Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lobos House, Mashburn believe pieces are in place for postseason

UNM guards Jaelen House, left, and Jamal Mashburn, Jr., right, combined to average more than 35 points per game last season. Now, heading into the 2022-23 season, the team leaders say the pieces are in place to return Lobo basketball to the postseason. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

There wasn’t a tougher backcourt duo to guard in the Mountain West Conference a season ago than the starting one-two punch for the UNM Lobos.

Between shooting guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. (18.2 points per game) and point guard Jaelen House (16.9 points per game), the Lobos’ 35-plus points a night returning this season is the highest total for any team’s starting guards in the league heading into the 2022-23 season.

But the Lobos, despite the prolific offense of House and Mashburn, won just 13 games and finished 9th in the 11-team league.

Putting up points was one thing, both told the Journal recently in an interview on the latest episode of the Talking Grammer Podcast. But their focus — and their belief thanks to what they believe is a vastly improved roster — is that the next step for them and for the program is a return to the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade.

“NCAA Tournaments. I’ll say this right here. I think me and him have the talent of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright,” said Mashburn, referring to the dynamic backcourt duo that led the Connecticut Huskies to the 2013-14 National Championship.

“… I think we can make a run and we can you know do something big, I really believe. I see us there.”

House agreed, saying if everyone commits to defense and gets on the same page, there is no reason he can’t go dancing for the first time and the Lobos can’t make their first appearance in the field of 68 since the end of the 2013-14 season.

“We gotta make it. I haven’t been to the tournament one time,” said House, in his fourth collegiate season after two at Arizona State and now No. 2 at UNM.

“… I think everybody has the right mindset. Everybody wants to win. I don’t think we have any losers on our team at all. It’s just being able to think the game a little more.”

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Thinking the game, House said, is about getting everyone on the same page and, as he and Mashburn are guards and veteran leaders, doing that falls a lot on their shoulders.

And, in the end, both agree their leadership has as much to do with showing they are committed to defense as much as they are to offense.

“I think if we all just focus in on that defensive end, which we have been (doing),” Mashburn said. “I think from last year, we have like five times more defensive talent than we had last year just because of our size. We put in the work. We’ve gotten bigger. We’ve gotten stronger. So, on the defensive end, that’s gonna be the most important thing for us to get to that tournament.”

MASH ON HOUSE: Mashburn and House arrived at UNM together last year from different directions. Both were well-known transfers — both in terms of their NBA pedigrees and because both were former highly rated prep recruits that landed them scholarships at Power 6 programs (House went to the Pac-12’s Arizona State, Mashburn at the Big Ten’s Minnesota).

While they knew of each other, House, out of Arizona, and Mashburn, out of Florida, didn’t really know one another before the two were essentially teamed up to lead the Lobo rebuild under second-year coach Richard Pitino ahead of the 2021 -22 seasons.

So, after one season as the Lobos’ backcourt running mate of House, what did Mashburn learn about his teammate he didn’t know before?

“I’ve seen his clips from in high school and I’ve known about him for forever. And I didn’t know he was this good,” Mashburn said. “When I first got here and we started playing in practice together, I’m like, ‘Man. This kid is like the fastest — one of the fastest guys I’ve played with, if not the fastest guy I’ve played with. And his vision is great. He can he can see it and really pick apart a defense with his speed and his passing ability and he can shoot. He’s a terrible player, man. That’s all there is to it, and he puts in the work, too.”

HOUSE ON MASH: And what did House learn about Mashburn last season?

“I never really knew Mash before coming here. So, we connected through Instagram, like on our DMs, before we both committed and we talked a little bit,” House said. “I got this look at some of his (highlight) clips. I’m like, OK. He could shoot the mid-range really well. But when I really saw it in person, I’m like, Wow. He’s really like almost automatic from the mid-range. Every time he shoots it, I think is going in. He’s so physical off the ball, too — like playing defense. He’s wearing people down. And he could just take you off the bounce, get to the basket and finish through contact. He’s got good vision, too. I mean, he’s just a well rounded player.”

COMING UP: With less than a month remaining before the Lobos’ season begins, here are a few dates that may be of interest for fans over these next four weeks:

• Saturday: Closed-door scrimmage against Northern Arizona University in the Pit. The NCAA allows for a closed, controlled scrimmage vs. another Division I program without fans or media present. Coaches can talk about the scrimmages and share statistics, if they are kept during the event, but don’t have to.

• Oct. 19: Day 1 of 2 of Mountain West virtual media conference; Preseason Mountain West poll released, featuring predicted order of finish, preseason all-conference team and preseason Player, Newcomer and Freshman of the Year awards.

• Oct. 21: Cherry-Silver game in the pit, with dunk contest, 3-point contest and 20-minute scrimmage. Parking and admission is free.

The women’s Cherry-Silver game is a separate event this year, being played this Saturday at 10 am in the Pit.

• Oct. 29: Exhibition game in the Pit at 5:30 pm against Division II Colorado State University-Pueblo.

• Nov. 7: Season opener vs. Southern Utah at 7 pm in the Pit.

MORE PODCASTS: For the full 49-episode archive of the Talking Grammer podcast, CLICK HERE.

Talking Grammer: A sports podcast

Sports writer Geoff Grammer shares some of the conversations he has on the Lobos basketball…

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