Feature photo: New Mexico basketball player JaQuan Lyle is serving a two-game suspension after a party he threw led to a rented house being trashed and two women being shot. It’s far from the first time Lyle has had issues off the court.
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
You get what you pay for in life.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball program certainly has driven that adage home this season.
Hopefully, it’s more figurative than literal in this case.
But there is that Carlton Bragg/2016 BMW deal, after all.
If you go to a used-car lot, you could get a great deal because someone else took the new-car hit.
Or you could simply be purchasing someone else’s headache.
Same goes for dealing with Division I college basketball transfers.
It’s no surprise that when you fill a roster at the talented troubled transfer trade show, you very well might get a team that can clean up on the court, but can’t keep clean up off of it.
The Lobos are a case in point. But now it’s getting messy on and off the floor.
Once 13-2, the Lobos are now 16-7 and have recently been dismantled on the basketball court and in the court of public opinion.
Granted, Wednesday night’s 85-57 blowout loss came at the hands of a brilliant fourth-ranked San Diego State squad, but I never remember a game when you could hear sneakers nearly the entire second half of a sold-out Pit with a top-10 opponent on the court. UNM was never in the game.
And it was the fourth time the Lobos have been hammered in five games, and the other three losses haven’t exactly come against national powers: Colorado State (105-72), UNLV (99-78) and Nevada (96-74).
The apologists are quick to point out New Mexico was missing multiple starters in each of those routs, including “four” on Wednesday.
But why are they missing? Bad luck or bad decisions?
Sure, there have been a couple of common basketball injuries this month; that’s part of the game and all coaches have to adjust (ask Chris Jans down the road).
But it’s not like coronavirus has ravaged the Lobo roster.
And probably Tecate, Coors and a little weed in at least one case.
The Lobos are down three of those “starters” — JaQuan Lyle, JJ Caldwell and Carlton Bragg — because of self-inflicted wounds.
By the way, it’s “former starters” when it comes to Caldwell and Bragg, folks.
Bragg’s no longer even a Lobo. Caldwell may be joining him with a “former Lobo” tag eventually.
Which brings us back to the main point.
Let the buyer beware.
More is Less
In the win-now, worry-later world of college sports, Lobo coach Paul Weir went with a quick-fix for a program that had gone a combined 82-78 the past five seasons without a single postseason appearance.
It was time to build a team. Maybe not a program, but a team.
Weir filled his roster with talented and troubled transfers, yet few folks around Loboland — administration, media, fans — made as much as a whisper, at least publicly, about it being a possible problem.
Just win, baby!
In fact, the only offseason controversy involving all the transfers was that the Lobos had more players on scholarship than had scholarships available.
It was more than prophetic when Weir gave me this quote in mid-May:
“These days, kids transfer all the time,” he said. “We still have a lot of kids who have a lot academic work to do. There are just a lot of things out there. You look around the country, and there are teams that are well over scholarships and teams that are well under scholarships. It’s part of the fluid nature of college basketball now; kids are just constantly moving around. For us, it is not really something I’m overly concerned about. It will just sort of work itself out.”
It’s worked out all right. Just not for the best.
And the Lobos are still adding bodies. Freshman Bayron Matos, who was in high school just last month, registered at UNM this week and was in uniform on Wednesday night.
Weir said he’s leaving it up to Matos if he chooses to use an entire year of eligibility by just playing now, but probably was foreshadowing on Wednesday by saying Matos “might have been the best player on the floor in practice” this week.
But with or without Matos, he and the rest of the Lobos need to see if they can stay out of trouble for a month or so.
Considering the past month, that might not be easy.
A quick recap:
Bragg (alleged sexual assault) and Caldwell (alleged battery) were suspended in December.
It took Bragg just days after returning to the roster earlier this month to get kicked off for good after a DWI/marijuana possession arrest while driving that aforementioned Beamer.
Caldwell is still out indefinitely.
Lyle is in the middle of his two-game suspension for throwing last week’s home-wrecking party in which his “dinner guests” destroyed a house he rented and two women were shot.
Many Lobo student-athletes were at the party, including other men’s basketball players.
Check out KRQE’s video of the damage here and his apology/excuse for the quaint, cozy little gathering.
One in which he put out fliers around campus to advertise.
Wouldn’t most of us do the same when having a few friends over for a little Cabernet and Gouda?
Winning Breeds Losing?
So what now?
When Vance Jackson returns from his knee injury and if Lyle doesn’t return to his self-destructive ways, there is still enough talent for the Lobos to make some noise in coming weeks.
Especially if Matos can join the party. Err, join the team.
Weir acknowledges there might have been some things he could have done differently when it comes to his team’s off-the-court woes, but he had some head-scratching rationale for why so many problems have occurred.
During Wednesday’s postgame news conference, Jim Villanucci (101.7 The Team Radio) asked the coach if he ever gets angry that the three individuals (Bragg, Caldwell, Lyle) have let everybody down.
“I think we all in life want simple cause-and-effect explanations,” Weir said, after pausing and taking a deep breath. “And ‘This is because of transfers.’ Or ‘This is because of Paul Weir.’ Or ‘This is because of a lot of different things.’ And those all may be true to some element of it. I don’t think they’re as black and white as some people try to make it out to be.
“… My biggest reflection for me, personally, and what I would have or could have done differently, is we didn’t handle winning very well. Lobo basketball players in this community are of a certain stature and status and when we got to (13-2) — and quite frankly this didn’t happen last year, this didn’t happen the season before and it didn’t happen when the season started.
“It happened when we won a lot. And the celebrity status came with it and if I look back on anything, I regret that I did not take a more active approach to understand that and to know that and reel that in.
“It all came when that happened. No matter when it might originally have happened, that’s when it all started to come out. And we didn’t handle winning very well.”
If they couldn’t handle winning, I can’t imagine how the heck would they have responded to losing. It’s a good thing for the city they didn’t start 2-13.
Look, I get it. Weir’s got to back his guys – and back his decision to bring them here.
- While the complaints against Bragg and Caldwell were made in December, the incident against Bragg stemmed from last summer and there was allegedly a separate battery complaint against Caldwell before the season started — and long before the 13-2 record.
- Celebrity-hating cops didn’t put up a DWI checkpoint just to nail Bragg or some other exalted Lobo basketball player.
- Winning certainly didn’t cause Lyle to throw his demolition derby of a bash on the night the Lobos were being drubbed by Nevada, their third loss in four games and by an average margin of 25.3 points.
- And winning and celebrity status didn’t seem to play much of a role when Lobo Corey Manigault was suspended for punching a New Mexico State player during pregame warmups last season, or in August when UNM police officers found drug paraphernalia in his Lobo Village residence and he concealed his identity to them, telling them his name was Dante Jones.
These talented troubled transfers are simply living up to — and down to — their billing before ever coming to Albuquerque.
- Bragg was booted from the programs at both Kansas and Arizona State and was arrested for drug paraphernalia.
- Caldwell, a 22-year-old junior, was kicked off Texas A&M after being arrested on drug possession.
- And Lyle, who turns 24 next month? He’s been making infamous headlines for nearly a decade — far too many to list in this column. Here’s a link.
The only thing more comical than his apology (see below) for throwing his Dinner Party at the O.K. Corral, was that he received just a two-game suspension for his bill.
But he might be forced to leave one helluva tip.
Considering the reportedly $8,000 worth of damage to the house in addition to the shootings — and undoubtedly minors being served alcohol — Lyle’s legal issues may just be starting.
And this is just the stuff that has come out in public. Considering the spin-formation folks at UNM, I can almost guarantee there have been other — if not many other– questionable charades.
So, should Weir have done things differently?
During his extended answer to the aforementioned Villanucci question, which no media followed with asking anything about why the coach took a chance at so many players with checkered pasts, Weir concluded, “I don’t regret the kids. I don’t regret taking them. I still love them. I still care for them and I’m still going to coach them. … I should have taken a more active approach to reeling in and managing what came with the (13-2) start.”
And really, what else could Weir say?
After all, you get what you pay for in life — again figuratively.
And Weir certainly had the chance to check the inspection report before loading up at the talented troubled transfer trade show.
JaQuan Lyle’s apology on Wednesday on Twitter for the party he threw on Jan. 25 in which two women were shot and the house he rented was trashed.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.