Stevens: Coach Steve Alford Greets His Former Manchester Homeboys
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/05/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 5, 2010

Lobo Men's Basketball
Lobos 80, Eastern New Mexico 58
Saturday: Vs. Manchester, 8 p.m. - The Pit
On The Air: My 50-TV, KKOB 770-AM / Lobo Radio Network

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Is this scenario possible? The New Mexico Lobos throw out an impressive 18-0 run, just like they did in burying Eastern New Mexico. The Manchester Spartans are in deep and serious trouble.

So, Lobo coach Steve Alford, in a moment of flashback, jumps up and calls a timeout for his old homeboys at Manchester.

OK, that won't happen. Alford is about 15 years removed from his four-year run as the Spartans' head coach and deeply entrenched as a cherry-and-silver Lobo. But it is a weird sort of homecoming for the fourth-year Lobo coach as his old home and a few former homeboys come to The Pit.

"That was my first job," said Alford, who coached at Manchester from 1991-95. "It`s going to be a fun game for me. The baseball coach when I was there is now the athletics director.

"I just hope the team is going to be better on Saturday than they were on Wednesday."

The team Alford wants to see get better is the team of Lobos. They were OK in UNM's 80-68 exhibition win Wednesday over Eastern New Mexico, especially the guard tandem of Dairese Gary and Curtis Dennis, who combined for 33 points.

Dennis' 17-points would have been a career-high, but exhibitions don't count officially. Still, Dennis showed why he could be a solid contributor on the scoreboard this season. That's also something the Lobos need as they look to fill scoring holes left by Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez.

Alford saw some things he liked. He saw some things he didn't like. The Lobo coach will greet Manchester with wide smiles and sincerity. Then he will urge his Lobos to tear the Spartans apart.

Manchester steps into The Pit ranked No. 25 on the D-III level. That means the D-I Lobos are supposed to tear the Spartans apart, just like the Lobos were supposed to tear the D-II Eastern Greyhounds apart. But Eastern hung close to the big-boy Lobos until an 18-0 UNM run helped turn a 55-52 Lobo lead into the 80-68 final.

It will be curious to see how a ranked D-III team hangs with the Lobos. The Spartans are coming off a 17-10 season. They return their top six scorers from a year ago and have a lot of savvy seniors to throw at Alford's pups.

The Spartans will be looking up at the Lobos Saturday in The Pit, but they shot 49.7 percent from the field in 2009-10 and 39.5 percent from 3-point line. And the basket is the same height at the D-III level as it is at the D-I level.

Manchester doesn't really throw out a lot of stars and rely on team balance and team scoring to wear down opponents. Senior guard Mitch Schaefer led the Spartans in scoring last year at 11.3. He can get hot from 3-point range. Senior Tyler Henn shot 53 percent from the field a year back, Nathan Ferch shot 54 percent and 6-foot-8 Jason Spindler shot 55 percent.

Senior Tyler Delauder didn't launch that much last season from long range, but he did hit 47 percent behind the line to help produce his 8.0 average.

Alford said he expects to have "fun" on Saturday. Manchester coach Brad Nadborne is having some fun prior to the game, too.

On the Manchester athletic website, Nadborne was quoted as saying" "(Alford) mentioned something about letting us score at least once in the first half."

Nadborne also said, "Coach Alford has been very gracious in inviting us out to play in the Pit, which is newly renovated and is certainly one of the top college basketball venues in the nation.

"Overall, what an experience this should be for our guys and our fans--great arena, great atmosphere, great program and a chance for Coach Alford to express his passion for Manchester College, while we have the opportunity to play against a coach who truly helped to make Manchester a better place for all of us who have followed him."

Alford jumped into college ball at Manchester after leaving Dallas of the NBA. He had a rough go that first season, going 4-16 and 3-11 in league. Alford's Spartans then rolled out records of 20-8, 23-4 and an amazing 31-1 mark in 1994-95.

Alford is on a similar path at UNM and the Lobos' 30-5 mark last season is a school record.

The Lobo coach said he opted for a couple of exhibition games and dropped a preseason scrimmage because of the challenges of the 2010 pre-conference schedule and because of the need of his young Lobos to see real action in a packed gym.

"The exhibition season will do an awful lot for us to get ready for the two big games we have coming p with Detroit (Nov. 13) and Arizona State (Nov. 16)," said Alford. Those are Pit games. UNM also has a major road challenge on Nov. 20 at California.

The Lobos smacked Eastern New Mexico pretty good on the scoreboard, 80-68, and did a lot of things well and did a few things not so well. Alford threw out all 12 of his Lobos and weaved them through a variety of combos, but did not touch on all his possibilities.

"Roles haven't been solidified yet," said Alford.

The Lobo coach gets another two halves of exhibition Saturday to play around with a few more combos. The roles won't be solidified after Manchester's visit either, but the next time out, it all counts: Detroit is not an exhibition and it's not D-III either.