What: Game Three (Las Vegas Holiday Classic)
Who: NM State (1-1, 0-0 WAC) vs. San Diego (4-1, 0-0 WCC)
When: Friday, Nov. 25, 6:30 p.m. MT
Where: Las Vegas, Nev. – Orleans Arena (9,500)
Watch: Be The Beast
Listen: Zia Country 99.5 (PxP – Adam Young)
Attend: Online Ticket Sales
Follow: Twitter – @NMStateMBB, Instagram – @NMStateMBB, Facebook – NM State Men’s Basketball
THE OPENING TIP
• The Aggies will return to the court on Friday evening as they get set to do battle with the Toreros of San Diego inside Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
• This will be the 28th time that the Aggies will play in the Orleans Arena as it has been host to the WAC Tournament since 2011.
“THE QUEEN CHESS PIECE”
• The 6-7 point man for the Aggies that Heiar often refers to as his “queen chess piece” based on his ability to play multiple positions has been exceptional in his start with NM State.
• In his first two games with the Aggies, transfer Deshawndre Washington has averaged 17.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game to pace the Crimson & White in all three categories.
• Additionally, Washington is currently the only Division I player in the nation to rank inside the top-15 in rebounds per game (t-15) and inside the top-50 in assists per game (t-34).
• Of the nearly 5,500 players at the Division I level, Deshawndre Washington and San Diego’s Eric Williams Jr. are two of just 23 individuals averaging a double-double this season. Williams is currently averaging 22.3 points and 11.5 boards per game.
PAN AM WEST
• Despite spending Thanksgiving week away from Las Cruces, NM State will be in a place that it has made feel like a home away from home – Orleans Arena.
• Home to the WAC Tournament for the last 12 years, NM State has done a lot of winning inside the New Orleans themed hotel and casino.
• The Aggies boast a 24-3 record inside the Orleans Arena with all 27 games coming during the WAC Tournament.
• Those 24 wins also resulted in eight WAC Tournament Championships across the last 12 seasons.
20-PIECE FOR PINSON
• LSU transfer guard Xavier Pinson registered a game-high 20 points in Saturday’s road loss to UTEP.
• This marked the first time the Chicago native tallied 20 points since he scored 26 points inside Rupp Arena against No. 6 Kentucky on Feb. 23, 2022.
• With the departure of former three-time WAC Coach of the Year, Chris Jans, who took on a new role as the lead man at Mississippi State, the Aggies were tasked with replacing a coach who finished his tenure with a 122-32 record as the Aggies’ head coach.
• Filling that role is Dubuque, Iowa, native Greg Heiar who served on staff with Jans at two institutions (Chipola College in 2003-04 and Wichita State from 2011-14 and 2015-17).
• Heiar took over the reins at NM State with 22 years of coaching experience, including stops along the way as an assistant at Wichita State (2011-17) and LSU (2021-22)
• The man touted as one of the best recruiters in the country has also twice been a head coach – serving as the bench boss at Chipola College from 2004-05 and most recently at Northwest Florida State College last season.
• During his one-year stint at Northwest Florida State, Heiar took the Raiders to the pinnacle of junior college basketball – leading his team to a 31-5 overall record and a NJCAA National Championship.
• The Raiders’ national title run was the culmination of a remarkable turnaround from the previous campaign. NWFS went just 6-15 in 2020-21, but with Heiar leading the way, the Raiders increased their win total by 25 games en route to the title of the nation’s best NJCAA club.
• Heiar’s résumé also includes a three-year stint in the Southeastern Conference with LSU. With the Tigers, Heiar was a part of 67 wins, including an SEC Championship and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2019. The Aggies’ new leader contributed greatly to bolstering a Tiger recruiting class that ranked No. 4 in the country entering the 2019 season. In addition, Heiar’s on-court coaching helped Tremont Waters – the No. 51 selection in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics – earn First Team All-SEC honors.
• His time spent in Baton Rouge, La., came on the heels of a stellar six-year run with the Shockers of Wichita State. During Heiar’s time the Shockers won 179 games, five Missouri Valley Conference regular season titles and made six-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, including the program’s second-ever Final Four appearance in 2013.
• While at Wichita State, Heiar worked extensively with the Shocker backcourt, which saw Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet earn All-American honors. Both would also eventually sign NBA contracts following the 2016 season.
• Additionally, the Shockers were one of the top winningest programs in the country during Heiar’s stay as their 179 wins was tied for third-most nationally behind only Gonzaga (187) and Kentucky (185).
MEET THE NEWCOMERS
• Aside from junior forward Mike Peake and sophomore forward Chi Chi Avery, all other Aggies that suit up for the 2022-23 season will be making their Aggie debuts. Redshirt freshman Shakiru Odunewu is the only other member of this year’s squad who has spent time within the program as he redshirted with the Aggies last season.
• 15 of the 16 new faces stepped foot in Las Cruces for the first time during the offseason. Las Cruces native and son of Aggie legend William Benjamin, Deuce Benjamin serves as the lone Aggie newcomer with roots already established in Las Cruces.
• The Aggies will lean on several newcomers this season as Issa Muhammad, Xavier Pinson, DaJuan Gordon, Kim Aiken Jr., Deshawndre Washington, Anthony Roy, Kyle Feit and Doctor Bradley are all expected to play major roles for Coach Heiar in their debut season with the Aggies.
• Despite being new to the program, Washington and Muhammad should be comfortable with the system in place as they were key cogs on Coach Heiar’s national championship team at Northwest Florida State one season ago. Washington, a 6-7 point guard, started 35 of 36 games for the Raiders while averaging 12.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The highly-touted Chicago guard came to the Aggies as the sixth-ranked junior college recruit according to jucorecruiting.com after he was named a NJCAA Division I First Team All-American and NJCAA Division I National Championship Tournament Most Valuable Player.
• Fellow National Champion, Issa Muhammad steps into his role with the Aggies after averaging 9.8 points and 6.4 rebounds with the Raiders last season. Muhammad makes stop number three of his collegiate career after also playing for Daytona State for a pair of seasons.
• Joining Washington in the backcourt will be transfer DaJuan “Quaye” Gordon who begins his career with the Aggies after stints with Missouri and Kansas State. In his lone season with the Tigers, the elite two-way guard made starts in all 32 games he appeared in on his way to averaging 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game.
• Gordon serves as just one of three Aggies to join the team one season after playing at the Power Five level with the other two being LSU transfer Xavier Pinson and Arizona transfer Kim Aiken Jr. However, Aiken Jr. does find himself in need of an approved waiver from the NCAA before he can begin his Aggie career.
• Pinson began the season in a similar boat as he gained eligibility the morning of the Aggies’ home opener. Pinson has an opportunity to step in and become one of the best guards in the Western Athletic Conference. That sentiment is backed back selections to both the Coaches’ All-WAC First Team and Media All-WAC Team. Just last season, Pinson held down the starting point guard position for the Tigers as he started 27 of 28 contests and averaged a team-high 4.8 assists per game while pouring in just under 10 points per game.
• Kim Aiken Jr. treks to Las Cruces after making a stop in Tucson, Ariz. Before playing for the Wildcats, Aiken Jr. was a First Team All-Big Sky selection and Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year at Eastern Washington when he led the Eagles to a berth in the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament. Aiken could potentially provide big-man depth alongside Muhammad during the 2022-23 season.
• Former San Francisco Don Anthony Roy joins the Aggies after spending last season in Wenatchee, Wash., where he played for Wenatchee Valley College. With the Knights, Roy appeared in 26 games and finished the year averaging 23.2 points per game while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. He also added 7.5 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game on his way to being named NWAC Second Team All-East Region.
• Kyle Feit makes his second stop at the Division I level after spending three seasons with Arizona State (2018-21). Looking for a bigger role, Feit returned to his home state of Florida to play at Indian River State College. Feit’s play in 2021-22 helped skyrocket the stock of the sharpshooter as he led all NJCAA shooters with 112 made threes while shooting at a 46.5 percent clip.
• Big man Doctor Bradley should offer a spark off the bench for the Aggies with his athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions. Last season, Bradley checked into all 37 games at Salt Lake Community College where he averaged 13.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
THE POWER FIVE FIVE
• At some point in their college basketball careers, five members of the 2022-23 Aggie roster previously suited up for a Power Five institution.
• Xavier Pinson (LSU in 2021-22 and Missouri from 2018-21), DaJuan Gordon (Missouri in 2021-22 and Kansas State from 2019-21), Kyle Feit (Arizona State from 2018-21), Mike Peake (Georgia in 2019-20) and Kim Aiken (Arizona in 2021-22) all have previous experience at the Power Five level. Between that group, programs from the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC are represented.
• Across all five athletes, the Aggies roster will include 10 years of experience at the Power Five level not to mention several other individuals who passed up Power Five opportunities to join the NM State program.
LOOKING TO FILL THE VOID
• The Aggies entered the season in search of almost entirely new weapons as the Aggies lost 12 members from last year’s squad due to graduation or the transfer portal, including the entire starting lineup from the 2022-23 either graduated or transferred to another program.
• With the departure, the Aggies also lost over 90% of their total points, rebounds, assists, steals, field goals and free throws from last season.
• This marks the lowest percentage of returning points, rebounds and assists in the country.
• The NM State recruiting channels flowed through the Chicago River this season as NM State landed a quartet of athletes that call the third-largest city in the country home.
• Xavier Pinson, Mike Peake, DaJuan Gordon and Deshawndre Washington are all products of the city many believe to be one of the greatest basketball-talent-producing cities in the world.
HERE COMES COACH JOHNNY?
• Former Aggie forward Johnny McCants will make his debut on the NM State coaching staff this season as he will take on the title of Men’s Basketball Analyst after putting together one of the most illustrious playing careers in program history.
• McCants finished his career as the Aggies’ all-time leader in wins with 121 across six years with the Crimson & White.
• McCants also concluded his playing days as one of the Aggies’ all-time rebounders – finishing with 778 rebounds to rank seventh all-time in total rebounds in NM State history.
• The Las Cruces native made his mark as one of the premier shot blockers in program history as well as he rejected 134 shots to finish sixth on the all-time list in program history.
• Lastly, McCants joined the 1,000-point club last season to become one of just 37 scorers to do so during their Aggie career. McCants finished his career with 1,085 total points.
“KEYS” TO SUCCESS
• Like Johnny McCants, Men’s Basketball Video Coordinator Billy Keys joins his alma mater’s coaching staff after putting together an impressive playing career with the Aggies from 1998-2000.
• Despite only playing for the Aggies for two seasons, Keys scored 1,004 total points to become one of 37 Aggies in the 1,000-point club.
• In those two seasons, Keys was twice named to the Big West All-Tournament Team, including being named the Tournament MVP in 1999 when he led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament.
• NM State Athletics also recognized Keys’ contributions as he was one of 20 former players named to the All-Century Team on Feb. 2, 2007.
• Keys was also an elite passer during his time in Las Cruces. This was demonstrated in his first season with the Aggies when he dished out 160 total assists – a mark that still ranks behind only four other Aggies in program history.
• All in all, Keys ranks ninth all-time in career assists with 310. He is also the lone Aggie among the top 10 in career assists to have played at NM State for two seasons or less.
• Keys also began his coaching career in The City of Crosses when he became an assistant coach at Centennial High School prior to earning the head coaching job at Mayfield High School.
• The Chicago native comes to the Aggies after spending three seasons as the Associate Head Coach at Northern New Mexico College.
AGGIE LEGENDS ON THE RADIO
• Longtime Voice of the Aggies Jack Nixon will be joined by NM State legend Anita Skipper (formerly Anita Maxwell) for the 2022-23 season.
• During her playing days with the Aggies, Skipper became the first men’s or women’s player at the Division I level to have at least 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 steals in a college career.
• With 2,601 career points during her four-year career, Skipper still holds the title of all-time leading scorer in NM State history regardless of gender.
• The three-time All-American was selected 29th overall by the Cleveland Rockers in the first-ever WNBA draft in 1997.
• The Dallas native will make her debut on the radio alongside Nixon on Wednesday, Nov. 2, when the Aggies host Western New Mexico.
ACCORDING TO OTHERS
• In an announcement made by the conference on Monday, Oct. 17, the Aggies were picked to finish second in both the WAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll and WAC Preseason Media Poll.
• This marks the first time since the 2017-18 season, NM State will enter the season without the distinction of “preseason favorite” – at least on paper.
• 2017-18 also happened to be the last time the Aggies welcomed entered the season with a new head coach as Chris Jans was entering year one with the program.
• All the Aggies did that year was compile a 12-2 record in WAC play to earn the WAC Regular Season title before going on to win three games by an average margin of victory of 12 points en route to a WAC Tournament title.
• According to the league’s coaches and media that follow the WAC, Grand Canyon was selected as the preseason favorite to win the league. In the coaches’ poll, the Lopes garnered eight first-place votes to finish with 135 points. The Aggies earned the second-most number of first-place votes with three while racking up 127 points. Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian and California Baptist rounded out the top five in a poll of the league’s 13 head coaches. The top five on the side of the media mirrored that of the coaches’ poll.
• Donning No. 22, incoming freshman Deuce Benjamin will continue the legacy of his father and former Aggie great William Benjamin.
• The Las Cruces High School graduate will make his way to the Division I ranks following a senior season in which he earned his second Gatorade MaxPreps Player of the Year honor after leading the Bulldawgs to a 31-1 record in 2021-22. During his senior campaign, Benjamin poured in 25.3 points per game while adding 5.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.8 steals per outing.
• In total, Benjamin finished his high school career with an overall record of 102-6, including an NMAA 5A state title in 2020.
• Deuce has big shoes to fill as his father is a member of the NM State All-Century team alongside Aggie standouts like Randy Brown, Billy Keys, Jimmy Collins and Albert “Slab” Jones.
• During his career with the Aggies, William Benjamin led the Aggies to four consecutive postseason appearances, including three-straight NCAA Tournaments from 1990-93.
• Benjamin turned in one of the greatest shooting seasons in program history as he ranks second all-time in three-point field goal percentage in a single season – shooting 49.4 percent from beyond the arc in 1990-91. In his career, Benjamin finished as a 40.9 percent shooter from long range – a mark that is currently sixth-best in NM State history.
• Not only could William Benjamin shoot the rock, he could also dish it as well. Benjamin racked up 333 total assists in his career to rank eighth all-time.
• Benjamin was also known for his ability on defense as he ranks third all-time in program history in total steals with 209.
• After finishing the 2021-22 season ranked fifth in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top-25 poll, the Aggies find themselves ranked 25th in the current mid-major rankings.
• Additionally, 13 of the Aggies’ opponents during the 2022-23 season are also featured among the initial rankings, with five of Aggie opponents or potential opponents among the top 25 while the other eight received votes to be included in the preseason rankings.
• Of those 13, the Aggies will see eight of them during WAC play.
• NM State’s 10 conference tournament titles since 2006 are the second-most in the nation. Only the WCC’s Gonzaga (13) has more.
25 TO FOR LIFE
• Since NM State’s basketball program began in 1905, the Aggies have reached the 25-win mark in just 13 seasons.
• Of those 13 seasons of 25 or more wins, eight have come in the 21st century. NM State has hit or exceeded the 25-win mark in five of the last six seasons. From the 2016-17 through the 2019-20 campaign, NM State won at least 25 games in each to mark the program’s longest run of 25+ win seasons in the process.
• In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the late Neil McCarthy led the Aggies to four 25+ win seasons to produce the most 25+ win seasons by an NM State head coach.
• Original plans had NM State debuting a newly-designed version of the iconic parquet floor of the Pan American Center in 2021-22, but Mother Nature – and some ill-timed building maintenance issues – made it impossible to do so.
• Instead, the two-toned floor was installed on August 15, 2022, as the NM State volleyball program prepared for the start of its season.
• The floor is now primed and ready for the start of the Aggies’ men’s and women’s basketball seasons.
THAT’S PRETTY SUITE
• In addition to the new floor, the Pan American Center underwent a facelift in the department of the fan experience as six premium suites were installed over the summer.
• The project was made possible by a $2.9 million philanthropic gift that was given to the NMSU Foundation, benefiting Aggie Athletics.
• A premium club seating area will also be made available following the conclusion of the construction on the north end of the Pan American Center.
• To open his seventh year in the NBA, Pascal Siakam has tallied six double-doubles to lead the Raptors to a 7-5 record early in the 2022-23 campaign.
• Siakam remains the only former Aggie on an NBA roster, but a pair of former NM State hoopers in Trevelin Queen and Jemerrio Jones have also managed to earn opportunities at the next level.
• After being named the NBA G League MVP following a breakout year with the Rio Grande Vipers in 2021-22, Queen signed a two-year with the Philadelphia 76ers through free agency. However, Queen’s stay with the 76ers would be short-lived as he was waived before the season began. Since parting ways with the Sixers, the Baltimore, Md., native signed a two-way deal with the Indiana Pacers where he’s expected to spend most with the Pacers’ G League affiliate the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
• Meanwhile, Jemerrio Jones secured his second deal in the G League as he opened the season as a member of the Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic affiliate). Last season, the former Aggie often referred to as “Super JJ” played 11 games for the Milwaukee Bucks G League affiliate the Wisconsin Herd. With the Herd, Jones averaged 6.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
FAR FROM HOME
• Hailing from Emunim, Israel, 21-year-old freshman guard Shahar Lazar is one of just two individuals to appear on a basketball roster across Division I from the country of Israel.
• Lazar is joined in the collegiate ranks by his countryman Yarin Hasson, a freshman at UConn from Gan Yavne, Israel.
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
• After being affiliated with the Western Athletic Conference for nearly 20 years, NM State will be bearing a new conference flag beginning on Saturday, July 1, 2023.
• In an announcement issued Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, by NM State and Conference USA, NM State has accepted an invitation to join the league in the summer of 2023.
• NM State is one of four institutions that are set to join the ranks of Conference USA beginning in 2023-24. Along with NM State, Jacksonville State, Liberty University and Sam Houston State University will trade in their current league affiliations for the C-USA flag.
• Conference USA is an NCAA Division I athletic conference based in Dallas, Texas. Now in its third decade, Conference USA has adapted to the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics with an unwavering commitment to excellence, integrity and leadership in competition, academics and community.
• Often times when a new head coach takes over, the entire coaching staff turns over as well. Going against the trend, a pair of Aggie staffers will continue their careers at NM State as both Associate Head Coach Dominique Taylor and Director of Player Development Darin Graham will return to the Aggie bench in 2022-23.
• Taylor will enter his second season with the Aggies after helping author one of the best seasons in the history of the NM State men’s basketball program.
• Similarly, the man colloquially known as “DG”, will also continue to provide his assistance in Las Cruces as he enters year two with the Aggies after cutting down the nets at the WAC Tournament in 2021-22.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
• With the win in the season opener against New Mexico Highlands on Monday, Nov. 7, the Aggies have put up a 72-42-1 (.630) all-time mark in season openers.
• Dating back to the 2015-16 season, NM State has emerged as the victor in each of its last eight season openers. Over the last decade, the Aggies have gone 8-2 (.800) in their first game to begin a season.
THIS DAY IN NM STATE HISTORY
• NM State’s Friday contest will mark the 12th time in program history that it will compete on the 25th day of November and the second time in the last four seasons. In total, the Aggies hold an all-time record of 6-5 and have won their last three on this date.
• The Aggies first-ever game that was played on Nov. 25 came back in 1978 when they knocked off New Mexico Highlands 125-73.
• The Aggies have played at a neutral site on Nov. 25 on three occassions. Falling to #23 Ohio in 1994 and to Southern Miss in 2011 before taking down Colorado State in overtime in 2019.
SCOUTING SAN DIEGO
• The Aggies’ Friday opponent will be led by well-known basketball mind Steve Lavin who is amid his first season at the helm of the Toreros.
• In 11 full seasons as a head coach, Lavin has led his teams to 10 postseason appearnaces, including eight NCAA Tournaments. He has also led five teams to the Sweet 16 and one to the Elite Eight.
• On the court, the Toreros will be led by 6-7 guard and Oregon transfer Eric Williams Jr. who paces USD in points (22.3), rebounds (7.5) steals (2.3) and minutes (36.8) per game.
• The Toreros roster also feature a trio of other individuals that are averaging double-digit scoring figures this season.
• Weber State transfer Sigu Sisoho Jawara pours in 18.7 points per game, Jase Townsend averages 14.6 points and Marcellus Earlington tallies 13.6 points per contest.
• The Toreros lone loss this season came in overtime at the hands of a talented Utah State team. In the loss, San Diego was led by a 43-point, 13-rebound effort from Williams Jr.
• Friday’s game inside the Orleans Arena will mark San Diego’s first contest away from its home gym and will note one of just two games in which they will be away from San Diego during the first month of action.
• The Toreros finished the 2021-22 season with an overall record of 15-16 while posting a 7-9 record in West Coast Conference play. This was the third-straight season with a sub-.500 win percentage for the USD program
• The Aggies are 3-3 in games against the Toreros in program history.