LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — College basketball images across the country are beginning to surface and that includes at New Mexico State. The Aggies held their first practice of the 2021-22 season on Tuesday, 42 days ahead of their season opener against UC Irvine on Nov. 9.
To say the Aggies had a challenging year in 2020-21 would be an understatement. State health restrictions prevented NMSU from doing pretty much anything in their own gym for the majority of the season, even being forced to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona, to begin the year. While the Aggies found themselves in the WAC Tournament championship game at the end of the season, it ended in an 18-point loss to Grand Canyon.
“Last year was tough for all of us — fans, media and certainly the players and the coaches,” said NMSU head coach Chris Jans. “We had a few more obstacles than most teams, but to know we are going to be sleeping in our own beds, to know we are going to practice in our facility everyday feels great.”
After playing just 20 games in 2021-22, NMSU has a full schedule this season and a return to normalcy has settled inside the Pan American Center.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are to get back to playing with fans, and to get back to having an atmosphere,” said NMSU junior guard Jabari Rice. “It just feels different. We know we are going to have games — we have a full schedule. Last year we were adding on games and taking off games.”
This year’s schedule, most notably their conference slate, will look a lot different. The WAC has added four teams to the league: Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin.
“With the additions of some of these programs, I think there are more eyeballs on our league than maybe in the past,” said Jans. “Obviously with the year that we had last year, we aren’t happy about it, but it’s a new challenge. New coaches, new schemes and new places to play.”
The WAC will no doubt be more challenging this year for NMSU, but the expectations don’t change for Jans and his team. The Aggies expect to win the WAC regular season title followed by the tournament championship, which would put them back in the NCAA Tournament — a spot where they feel like they belong.
“Those are our goals every year, and they haven’t changed since we’ve been here,” said Jans.