthony Mathis’ 30-foot bank shot at the final horn. The Lobos were huge favorites. But, hey, that’s life on the road.
And it was a win.
Starting today (Dec. 1) at Bradley (6 p.m. Mountain), the Lobos play three straight games outside the Pit. They are at New Mexico State on Dec. 4 and head to L.A. to play St. Mary’s on Dec. 7.
On Thursday, I asked Weir about what he hopes to learn about his team — and how it handles itself on the road, but off the court.
By the way, when I returned from that late-night meal back in 1999, or whenever, it was about 1 a.m. It could be a coincidence, but I saw a trio of very tall guys walking through a parking lot about a half-mile away — heading towards the Marriott.
I have no idea who they were. I do know the Lobos got whacked by the Miners the next night.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the New Mexico’s most decorated sports journalists in history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports.
Mark was the Lobo men’s basketball beat writer for 15 seasons for the state’s largest newspaper. At times, he will reflect on some of the stories and tidbits that never made it in print, for one reason or another. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.