By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Andrew Helton on Tuesday stood in front of a crowd at Greyhound Arena. He can’t wait for the next time.
“To see these game lights on gets my juices flowing,” said Hleton, introduced as the new men’s basketball coach at Eastern New Mexico University. “I wish we were playing here in a week or so.”
Helton, 38, comes to Portales after 16 years of assistant coach work, six at Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christian and the last two at Division I South Alabama.
“I am absolutely convinced he’s the right person for our job,” university president Steven Gamble said from the podium on the Greyhound Arena court. “His references confirmed he’s a really strong recruiter. He really puts an emphasis on character and academics.”
Though Helton stressed there’s no magic solution, and it would be a day-by-day process, he hopes to soon add banners like the Lone Star Conference South Division championship banners from 2003 and 2004, won by predecessor Shawn Scanlan.
“My short-term goal, from a competitive standpoint, would be to get over .500 right away,” Helton said of the Greyhounds, who went 102-143 in nine years under Scanlan, but 10-44 without an LCS South win in the final two campaigns. “Three or four years down the road, I want to get to the point where we can win the Lone Star Conference championship.”
He said his first orders of business will be acquiring a staff that he trusts who will be able to recruit, evaluating remaining players from Scanlan’s squad and bringing in a mix of high schoolers, junior college athletes and Division I transfers.
“When I look at the situation here at Eastern,” Helton said, “having the facility and the support, with an opportunity to recruit New Mexico and Texas, I think it gives us opportunities to be great.”
South Alabama coach Ron Arrow, Helton’s coach at USA and TAMU-CC, said Helton will prove to be a great hire for the university when he was contacted Monday.
“He’s always gone in under the basis that he didn’t play in college,” Arrow said of Helton, who also spent time at the University of Miami, St. Francis (Penn.) and Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “He didn’t come through (an elite) program. He always went in under the emphasis he had to outwork everybody.”
On the court, Helton said he’d like to schedule enough exhibition games for the Greyhounds to get a chance to compete with Texas Tech and the University of New Mexico, but not so many that the fans don’t get a good balance of home games.
Off the court, the focus will be player study sessions and community service projects.
“It allows the community to get to know your guys,” Helton said. “Aside from how it helps the community, it helps your players. It’s part of their education.”