By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
In his 22 years, Hank Baskett has grown into a 6-foot-4, 220-pound specimen that Mountain West Conference defenses can’t ignore.
Recently, he’s also grown out of many things, like creating himself as a video game football character. After all, he does play Division I football, so he already exists in EA Sports’ NCAA Football ‘06 — albeit as UNM WR No. 18.
“Just to play as yourself is a funny feeling,” Baskett said. “Last year, I was disappointed but this year I like it because I’m one of the (game’s) impact players. I threw to myself all the time.”
Video game makers aren’t the only one touting the 2001 Clovis High School graduate. He enters his senior season at the University of New Mexico ranked 20th all-time on the career receptions list with 73. A productive year could have him joining the ranks of 15 other Lobos currently playing professional football.
“It really hit me this summer (that I could be drafted),” Baskett said. “When you first get contacted (by agents and scouts), that’s a pretty good feeling right there.”
Because of his numbers — height, weight, and a junior season with 54 receptions for 908 yards — he’s been on the radar in many 2006 draft rankings. Some lists have him ranked as the fifth-best receiver in the draft field, while some have him in the low 30s.
He said he prefers to dismiss all the rankings for now — call it force of habit.
“I put stock in (my draft rankings) like I put stock in our preseason rankings,” Baskett said. “We’ve been picked third and fifth before, and we’ve finished second (in the MWC) the past three years. One place has us ranked seventh. We’re looking at the end of the year. That’s when it counts.”
Talent evaluators are also taking that approach, but Colin Lindsay of the Great Blue North Draft Report said a weak wide receiver class is good news for a player with Baskett’s athletic ability.
“There’s room to move up and teams are going to be looking for guys that are athletes,” Lindsay said, “and I don’t think there’s a better athlete in the 2006 draft class than Hank Baskett.”
Lindsay, who started the GBN report about 10 years ago, said Baskett could be a late first-rounder with an outstanding senior year, but thinks he will be at worst a middle-round pick unless something devastating happens, such as a serious injury. Lindsay thinks that Baskett isn’t nearly as polished, but his body compares to some of the NFL’s more elite receivers, such as Randy Moss of the Oakland Raiders.
Baskett is still nowhere near the ranks of Moss, but he already has something in common — attention from agents.
“They’ve got my e-mail address,” Baskett said. “I don’t know how they got it. They’ve got my hotmail and my school address. They will find a way to get a hold of you.”
Having coached college football for more than two decades, New Mexico offensive coordinator Dan Dodd knows why agents are lining up to sign Baskett. Dowd said while Baskett might need to work on foot speed, he’s as good as any receiver he’s ever coached and may be one of his most athletic players ever.
“The biggest thing for Hank is he’s a want-to guy,” Dodd said. “For all of his physical skills, he does not have eye-popping speed. He has great awareness, he gets his body in great position to catch the football. He usually makes the spectacular catch.”
In between stints at UNM, Dodd worked at Texas Christian University. He spoke of the differences between Baskett and a current NFL star, LaDanian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers.
“With LaDanian, when he got behind the defense, he was gone. He had incredible track speed,” Dodd said. “Hank doesn’t have that speed, but nobody catches him. Maybe he has an extra gear on game day. I think that’s about the only way you could explain it.”
It’s a lot easier to explain the expectations for the Lobos this season. They’re high, especially with three NFL prospects on offense (Baskett, running back DonTrell Moore and center Ryan Cook).
“We’ve got to play better offense,” Dodd said. “Defensively, we’ve been in the top 30 in the nation the last few years. To make the step to be a championship team, we’ve got to score more points than our opponent every conference game, not five out of six or seven out of eight.
“It’s not just (about) leading the conference in scoring. It’s (about) leading in scoring every Saturday.”
Baskett aims to lead the MWC in every receiving statistic, while Moore will try to be the sixth back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The two are inextricably linked in their high school pasts (Moore played for Roswell High), their present with the Lobo offense, and their possible draft futures.
“We’ve come to grow really close,” Baskett said of Moore. “To have someone else going through this process with you is really good. It’s always good that you have someone you can talk to about all of this.”
Moore had experience with draft talk a year before Baskett, and his views on the draft talk mirror his teammate’s.
“It doesn’t mean anything. You have to make it happen,” Moore said. “The talk is fine, but the only way it could happen is to do it (on the field). I take it with a grain of salt.”
The two have known each other since seventh grade, and each kept the other informed on college intentions. They figure if they take care of their business as teammates — both have aspirations of winning the MWC championship — their future as draft picks will be taken care of.
“The most important thing is this season,” Moore said. “If we have success this season, that will help us.”
The season starts with Sunday’s first practice for Baskett, Moore and the Lobos. It’s part of a road to the draft, with an ending far from certain, but it’s also part of the road to what Baskett hopes is a championship season for the Lobos.
“This season takes precedent over what happens next,” Baskett said. “Once Aug. 7 starts, it’s team first. There’s no way I can do what happens next if I don’t do things right during college.”