Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank ENMU junior forward Aaron Edwards, left, tries to block freshman center Logan Turnbow’s layup during practice on Wednesday at Greyhound Arena.
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Tyler Jefferson was a focal point for opponents of the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team last season.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward from Fort Worth, Texas, averaged nearly 12 points and six rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the field, helping the Greyhounds bounce back from consecutive winless seasons in the Lone Star Conference South to nearly make the LSC postseason tournament.
This year, though, Jefferson may be just another player for the Hounds, and he’s looking forward to it.
“I like the team a lot,” Jefferson said. “I feel we’ve improved on a lot of the weaknesses we had last year. Now we just need to fully come together.
“Knowing we’ve got a lot of different threats, it feels good because it takes a lot of stress off me.”
Second-year coach Andrew Helton certainly got a good read on his squad in the preseason with exhibition games at Texas-El Paso, New Mexico and New Mexico State, all NCAA Division I tournament qualifiers last year.
“I thought we played well in the first two,” Helton said. “It’s been a good experience, but there are parts of each game I’d like to take back. When you make mistakes against those teams, (weaknesses) get exposed.”
Helton said the Hounds should have a good perimeter-shooting squad this season, and they’ve improved their inside game as well. New Mexico State, though, outrebounded ENMU 55-20 and blocked 12 shots in Monday’s 98-72 loss to the Aggies at Las Cruces.
That remains an area of concern.
“It gets to the point where you have to box out more,” Jefferson said. “We still need a lot of work. We have so much to learn.”
Michael Maya, a 6-foot guard from Albuquerque, was the state player of the year last season at Valley, and will start at the point for ENMU. Competing at shooting guard are 6-3 junior Stefan Mirabal of Albuquerque, 5-10 junior Tralyn Harden of Itsaca, Texas, and 6-4 senior Victor Reid of El Paso, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Hounds last year.
The inside positions will be manned primarily by Jefferson and two California junior college transfers — 6-7 juniors Max Carrier of Canyon Lake, Calif., and Aaron Edwards of Long Beach, Calif. Edwards was ENMU’s leading scorer in the exhibitions with 52 points, including 22 at NMSU.
Playing behind Maya at the point are 6-1 sophomore Jordan Romero of Santa Fe and 6-0 junior Versia Hodges of Los Angeles. Others who have impressed in preseason include 6-8 freshman forward/center Logan Turnbow of Clovis, 6-2 freshman guard Kyle Lantz of Albuquerque, 6-3 senior guard Alan Branch of Houston and 6-4 senior forward Gerald Brown of Houma, La.
Because they have more talent and depth than a year ago, Jefferson doesn’t believe the Hounds will finish seventh in the eight-team South, as projected in the preseason poll.
“That’s going to motivate us even more,” he said. “We have enough talent to actually win the (South) this year. It’s a matter of us jelling.”
Helton thinks the Hounds have the potential to be something special.
“We’ve got to get better defensively, and quickly,” he said. “We’ve got to be more consistent and be a better rebounding team.
“We can score. We’ve got to get better at defending people.”