Former Clovis High and University of New Mexico standout Hank Baskett signs autographs and greets fans at Sports Connection on Saturday. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Hank Baskett III knows his work is cut out trying to make it as a free agent rookie wide receiver in the NFL.
The former Clovis High and University of New Mexico football standout is preparing for the start of training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles later this month.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Baskett said Saturday at an autograph session at Sports Connection. “All I can do is give 100 percent. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
“It’s a big leap, but my parents have always allowed me to travel for sports. My (older) brother is out in (Washington) D.C., so if I need anything, he’ll be around.”
Baskett, who turns 24 in September, was not chosen in this spring’s NFL draft, but quickly was signed by Minnesota as a free agent. The Vikings traded him to the Eagles for fourth-year receiver Billy McMullen — the first time an undrafted free agent had been traded for an established player, he said.
Baskett finished his four-year career at UNM ranked second in school history for touchdown receptions (nine), third in receiving yards (2,228) and fourth in receptions (140), averaging more than 16 yards a catch.
That was in primarily a running offense.
“Everybody knew we were a running team,” Baskett said. “It feels good when (opponents) double-team you, and it feels better when you can beat a double-team.”
He’s looking forward the Eagles’ more wide-open style under veteran quarterback Donavan McNabb, adding that 12 receivers will be in camp competing for “six or seven” spots.
“It’s a West Coast (style of) offense,” Baskett said. “They throw that ball a lot, and I love it.
“We don’t have that established go-to (receiver) yet. There’s going to be a lot of competition when camp starts.”
His father, Hank Baskett Jr., said a career in pro football is his son’s ambition and he’s trying to be as supportive as possible.
“It’s his dream,” he said. “I can’t help him live his dream, but I can help him accomplish it.
“Every parent should be out there trying to help his kid reach their dream through rewards or actions.”
The younger Baskett has been spending some time in the area before the start of training camp. On Monday, he will leave for McNabb’s home in Phoenix, noting that the quarterback has invited a number of Eagles players to come in and work out with him over the next week.
After a short return trip to Clovis, he’ll return to Philadelphia on Saturday. Rookies report to camp July 20 at Lehigh University, north of Philadelphia, with veterans checking in three days later.
Philadelphia’s preseason opener is Aug. 6 against the Oakland Raiders in the Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio. The regular-season opener is Sept. 10 at Houston.
Baskett’s father said Hank simply has to take care of the things he can control.
“Every day through this process, he’s getting to where he says, ‘I understand (pro football) is a business,” the elder Baskett said. “He’s got some control in that he can do what he does best, on the field.”
Recently, Baskett participated in a pro bass challenge fishing tournament in Baton Rouge, La., an event pairing an athlete with a pro fisherman. Baskett and his partner finished third out of 68 teams —Baskett even caught an alligator.
“It was cool being in something like that,” he said. “It had been seven years since I fished, but I love it now.”
Sports Connection owner Dee Madrid said she was happy to host Saturday’s outing.
“The people want to wish him well,” she said. “We’re excited because a local individual has gone to the NFL. The whole town is proud of him.”