By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
The University of New Mexico coaching staff challenged Hank Baskett after the last year’s season-ending Las Vegas Bowl.
As the only returning wide receiver on the roster with Division-I experience, the former Clovis High standout needed to step up his game.
The 6-foot-4 junior responded with a breakout year. In his first year as a starter, Baskett responded by catching 49 passes for 793 yards and three touchdowns for the Emerald-Bowl bound Lobos — season totals that exceeded the rest of the Lobo receivers combined.
Baskett’s breakout season was selected as the fifth biggest local sports story in 2004 by the CNJ staff.
“So far my season has gone great,” Baskett said, “I’ve been trying to do what they’ve (coaches) been telling me to do. Fortunately, I’ve been able to help the team in key situations.”
In the Lobos’ 27-24 win over Texas Tech, Baskett caught six passes for 99 yards, including 7-yard TD catch on fourth down. The win was New Mexico’s first over the Red Raiders in 20 years and Baskett’s favorite game of the season.
“They didn’t recruit me, not even for one sport, so beating them was personal,” said Baskett, who was also a 7-foot high jumper and standout hurdler in high school. “Having a hand in beating them makes it even better.”
At Colorado State, Baskett caught three passes for 88 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown despite a deep bone bruise on his knee. The catch and run was the Lobos’ longest pass play of the year.
Baskett earned honorable mention in the Mountain West Conference despite playing in a run-oriented offense.
“I think people have seen him make so many spectacular plays that the media might even recognize those plays,” Lobos coach Rocky Long told the Albuquerque Journal.
“When people play us, they know Hank is the key to our passing game. For him to have the year he’s had even though they all know that will prove to coaches that he should be all-conference.”
Baskett still has one game to go for 2004. The Lobos went 7-4 during the regular season and finished second in the conference. They’ll face Navy in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on Thursday, which will mark the third straight year for a bowl game for the Lobos, a program first.
“Hank’s relentless,” Lobos offensive coordinator Dan Dodd told the Journal before the season started. “Without a doubt his best quality is he wants to be good at his craft.
“Hank has been given great skill, he’s been given a great body type, he’s deceptively fast and obviously he has great height and great hands. But he’s not satisfied with just going out and doing things; he wants to constantly improve.”