By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Michael Maya had a chance to go Division I coming out of Valley High this spring, but he felt he was ready to play.
Maya, the Albuquerque area player of the year and the state leader in scoring and assists in 2009-10, is part of second-year Eastern New Mexico University coach Andrew Helton’s recruiting class for the upcoming season.
He passed on a chance to go to New Mexico State, which wanted him to walk on, saying he liked what he saw at ENMU.
“I really liked the coaching staff, and the players seemed cool,” Maya said. “Coach (Helton) said they try to play up and down, and that’s my style.
“He just told me to come in and work hard, and if I do I’ll have a good chance to start.”
ENMU took a big step last season, going 12-16 overall and 5-7 in the Lone Star Conference South after back-to-back 0-12 campaigns in the division. Among others, the Greyhounds return their top three scorers in 6-6 senior forward Tyler Jefferson (11.7 ppg), 6-0 senior guard Reggie Nelson (11.7) and 6-4 senior guard Victor Reid (9.2).
“I was pretty happy with some of the improvements we made in league play,” Helton said. “We got better later in the year.”
The Hounds have signed three other players in 6-2 Manzano shooting guard Kyle Lantz and two California junior college big men — 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward Max Carrier of Irvine Valley College and 6-7, 200-pound forward Aaron Edwards of San Bernadino Valley College.
Helton said they don’t plan to sign anyone else.
Maya averaged 22 1/2 points, leading Valley to a 21-8 record and a berth in the Class 5A state semifinals, while Lantz shot 47 percent from 3-point range to help Manzano finish 26-3 and reach the quarterfinals after being ranked No. 1 for much of the year.
Maya had 36-point games at The Pit against Clovis in the quarterfinals and Mayfield in the semis.
“He’s an unselfish player,” Helton said. “We felt, without question, Michael was the best point guard in the state.”
The 6-foot Maya said he’s pass-first, shoot-second, but added he’s comfortable doing either.
“I look for my teammates a lot,” he said. “I like to drive and dish, but if I’m open I can hit the shot.”
Helton said Lantz could be a better college than high school player with guards able to get him the ball in better rhythm.
Carrier averaged 11 points, seven rebounds and 1 1/2 blocks in helping Irvine Valley to a 26-5 mark and a quarterfinal berth in the California state juco playoffs. Meantime, Edwards averaged 12 points and 5.2 rebounds as San Bernadino went 31-3 and reached the state semifinals.
Their teams split two games head-to-head during the season.
Helton, a college assistant for 16 years prior last season, said it was a learning experience for him.
“I enjoyed being a head coach,” he said. “You make mistakes, but you learn and get better. Hopefully, I’ll make fewer mistakes this season.”