By Dave Wagner
Coming off back-to-back Lone Star Conference South Division championships, Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Shawn Scanlan thought the Greyhounds were positioned for a three-peat in preseason a year ago.
Injuries, defections and dismissals helped put that idea to rest in a hurry as the Hounds staggered to a 9-18 finish (2-10 Lone Star Conference South Division).
Scanlan, beginning his sixth season at the helm, has many new faces on this year’s roster as the team prepares for Tuesday’s season opener at Lubbock Christian.
“What we’ve done is dumped everything out (from last year) and started over,” he said.
Only two players who saw major minutes are back — 5-9 senior guard Jolen Montoya of Cordova (14.4 ppg) and 6-4 junior forward Chad Donnell of Frankston, Texas (5.4). Meantime, walk-on guard Aaron Rodriguez of Roswell played in 15 games, including four starts.
“We’ve really got a lot of decisions to make,” Scanlan said. “We could be two or three weeks into the season before we get a lineup that’s settled.”
Montoya, who split time early between point guard and shooting guard before settling on the latter in the second half of the season, was ENMU’s second-leading scorer last year and shot 36 percent from 3-point range on 138 attempts.
While Scanlan doesn’t expect him to play any point guard this season, Montoya realizes he’ll have to lead by example.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do,” he said. “I’ll sacrifice, lay it on the line every night.
“Last year I had to do more scoring. This year, I think we have a good rotation of guards, and I won’t have to score all the time.”
Scanlan is looking for leadership from Montoya.
“Jolen’s been through the trials of a season,” he said. “We need his leadership from a playing standpoint and from an experience standpoint.”
Junior college transfers Travis Carr of Pueblo, Colo., and Stephen Wilson of Heflin, Ala., could provide additional punch from the wing positions, Scanlan said. Another juco transfer, 5-11 junior Tristan Largent of McHenry, Md., is expected to start at the point with competition from 6-0 freshman Josh Jackson of Madison, Wis.
Donnell, currently sidelined with what Scanlan described as a stress fracture-type of injury, is looking for help inside from 6-5 junior Ira Cross of Munford, Ala.; 6-7 juniors Mikal Monette of Albuquerque and Donald Young of Wadley, Ala., and 6-6 freshman Jake Holladay of Gilmer, Texas.
Cross and Young played juco ball in Alabama before coming to ENMU this year, while Monette sat the entire 2004-05 season after suffering a leg injury suffered late in preseason. Another Alabama juco product, 6-6 forward Larry Prince, could also figure in the mix.
Scanlan said last season was as tough as any he’s been through as a coach.
“You always go into the first day or first week of practice with high expectations, but in many cases it takes longer to find out where you are,” he said. “At this point, the things we haven’t tackled, we’ve got to overcome quickly. What you don’t want is to have people outhustle and outcompete you.
“We haven’t played like I want to play yet. That probably won’t happen for a while, but I want us to be able to play competitively.”
Montoya said the Hounds have to be able to play well defensively if they’re going to turn things around.
“We’ve been emphasizing defense a whole lot,” he said. “In order to win, we’re going to have to lock down on defense.”
ENMU was picked fifth in the LSC South preseason poll. Tarleton State, which won the North last season, traded with South champion Texas A&M-Commerce, and both have been tabbed the favorites in their new divisions.
Montoya said it’s up to the Hounds to prove themselves after what he called “a horrible year” in 2004-05.
“I think we just have to go out and make a statement early, and we have a good opportunity to do that,” he said. “We have to be able to control our own destiny.
“I think I know what coach expects from me. Hopefully, we can come back and have a great season.”