By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
This wasn’t the plan when a small guard from a small town transferred to Eastern New Mexico University. Jolen Montoya wasn’t supposed to be the most experienced Greyhound on the 2005-06 basketball roster.
“We recruited him to be a backup point guard and possibly spend some time at the two (guard position) because we knew he could shoot it,” ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan said of the 5-foot-9 guard from Neosho Community College. “We were really looking for scoring (off the bench) and the fact he could be a ballhandler was a bonus.”
Instead, a season full of injuries meant the Hounds had to rely on the small guard from the small town of Cordova, about 30 miles from Santa Fe.
“Basically, we had one gas station and a convenience store,” Montoya said.
From those small beginnings, Montoya has become the leader of a Greyhound team that needs one because of a roster that has almost no resemblance to last year.
“He does have a leadership role because he’s the only true senior we’ve got,” Scanlan said. “You look for that kind of impact from a senior all the time. Hopefully, you have more seniors than just one. He is the only guy who is coming back with a sizeable amount of playing time.”
Montoya is one of three players back from last year’s 9-18 campaign — the other two are Chad Donnell, who saw limited minutes last year at forward, and Mikal Monette, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at the beginning of last season.
“We only have two or three returning players here,” Montoya said after Monday’s ENMU practice, five days away from the Hounds’ regular-season home opener against Adams State.
“It’s a major adjustment, but I know what (Scanlan) wants and what he needs me to do. As long as I’m doing good things, the team will follow.”
For now, Scanlan hopes Montoya doesn’t have to do too many things. Montoya was second on the team last year with 12.4 points per game, but Scanlan felt injuries put too many scoring obligations on a player intended to be a backup point guard.
“I think we wore him down as the year went on,” Scanlan said. “I hope things will develop where he won’t have to play the minutes he did last year.
“We expected too much from him. We had to because we were shorthanded. For us to have a chance to win, he had to do too much.”
He’ll still be asked to score this year, but a shift to the shooting guard role should take many of the ballhandling responsibilities away from him.
“He’s a pretty good player without the ball in his hands,” Scanlan said. “He understood (last year) more and more how to play without the ball. He still needs to be a guy that we can look to to hit shots, and we’d still like to see him go to the foul line.”
Both Scanlan and Montoya agree that defense will be the question for Montoya.
“The hardest thing,” Montoya said, “is every night out, I’ll be playing against somebody taller than me, so I have to use my head to be effective.”
Three games in, he has the Hounds off to a 2-1 record. His scoring is down to eight points per game early, but he’s not too concerned as long as the Greyhound numbers go up.
“We’d like to make the national tournament, if possible,” Montoya said. “Right now, we’re ranked fifth in the (Lone Star Conference) South. It’s up to us to come out and play hard and earn our respect and climb the ladder.”
For that to happen, a young Greyhound team will have to mature fast. Scanlan thinks with Montoya leading the way, there’s reason for optimism.
“As much as anything, I think this season is important to him,” Scanlan said. “The other players understand that too. It’s a big year for him, and it should be. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to do whatever it takes to help us.”