ENMU kicks off hoops season with Midnight Madness

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Eastern New Mexico University basketball coaches are hoping a pair of turnarounds start when the clock hits midnight tonight.

That time marks Midnight Madness, the first practice allowed for college basketball squads. The Zia and Greyhound squads will hold a public practice, preceded by an 11:15 p.m. pep rally at Greyhound Arena.

The Zias open their season with a Nov. 9 exhibition at the University of New Mexico.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape on the perimeter,” said Linden Weese, entering his fourth season as coach of the Zias. “Our kids are in good shape on the perimeter offensively and defensively.”

The Zias return a solid perimeter lineup, including juniors Cat Clay and Tori Northcutt. Clay (12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) was a second-team All-Lone Star Conference South Division selection, while Northcutt led the Zias with 5.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

“She’s just a great floor leader,” Weese said of Northcutt. “She has control of the situation.”

The Zias, 9-21 last season, will likely have to rely on a guard-heavy rotation in the early stretch of the season, as junior posts Kara Bible and Til-Lois Fifer are both out with knee injuries.

Eastern is bringing in six freshmen, but among them only 6-foot P.J. Bryant of Cliff is a post.

“We need to firm up our interior,” Weese said.

Bible may be back by Christmas, Weese said, and Fifer could return to action in the first few weeks of the season.

The ENMU men, meanwhile are coming off a 4-23 season, including a 14-game skid to end the season. The Greyhounds open their season with a Nov. 17 home game against Western New Mexico.

Andrew Helton, a former assistant for Division I South Alabama, begins his first season with a mixture of confidence and uncertainty.

“We have a lot of unknown quantities at the guard spot,” Helton said, “because Jimmy Marshall is the only one with Lone Star Conference experience. But I like the players we have. They know spots.”

Freshman additions include three-time Class 3A all-state selection Jordan Romero of St. Michael’s, guard Nick Bliss of Portales, and 6-foot-5 Eldorado forward Daniel Strong.

“I hope we’re an improved shooting team,” Helton said. “We’re athletic, 1 through 5. We’ve got a lot of strong guys. We’ve got a lot of guys that can handle the basketball and make plays off the dribble.

“We’re not a particularly big team. We’ve got one guy taller than 6-6, and that’s Tommy York.”