LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) — New Mexico State hoops have found a home away from home.
NMSU director of athletics Mario Moccia announced on Tuesday afternoon that the Aggies men’s basketball team would be relocating all operations to Phoenix, Ariz., for at least the next five weeks. The stay in Arizona could be extended, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic develops in New Mexico.
“While far from our first option, I am pleased that we found such a tremendous opportunity to prepare for the upcoming season in Phoenix, Arizona,” Moccia said.
NMSU is not currently able to hold full practices or play games in the Land of Enchantment due to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions.
The Aggies will live and practice at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa. Moccia said the team will have its own space, sequestered away from other guests. The hotel has expansive outdoor space and players, coaches and staff will have their own living space.
“In order to prepare and compete in the upcoming season which begins in 8 days, we needed to find a facility that allowed us to do so,” Moccia said. “Our entire team felt that this location offers good isolation, an unlimited practice facility, testing capability, and quite frankly the best economic option.”
With help from the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, a basketball court has been erected in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, along with a full weight room.
The Arizona Grand was by far the Aggies’ best fiscal option, according to Moccia. For a five-week stay at the hotel, complete with a practice facility and COVID-19 tests three days per week already paid for, NMSU will pay $78,000. Meals will cost the university an estimated $21,000 more, for a grand total of just under $100,00 for the five weeks.
Obviously, the cost could increase if conditions do not improve in New Mexico and the Aggies have to remain in Phoenix beyond five weeks. Moccia said that initiatives will be put into action to ask boosters and alumni for financial help in footing the bill.
“There’s a lot of worse things out there than what we’re dealing with. We’re excited,” NMSU head coach Chris Jans said upon the Aggies’ arrival in Phoenix. “We’re thrilled that we’re going to practice. We’re just happy to get on the court and compete and do what we all love. We’re more thankful and grateful than we are anything else.”
It was an emotional Moccia on Tuesday, that was excited the Aggies would have a chance to play.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders. We have a long way to go, but when you promise a student-athlete and his parents that you’re going to provide opportunities for them and then it looks like you can’t, that takes a toll,” Moccia said through tears. “I’m just really happy that they’re going to get this opportunity.”
Now comes the question of games. The Aggies do not currently have any scheduled, but say they would like to play as soon as the season begins next week, on Nov. 25. NMSU is also looking into possible locations to play games, which include Grand Canyon University and arenas around Phoenix.
NMSU said it would also like to attempt to schedule games with rivals New Mexico and UTEP.
The NMSU women’s basketball team will travel to Tucson to hold practices later this week, before traveling back to the Borderland to play UTEP on Nov. 25 in El Paso.
KTSM reached out to Lujan Grisham’s office for comment regarding NMSU’s move, but an official declined to comment, other than to reiterate the state’s record COVID-19 numbers.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, Doña Ana County recorded an average daily case count of 84.2 per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of 18.1 percent from Oct. 27 to Nov. 9.
According to COVID Act Now, Phoenix’s Maricopa County, recorded an average of 29.2 daily new cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of 6.5 percent in the past seven days.
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