New Mexico continues to work as exhibition game approaches

Isabel Gonzalez

New Mexico head coach Richard Pitino is still waiting for the Lobos to understand what makes a good team.

“I asked our players what’s the identity of this team. They all said, ‘good guard play.’ I said that’s the identity of a bad team,” Pitino said. “The identity of a good team is, ‘We are tough. We are physical. We defend. We make the extra pass. We play as a team.’ We are not there yet.”

The Lobos will play their first (not close-door) game against another opponent this Friday as they host New Mexico Highlands for an exhibition game. They held an intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend in front of fans at The Pit, but Pitino said he wouldn’t look too much at those stats and that the event had more of an All-Star game feel to it.

Are the Lobos ready to surprise everyone and take over the Mountain West conference? Not at this point, there is a lot of work to be done. However, the effort to improve is there. Here are some notes from Wednesday’s practice.

Emmanuel Kuac has potential

The 6’7 guard is clearly athletic and can bring energy to the team. He was actively going for rebounds and had some nice blocks on Wednesday. Although Pitino said Kuac is still learning to be more productive when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, it’s obvious he could be dangerous if he plays his role correctly.

“If you are this freak athlete, go block shots, go offensive rebound, get out on the break,” Pitino said. “Be that, play like that. Today he did a lot of that, which was great to see…He’s one of the best athletes I’ve seen.”

Jay Allen-Tovar is also working on defense

Jamal Mashburn Jr., who followed Pitino from Minnesota, has a good understanding on what the head coach is looking for. He was asked about Jay Allen-Tovar after Wednesday’s practice. The sophomore guard said he was impressed with how far his teammate has come.

“When he first got here he was kind of floating around,” he said. “Now he’s being more of a defender with his moves, being aggressive, which is what we need.”

Allen-Tovar came to New Mexico from Salt Lake CC, where he started in 17 games while averaging 10.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game his sophomore year. He also registered a total of 30 blocks and 16 steals.

Sebastian Forsling could be good…

But he’ll have to be patient. He has a couple moments during practice when he plays aggressively, but the 7’0 center is still a freshman who is also used to playing a different style of basketball. It’s clear the Swedish player is still learning, but he does have talent as well as a great attitude.

Javonte Johnson is next up

With Saquan Singleton out, Johnson will have to step into a bigger role. He is fast (second fastest runner behind Jaelen House) and is a talented shooter. Pitino describes him a versatile player and one of the hardest workers on the team. Singleton’s absence will certainly be felt, but the senior will be cheering on Johnson from the sidelines.

Player updates

  • KJ Jenkins – The 6’2 guard is 100% back. He missed the intrasquad scrimmage due to wisdom teeth pain.
  • Valdir Manuel – No new updates on his suspension.
  • Gethro Muscadin – He missed practice on Wednesday because he left town to take care of some personal matters (not related to the suspension) and his flight was canceled.
  • Saquan Singleton – No new update on his health.