What: Exhibition Game
Who: NM State (0-0, 0-0 WAC) vs. Western New Mexico (0-0, 0-0 Lone Star Conference – DII)
When: Wednesday, Nov. 2, 7 pm MT
Where: Las Cruces, NM – Pan American Center (12,504)
Watch: ESPN+ | Comcast NM | Bally Sports Arizona (PxP – Adam Young, Analyst – Rus Bradburd)
Listen: Zia Country 99.5 (PxP – Jack Nixon, Analyst – Anita Skipper)
Attend: Pan American Center Box Office (575-646-1420), Online Ticket Sales
Follow: Twitter – @NMStateMBB, Instagram – @NMStateMBB, Facebook – NM State Men’s Basketball
THE OPENING TIP
• Following a historic 2021-22 campaign that included its first NCAA Tournament win in nearly three decades, NM State retakes the court to kick off its 2022-23 campaign as they prepare to host in-state foe Western New Mexico in an exhibition game on Wednesday evening.
• 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 will be 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 takes 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 an 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 were tied for third-most nationally behind only Gonzaga (187) and Kentucky (185).
MEET THE NEWCOMERS
• Even for fans that have followed the Aggies for many years, the team that NM State will take the floor with on Nov. 2 will look almost entirely unfamiliar as only two of the Aggies from last year’s team will wear Crimson & White this season.
• 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. and Deshawndre Washington 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 an 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, both Pinson and Aiken Jr. do find themselves in need of approved waivers from the NCAA before they can begin their Aggie careers.
• Upon approval, 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.
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 will enter 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.
CHI TOWN CONNECTION
• 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.
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.