Oct. 15, 2008
When/Where: 6-9 p.m. Friday, The Pit
Women: 7-to-8, scrimmage, shooting contest, autographs
Men: 8-to-9, scrimmage, dunk contest, autographs
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The annual Lobo Howl is mostly the celebration of a beginning, the official start of the season for Lobo men's and women's basketball. But Friday night's Howl in The Pit also marks the beginning of Steve Alford's men and Don Flanagan's women putting in the hard work necessary to prove wrong the so-called experts of Mountain West Conference basketball.
Alford's men were picked to finish fifth in a preseason MWC poll and Flanagan's women were dropped into the No. 4 slot. Not exactly spots of respect. Not exactly spots reflective of teams expecting to push their way into the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
So, any extra preseason motivation here?
"Players get motivated in a lot of different ways," said Alford. "We'll put it on our board and let them see it."
However, Alford said he didn't have any problem with the men's poll because the teams listed above UNM -- UNLV (1), BYU (2), SDSU (3) and Utah (4) -- are teams with proven tradition and a whole heck of a lot of returning talent.
Flanagan's Lobos might have been disrespected a bit more considering UNM has won five of the past six MWC tournaments and have finished lower than third in the regular season only one time in those six seasons. The UNM women were listed behind Utah, SDSU and TCU.
The Lobos also were snubbed in both the men's and women's preseason all-league picks (top five) although the men did get Phillip McDonald tabbed as preseason MWC Freshman of The Year.
McDonald is one of Alford's newcomers likely to get serious looks from The Howl crowd as he joins UNM freshmen Will Brown, Curtis Dennis, Nate Garth and A.J. Hardeman as one of the nation's top-rated recruiting classes. Another newcomer, of sorts, is 6-10 redshirt freshman, Kem Nweke, who did not play last season.
The doors to The Pit open at 6 p.m. Friday allowing fans without season tickets the chance to select seats for the 2008-09 season.
"I'm extremely excited about The Howl because we finally get together as a whole team and get to practice as a team," said sophomore Jessica Kielpinski. "It gives us a quick taste of what the season is all about and lets us know how much our fans are behind us."
The Lobo men will hold their first exhibition game on Nov. 8 in against Western New Mexico. The women's first exhibition is Nov. 4 against Melbourne.
"This event gives our fans a peek at what we have," said sophomore Kelsey Ansley. "We get excited because it's like, oh-my-gosh, oh-my-gosh, the season is here; kind of like Christmas morning. Everybody on this team has improved by leaps and bounds and I'm so excited to see what everyone is going to do this year. I'm just going to go out there and work as hard as I can to help the team in whatever way I can."
Coach Alford is quick to point out that the hard work actually began a few weeks ago with conditioning, weight lifting and individual workouts allowed by the NCAA prior to full-team practice sessions that begin on Friday.
"I expect our players to be serious about all aspects of our program and that includes preseason conditioning and drills," said Alford. "But as a player, you don't care all that much for September. September means you are running, you are lifting (weights), you are doing a lot of drill work. When October hits, it's more of a team concept. "What you get out of The Howl is that it symbolizes the start of the season. It's an exciting time for that reason, but from a practice standpoint, you don't get much out of it. But I want the players to run down the ramp and feel (the excitement) and I want the fans to feel it."
For a lot of Lobo fans, The Howl always seems to hit early. The Lobo football team still has five games to go. The NFL is entering week No. 7.
Kielpinski brings up another point: "If The Howl is here already, that means the games will be here before we know it, too." Which means Lobo fans had better hurry up and get their season tickets.
Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner.