2010-2011 bleedCrimson.net Aggie Men's Basketball Preview

The 2010-2011 New Mexico State men's basketball team has been picked to finish second in the WAC by both the league's coaches and media after winning the 2010 WAC Tournament and narrowly losing to eventual Final Four participant Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and in spite of losing nearly 40 points per game with the graduation of Jonathan Gibson and early departure of Jahmar Young.

The Aggies also suffered a setback in their frontcourt as Wendell McKines, the Aggies' best rebounder, suffered a broken foot in practice just days after the team opened practice for the 2010-2011 season leaving head coach Marvin Menzies to rely on role players and newcomers to fill the void left by McKines until his projected return at the beginning of 2011. "He's going to be sorely missed and it's a huge hit to not have Wendell here in our non-conference especially with our tough schedule," said head coach Marvin Menzies. But he also added, "I also feel like if other guys step up and pick up the slack, obviously you're not going to replace Wendell, but maybe you can replace him with two or three or four guys that get an extra rebound or two because Wendell is not around. It starts with the coaches and staff being willing to do the extra things to make sure the kids that are getting the opportunity to play are ready to take advantage of those opportunities."

Offensively the Aggies will need to find a way to replace roughly 50 points per game in scoring with the losses of Gibson, Young and McKines. If the Aggies' lone exhibition game is any indication, that shouldn't be an issue. The Aggies scored 98 points against Division II Eastern New Mexico.

The Aggies do return four other key members of their NCAA tournament squad in Hernst Laroche, Troy Gillenwater, Gordo Castillo and Hamidu Rahman. Those four combined with the newcomers and the potential return of McKines for WAC play gives the Aggies an excellent shot of repeating as league champions.

GUARDS
As is the case with any basketball team the Aggies' success depends greatly on the play of their point guard. The Aggies have one of the league's best at that position in junior Hernst Laroche. In his sophomore season Laroche had a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 6.3 points per game. Laroche will be relied upon once again to run the Aggies' offense and there may be some addition pressure on him to score more this season. "Hernst is obviously a key cog in what we're trying to do here going forward," said Coach Menzies. "He's one of those guys that we have a lot of confidence in and is very steady." One area of improvement that his head coach is looking for this season is communication on the floor. "I'd like to get him to communicate more readily, thinking in advance a little bit, be proactive as to the next play, the next call and just be a little bit more proficient in communicating on the floor to his teammates."

Playing a bigger role this season will be senior and hometown product Gordo Castillo. After filling a secondary scoring role for the team in his first three seasons, Castillo will be looked upon in his senior year to be one of the Aggies' main offensive threats. He averaged just 6.2 points per game last season and played an average of just 17.6 minutes per game. Both of those numbers will need to increase in his final season for the Aggies to be successful. "Gordo is not just a hometown kid and a crowd favorite, he's one of my favorites. He's a big time shooter and a great kid and a great player," said Coach Menzies. "I'm looking forward to some very good things out of him his senior year and we'll be there coaching him and developing him every step of the way in hopes that we can put him in a position to have a successful senior year."

Joining the Aggies in the backcourt this season is 6'4" freshman Christian Kabongo. "CK is a very talented, passionate player who plays with a lot of heart. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, sometimes to his demise, but for the most part it gives him that edge," said Coach Menzies. Kabongo averaged nine points per game in the Aggies' six-game summer tour in Canada but it's his defensive presence that the Aggies may benefit most from. "He's a very very aggressive defender," said Coach Menzies. "We've got to reel him in sometimes but it's much easier to coach those things than it is to coach effort and he's one that I don't have to worry about in that area."

Also joining the Aggies this season is six foot freshman guard Drew Herig. "Drew is a real solid student athlete. We were impressed with him overall as a person and think he has a chance to be a player here before he leaves New Mexico State," said Coach Menzies. "He's a solid kid that's going to work his butt off and give you everything he's got every day. He's complimenting practices right now and could be a kid that sees the floor."

Rounding out the backcourt is 6'6" junior Mahktar Diop. "Mahktar is another kid who is an integral piece in our chemistry and our development," said Coach Menzies. "He brings us an added glue to the fiber of the team because everybody loves him and he gives you his all every day in practice."

FORWARDS
When fully healthy the Aggies boast perhaps the strongest frontcourt in the league and quite possibly one of the better frontcourts in the west. The centerpiece of that frontcourt is junior Troy Gillenwater. After sitting out nearly two-thirds of the 2009-2010 season for academic reasons, Gillenwater made his presence felt in the WAC and on the national stage. He finished the season averaging 14.6 points per game, third best on the team. In the Aggies' first round game against Michigan State, Gillenwater scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against a team known for their rebounding.

Unfortunately for Gillenwater, it was a lane violation that was called against him that provided the lasting memory for those seeing Gillenwater play for the first time. Coming into the 2010-2011 season Gillenwater becomes the unquestioned leader of the Aggie ballclub. As the team's best player, it becomes incumbent upon him to provide leadership for the team on the court. He also becomes the team's go-to scorer. "We've got a lot of expectations from Troy but at the same time I think he's got a lot of expectations himself," said Coach Menzies. "He's got great focus coming in this season after a lot of ups and downs and I'm very optimistic that he will continue along the path that he's adopted in the last year or so. I think he's going to put himself in a position to be very successful just by staying focused and on target." Menzies added, "Most importantly he's got to be able to accept the role of the leader and be willing to embrace it and do a good job of it especially not having Wendell [McKines] right now."

One of the players the coaching staff will be looking to in hopes of filling production left by Wendell McKines' absence is redshirt sophomore Tyrone Watson. The situation Watson finds himself in should be familiar to him as he was also called upon last season to fill in while McKines sat out in the first part of last season. Watson averaged 9.6 minutes per game last season but figures to see that number increase this season. "Tyrone is a kid who you feel like you know what you get from him," said Coach Menzies. "He's a kid who's been through the battles a little bit, he's been here two years going into his third year as a redshirt sophomore and our hopes that are he is able to add some of those components that we're going to be missing with Wendell in the area of toughness, rebounding and leadership. He's a kid that we're going to be depending on to put in quality minutes." Watson brings a similar energy and enthusiasm level as McKines and that spark off the bench will be something the Aggies will be relying on as the season starts.

Also figuring to see an increased role is sophomore Bandja Sy. As a freshman Sy saw limited action playing in just 15 games and averaging just 7.1 minutes per game more often than not coming in at the end of games in mop-up duty. "Bandja is probably one of our more athletic players and capable of exploding onto the national scene if he shores up some things in his skill development, taking care of the ball, strength and things like that," said Coach Menzies. "He's a big time diamond in the rough and I think before his days are done here being an Aggie he's going to make some noise."

Another sophomore who could see increased playing time this season and is also in a similar situation to Sy is 6'11" sophomore B.J. West. "B.J. is another kid who I think as we brought him in as a freshman that we realized that he could potentially be a big-time player if he continues to have the vision and focus of what it takes to be a great player which is to put in that extra work. The more he adopts that philosophy, the better he'll be for us now," said Menzies. West appeared in 12 games last season and got one start but only played a total of 54 minutes averaging just 4.5 minutes per game.

Freshman Renaldo Dixon finds himself in a situation similar to the previous two players' situation as freshmen. "Renaldo is a young freshman who is kind of feeling his way through this thing," said Coach Menzies. "He's got a great upside based on his attitude towards the game and his sponge-like mentality. He's got a great personality, he's a great student athletic, he's got big-time athleticism and as he's able to enjoy the structure and development we provide he'll leave his mark here on the program."

Rounding out the forward position is none other than Wendell McKines. The 6'6" senior suffered a broken foot in one of the teams' first practices of the season and could be sidelined for between 10 to 12 weeks. The hope is that the Aggies will get him back in time for WAC play. With the absence of McKines, the Aggies lose not only a senior leader but also a near double-double per game as McKines averaged 10.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and played 31.8 minutes per game in 24 appearances last season. The Aggies will not only miss his production but will also miss his hustle. Much of McKines impact is not necessarily reflected on the stat sheet. McKines can regularly be seen diving out of bounds on the baseline to save a possession and is one of the Aggies' high-flyers on both offense and defense. "Wendell is obviously one of our components to having a successful conference season based on his injury," said Coach Menzies. The addition of McKines during conference play could mean the difference between an NIT bid and an NCAA bid.

CENTERS
Hamidu Rahman is another Aggie that made his presence known on the national stage as he went toe-to-toe with Michigan State's post players and acquitted himself quite nicely. Rahman finished with eight points, five rebounds, two steals and a block and his play to start the second half started a furious rally by New Mexico State after starting the second half down by 13 points. "Hamidu obviously is a kid that we just love to see grow as a coaching staff and develop. He's done a phenomenal job of playing in the games and excelling when he's called upon based on playing a high level of competition," said Coach Menzies. Rahman averaged 10.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game last season and could see those numbers increase in his junior season. "He probably needs to increase his work ethic in the sense of doing the extra things to develop. He wants to play professionally he's going to have to make sure he maintains a level of expectations of himself that will allow him to excel."

Stepping into an increased role this season is Abdoulaye N'doye. The seven-footer will be called upon to spell starting center Hamidu Rahman and will share minutes with the Aggies' incoming freshman center. "Abdoulaye is a kid that when he first got here hadn't played any organized ball and I expected him to develop at a fast rate based on the fact that he hadn't had plentiful opportunities as a young kid growing up. His ceiling has yet to be put into focus based on the fact that he started so late," said Coach Menzies. "He is getting better every day in practice and does a phenomenal job of helping in practice. His defense, rebounding and energy is something that could come in handy as the season unfolds."

Rounding out the five spot is freshman Tshilidzi Nephawe. Nicknamed "Chili", the Aggies have high hopes for this raw freshman. "Chili is a kid who physically already has an NBA frame and body but is someone who like Abdoulaye needs to continue to work hard to develop the skill set necessary to play professionally one day," said Coach Menzies. "He's a great kid, phenomenal person, good student and just an integral piece of the future of the program."

SCHEDULE
The Aggies have an upgraded schedule in 2010-2011 which, if they are able to navigate through with a winning record, could set them up nicely for a potential at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. "We based it on what our expectations are of our own talent," said Coach Menzies. "We like the high-level competition, we also like the diversity we have in the schedule and we like our travel games. We've got some good teams coming in and some good teams returning next year as well as a result of some of scheduling we set up with home-and-homes."

The Aggies open the season on the road at Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette). The Aggies then return home for their home opener against Division II Western New Mexico. From there the competition level increases exponentially as they'll face a brutal stretch of games starting with a road game at Arizona followed by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off where they'll face UMass and Southern Cal. The Aggies wrap up the road trip with a showdown against I-10 rival UTEP. One week later they'll return home to face UTEP followed late in the week by in-state rival New Mexico. The Aggies then face New Mexico again one week later at The Pit, a place where the Aggies have not won since 2002. The Aggies take a two-game breather to take on Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oklahoma Panhandle State before returning to the grind taking on Pacific, Louisiana and NCAA participant St. Mary's (CA) to close out the non-conference.