Former Clovis star Hank Baskett is drawing accolades for something other than his athletic talent.
University of New Mexico coaches recruited the sturdy 6-foot-4 sophomore to play wide receiver based on his rare combination of size, speed and jumping ability. Coaches now talk about his work ethic, determination, and ability to make plays — especially when it comes to catching passes.
“One of the surprising things more than anything else is he never drops the ball,” New Mexico offensive coordinator Dan Dodd said. “As a matter of fact, if he drops a ball everybody will stop and look because they can’t believe it.”
Baskett has muscled his way into playing time at a position crowded with seniors, improving his route running ability and understanding of the game through hard work.
“He’s actually played himself into being a starter,” Dodd said.
Heading into Saturday’s game at San Diego State, Baskett is third on the team with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
“My role is definitely getting better,” said Baskett in a phone interview. “I’ve been able to make plays in practice and I think (the coaches) are starting to trust me more.”
Baskett also plays on all four units of the Lobos’ special teams.
“I know my role on the team,” said Baskett, who coaches say has bulked up to 218 pounds without losing any speed and quickness.
“Right now it’s good learning from the seniors. I know I’ll have my chance to step up next year.”
Another factor in his emergence is Baskett is healthy, fully recovered — physically and mentally — from a freak spinal injury in practice last year that left him temporarily paralyzed and with other nagging injuries.
“I told myself I’m not going to think about it,” Baskett said. “I just leave it out of my mind.”
A 7-foot high jumper in high school, Baskett is a weapon close to the end zone.
“He’s obviously been very productive,” Dodd said. “He’s a huge part of our red zone package. Most of the time when you throw a fade route in the end zone you throw to a spot. With Hank, we can just throw it up there and let him go get it.”
Baskett’s also shown the ability to get deep despite lacking sprinter’s speed.
“He’s never been a 4.4 guy,” Dodd said. “But when we work on our vertical game, he’s always getting behind our defenders. He’s just one of those guys that plays fast.”
Riding a modest two-game winning streak, the Lobos are 3-3 heading into the bulk of their Mountain West Conference schedule.
Two of the losses were to Texas Tech and nationally ranked Washington State.
“It was tough schedule,” Baskett said. “The games were so close. I think if we just made one play here or one play there, we could be 5-1.”
Someday, it may be Baskett that supplies those kind of plays that turn close losses into wins,” Dodd said.
“Hank’s an overachiever. He wants to be a big-time player and I think he can be one day.”